Imaginings: South Asia in 2020

‘Imaginings’ constitutes our most ambitious initiative to date. With this initiative we invite our readers to participate in imagining our national and regional futures ten years from now. What do we think our country, a neighboring country in the region, or the region as a whole would be like in 2020? And why?

Readers can submit as many essays as they wish but each essay should deal with one country only (any country in South Asia, not necessarily the writer’s own) or with South Asia as a region. The essay could cover any or all of a number of dimensions – politics, economics, culture, etc.

At the heart of the essay would be the identification of the major forces and trends that would yield the future that the writer chooses to describe. What gave rise to these trends, why would they dominate, and what might cause to change their direction or intensity? The credibility of the prediction would rest on the depth of this analysis.

We have chosen a fairly short end point (2020) both to keep us from being too speculative and to provide the opportunity to track how our predictions begin to bear out within a short time horizon. We hope to repeat the exercise in 2015 in order to reflect back on the developments to date and assess where we were right and wrong and to update our predictions in the light of our findings. Hopefully, there will be a lot of learning involved in this exercise of retrospective evaluation.

Depending on the response, we hope to publish the most relevant and perceptive essays in the form of an edited book. We are deliberately targeting this as the work of students and concerned citizens and not of established scholars because the voice of citizens rarely finds an outlet conducive to dialogue and debate.

We look forward to your contributions. Any suggestions to shape the initiative further would be very welcome.

Contributions should be emailed to


  • ercelan
    Posted at 07:50h, 14 April Reply

    a wider dissemination is needed. perhaps a formal request to regional organisers of peoples saarc in delhi this month? i will try to persuade pakistan organisers before and after the delhi meeting. you could request aman ki asha organisers, which include beena sarwar in karachi

  • ercelan
    Posted at 14:09h, 17 April Reply

    this proposal sent me to reread a special issue of SEMINAR-Imagining Futures, april 2003. glad i kept a print copy.

    Editor’s Note: Thanks for the invaluable link – this reiterates the benefits of networks. The seminar discussion is at the post-graduate level, more advanced than what we have in mind, but nevertheless a very useful reference for the interested reader.

    [The link does not lead directly to the April 2003 issue but to the home page of SEMINAR magazine. Once there click on the ‘search seminar’ button; then on the 2003 web edition; and finally on the ‘April’ button.]

    The first essay provides an overview: This symposium brings together essays by a group of young Indian writers, all of whom seek to examine the future of India from the perspective of a discipline with which they are associated. It ends with the following remark: “The only requirement is to engage oneself critically and constructively because the essence of an independent mind… lies not it what it thinks but in how it thinks.” This is a belief that is shared by us at The South Asian Idea.

  • Anil Kala
    Posted at 07:36h, 29 April Reply

    In ten years from now the accentuation of developmental divide will be much sharp between southern states and northern states. There will be migration of labour from north to south causing ethnic/demographic insecurity based tension similar to what Shiv Sena in Mumbai is doing to Bhayyas today.

    Kisan will no longer be the central piece of Indian politics as corporate India will takeover agriculture over large tracts of land. Rural population will reduce to less 25%. There will be several mega-cities.

    Literacy will attain critical mass therefore it will become possible to target the subsidy to deserving directly. Caste structure of Indian society will be under severe threat.

    Terrorism will remain just as it is now. Naxalism will be finished.

    India–Pakistan relation will have no impact at all. Bangladesh and Sri Lanka will shine.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 15:05h, 03 May

      Anil: I follow the drift of your argument but am unsure of two specific predictions:

      1. Why/how would Naxalism be finished? Would the cause of Naxal-like protests disappear or would the resistance be crushed by force?
      2. Why would Bangladesh shine? What factors would lead to that outcome?

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 11:48h, 24 May


      Naxalism is not as strongly etched ideology as religion is.

      Bangladesh is a democracy, its Army does not meddle in politics. It is not too big a country neither it is too small, very similar to Sri Lanka. Democracy does give result albiet slowly. I think size of democracy matters a lot in deciding the rate of acceleration of growth.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 13:56h, 24 May

      Anil: Are you saying that Naxalism (because it is not strongly etched) would fade out by itself or would it be crushed?

