The new year of 2017 already seems destined to be remembered as one of those epochal turning points: another end of history or the end of globalisation or the end of liberalism, or if you are prone to utter hysteria, the End of Days. Most of this is, of course, because of all that transpired in 2016. Here, at this magazine, dedicated as we are to the persistent present of India today, we are less inclined to hyperbole. But even we might concede that perhaps 2017 marks a much-postponed conclusion to the lingering 20th century.
Though the closing weeks of 2016 have been tumultuous, even chaotic, in India, the turmoil was announced by distant drums: the Brexit vote in the UK, the election of Donald Trump in the US, the escalating conflict in Syria. While the disruptions (or ‘inconvenience’, as some would have it) of our own national social experiment may be of smaller consequence to the world, it has allowed us to join the panicky new global mood or zeitgeist (and it’s generally not a good portent when everyone starts using German words). And yet, it’s worth recalling that until that November evening when Prime Minister Narendra Modi chose to distract us from Donald’s day, our country seemed in many ways ahead of the curve. After all, we had our own polarising elections way back in 2014. “Voldemort won!” read one popular social media post of the day. Only to be met by the inevitably cruel retort: “Too bad about the half-blood prince.”
But beyond the lamentation of the liberals and the triumphalism of the conservatives of the world today, we in India have had some time to recognise that neither party is really on the right side of history. And while the global turmoil has added resonance and meaning to our own circumstance, we are also conscious of our national particularities. Our cover package this week brings you a diverse selection of 13 essays (we’re not at all superstitious) addressing the challenges facing India in the ripening world of 2017. Our writers are a motley, if distinguished, assembly of academics, wonks, geeks, business people and litterateurs, with opinions ranging from the daring to the cautious to the melancholy. Well, perhaps mostly cautiously daring, as is only appropriate at this time of the year.
The upshot is that the elephants of 2016 have left the building. And despite that old saw about pachyderms and the men of Hindustan, we’d like to think we’ve done our bit to ensure that the blindfolds are off.