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Devangshu Datta: Ten years from now

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Devangshu Datta  |  New Delhi 

There are certain pre-qualifiers for becoming the prime minister of India. A) Ideally candidates should hail from the Nehru-Gandhi clan. B) If A is not possible, it is okay to have a namesake (Chandrasekhar, Rao, Shastri, Desai, Singh) who has played international cricket. C) Otherwise, a four-syllable name may just be enough (DeveGowda, Atalbehari, Inderkumar, Gulzarilal) to gain occupancy of that dreary bungalow on Racecourse Road.
Condition A is explained by the conservatism of Indian politics, where everybody and his NRI cousin yearns for continuity. There are causal links for B and C. PMs hail from mainstream heartland communities as do cricketers. Heartlanders usually have four-syllable names.
Not QED. But taken together, it is likely that when India celebrates its 70th birthday in 2017, the person delivering the boring but obligatory sermon will qualify under A, B or C. We may have oddball presidents but PMs will surely be mainstream.
One may make several other predictions about the state of the nation circa 2017 with a degree of confidence. Most will turn out to be wrong but futurism is a safe profession. As astrologers know, they are rarely called on wrong predictions.
By 2017, India will have doubled GDP and the per capita will be well above $2,000-equivalent (at nominal 2007 rates). Average life expectancy will be around 65 and the population will be in the "sweet spot" with the majority of people under 35, though a large number will be diabetic and obese. Infosys and TCS will be among the top five IT MNCs in terms of size.
Approximately 85 per cent of Indians will know how to sign their own names and just about 10 per cent will be below the poverty line. Telecom penetration will saturate at about 650 million and every family will have cable TV or its descendant. Vehicle ownership will have quadrupled and so will credit card usage and default. More than half the population will be urban dwellers.
Most of the current bunch of policy-makers will be dead. Those of them who are still on this vale of tears in 2017 will probably suffer from senile incontinence. That won't stop them from clinging to power but there will be new blood in policy-making.
On balance, that's good. Anybody who enters politics anywhere is likely to be amoral, if not an outright criminal. But a young amoral person is more likely to understand and leverage technology. And the 21st century will be shaped even more by technological change than the 20th was.
Members of the Union Cabinet of 2017 will all have social networking sites, release Youtube campaign videos and take coaching lessons for TV. The boobtube and other electronic media will be key campaign tools in the 2019 General Elections. Less than 50 per cent of citizens will vote but an election ID card will be coveted as default proof of existence.
Key social and technology changes will be triggered by the energy sector. By 2017, peak oil theory will be mainstream. India will have to find petroleum/ gas substitutes. That means massive plantations of jatropha, maize and cane coupled to an alcohol-based economy. That will transform agricultural dynamics and the nature of rural society.
It won't only be internal combustion engines guzzling alcohol. Indians will also be drinking more and crime rates will have jumped. So will divorce rates, which have anyhow, doubled in the past five years. The traditional Indian family will be closer to extinction. Amen to that since it means fewer dowry deaths and less female foeticide.
Of course, we'll retain many of the traditions that keep us rooted to Apna Desh. Caste wars will continue. Landed families will remain embroiled in lawsuits. Hordes of assorted militants will wander around. Gays will still be liable to prosecution. Some Indian will have been nominated for the Literature Nobel on the basis of a book, banned in his/her own land. The estate of the late Husain will remain entangled in multiple cases for offending religious sentiments. And Netaji Subhas Bose will still be officially "alive".

First Published: Sat, August 18 2007. 00:00 IST
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