3 Scenarios for India 2020

Syed Mafiz Kamal*

New York, August 11, (2014) Alochonaa: To understand the state of India in 2020, it is necessary to showcase India’s internal and external forces which will decide India 2020. This is done here by stipulating the key drivers and the arguments, a few of which have been mentioned in the previous installment of this series. The future is uncertain. Hence, this article will outline three scenarios which India may be witnessing in 2020. The conditions and the developments from the scenarios will help understand the risks and the potentials that may prevail leading to India 2020. The plausible futures are not any prediction, but rather, a reasonable explanation on how decisions and events pertaining to aspects of economy, politics, demographics, civil society and foreign policy may produce alternate futures.

In short, the alternate futures deduce that the future in India 2020 is between good, bad or mixed. The purpose of the alternate futures, hereby, is to reduce risks and eliminate surprises for policy stakeholders. Following are the summaries of the three alternate future scenarios. The summaries lay the foundation for a lengthier chronological discussion stipulating the “timeline” of the three scenarios which evaluates the “drivers”, many of which have not been mentioned above.

#1- Strong and prosperous: India will be a robust economy which will maintain 7 – 9% growth for 7 years due to economic reforms. The poverty level will be cut by over 50% and India will be food secure. Demographic indicators will be improving, as aspired by policymakers. All human and social services and demographic indicators will improve significantly. Indian debt will be reduced. There will be a dynamic civil society supporting the government efforts to accelerate development and to deal with increased urbanization. R&D investment is at an all time high, which is producing boom in technology sector. External relations with regional powers such as China, Pakistan, ASEAN and Middle Eastern countries will be harmonized to maintain a better trade and security policy. The issue of Kashmir will be resolved along with the threats of terrorism. India will become a regional powerhouse in South Asia with support from Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, by making SAFTA successful and building other regional institutions. Unlike historical offsets, all neighboring countries other than China – Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Myanmar – have become stable democracies. Nepal and Bhutan are India’s strong allies which are acting as loyal Indo-China buffer states. Indian security apparatus is able to deal with any internal and external physical threat.

#2- Growth, not developed, with fragmented governance: India will maintain optimal growth of 7% but the development indicators will not change significantly. Poverty will only be reduced by 25%. Economic reforms have produced mixed results. India is urbanizing and the ever young country is demanding better governance. The central government in Delhi has not been able to produce robust change that it envisioned due to corruption and competition among states. The role of provincial governments has increased and the central government’s role is minimized. As a result, national policies have not worked. The issue of Kashmir has been unchanged because both India and Pakistan have been indifferent to the cause due to other priorities. Indo-China relations have gotten better because of increased trade, however, competition for Asian influence has hampered both nations to unleash their full potential of friendly relations. In South Asia, India has become a stronger powerhouse, both in economic and military resources, but the region is still far away from being cooperative. Regional countries suspect India’s regional policy as being intrusive. Due to Chinese assistance in shaping their Maoist ideology, Nepal is not the strong and ultra-loyal buffer state between India and China as Indian policymakers expect. Moreover, the issue of Tibet remains a point of dispute between India and China. The regional institutions remain ineffective, popularly known as “talking shops”. Regional trade has increased from 4% to 12%, but still significantly low compared to Europe-65% or South East Asia-40% (ASEAN).

#3- Stagnated and threat mitigating: India is not able to deal with its demographic change. Young people, comprising over half of the population, are vastly unemployed. The sex ratio has reduced to an alarming low rate of women to men (900 to 1000), creating major social problems. A large part of India is still rural where social services are inadequate. The youth bulge in the population is creating social unrest, with increasing protests demanding better governance. Competition within states has left the central government completely ineffective. Hence, governance has become competitive and fragmented. Economic growth has reduced to 5% which does not even satisfy the population boom. The threat of terrorism has significantly increased. Separatist and insurgency movements have proliferated in myriad remote areas. India has fought and won another war with Pakistan (which was subtly backed by China) over Kashmir. But much resource has been over-utilized in the war. Conventional and nuclear arms races have restarted with Pakistan. Poverty in India has only reduced by 10%. Indo-China trade has stagnated. China has a stronger hold in Asia which reflects India’s loss. China influences Nepal’s internal affairs, via Maoist politics, more than India can afford. Tibetan issue may rise from a point of dispute to actual conflict. This increases India’s perception of external threats from China. India faces a major energy crisis. Entrepreneurship and foreign investments are at all time low. The prospect of a peaceful and prosperous South Asia region has crumbled. SAFTA has not opened up any new markets. Regional institutions remain “talking shops”.

*Syed Mafiz Kamal is an international affairs analyst, formerly at New York University. His research focused on South Asian regionalism and also in the the thematic areas of political economy and peacebuilding. He is currently at the United Nations. He can be followed @SyedMKamal.

** is not responsible for any factual mistakes (if any) of this analysis. This analysis further is not necessarily representative of’s view. We’re happy to facilitate further evidence-based submissions on this topic. Please send us your submission at


Categories: India

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