      On democracy, size, and growth the evidence is quite mixed. Democracy is valuable in itself because it guarantees (theoretically, at least) political and civil freedoms. In terms of economic performance, it does not have a clear advantage over autocracies. See, for example, the earlier growth of the East Asian Tigers and of China now.

      Size is even more ambiguous. India grew very slowly for many decades and very rapidly in the one just completed although its size was invariant. The same was the experience in China. Economic policies have a much more direct bearing on growth than form of governance or size of entity.

      If this is the case one would have to argue that Bangladesh (and Sri Lanka) would be able to adopt policies that would enable them to grow rapidly. And that these policies would be sustainable.

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 14:31h, 24 May


      Naxalism will fade away because it is not strongly etched. Once enough resistance to it is applied either by force or by correcting real or perceived reasons for its rise or by a mixture of the two. Don’t forget that those who profess it also degenerate with time. A sense of invincibility corrupts. We have Prabhakaran as an example. LTTE was an ideology too.

      Although I do not have arguments for right size helping quicker development in a democracy it does seem logical that correct size will have the advantage in projecting /dispersing benefits of good policies much quicker therefore voters backing them. It is trial and error in a democracy; therefore India took a lot of time for voters to back governments that delivered on development. This process will be shorter for right size democracies.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 04:11h, 25 May

      Anil: On the other hand, if democracy does not deliver for the majority, Naxalism or reactions like it could grow in strength. These could be on the Right (authoritarian) as much as on the Left. So, the key is to project the ability of democratic governance in India to satisfy the aspirations of its various constituencies. Do you feel it will deliver?

      The correct or right size hypothesis is very seductive but is not supported by evidence. At one time, it was very popular in the context of cities – it was argued that there was an optimal size for cities. But, evidence belies this claim – there are very large cities like Tokyo and quite small cities like Austin that are considered successful. The key in the case of cities is not size but governance. Similarly, the key in the case of countries is macro policy not size (either area or population). In any case, large countries can always devolve power to smaller size administrative units if size really does matter.

      I doubt if other participants in this discussion will support the inference that Indian voters took a long time to figure out that they needed to back governments that delivered on development. I am not convinced of this conclusion but I am curious what others have to say on this issue.

  • Vikram
    Posted at 04:18h, 26 May Reply

    SA, I dont know if there is direct evidence that Indians have voted for governments that have performed better in providing basic necessities. But the combination of the explosion in Indian language media (both in print and television) must imply a better informed public. And the bucking of the traditional anti-incumbency trend in recent elections does suggest some kind of change in voting patterns.

    • Anil Kala
      Posted at 12:01h, 26 May

      SA, Vikram

      The only evidence I have is that many state governments with record of better governance were returned to power in election viz. Gujarat, MP, Chattisgarh etc on the other hand BJP government did reasonably well on governance in contrast to previous governments but still lost in election.

      About Naxalism, SA what you write is what you wish and not how events unfold. Nature’s law are immoral by our standards (the predators attack the weak, sick, young and old first), and force can sustain an unnatural equilibrium for a long time. Whether, government corrects the anomalies that gave rise to Naxalism is less important than how the Naxalites react to sustained pressure. So far they have not faced it. Dictators like Idi Amin, Spain’s Franco etc have been able to rule for a long time without caring for their people. I am sure there will be several examples. It is not correct to assume that if there is a reasonably just society then there will not be radical movements opposing it.

    • SouthAsian
      Posted at 23:58h, 28 May

      Anil: I am perplexed by your comment: what you write is what you wish and not how events unfold. We do not know how events will unfold, we can only try and anticipate them. That attempt has to be based on a coherent argument; we are not at liberty to write whatever we wish. We could be wrong in our anticipation for any number of reasons including the fact that random events can intervene that we have no way of foreseeing. The aim of the conversation is to make the analysis as robust as possible with the help of multiple inputs.

      Trying to understand a phenomenon does not mean that one supports or approves of it. Perhaps I have misunderstood the point you are making.

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