Archive for April, 2010

[Note: This post draws from my previous post, Future of Democracy in South Asia.]

Thank you everyone for a wonderful set of suggestions on the Future of Democracy in South Asia project. I thank I have an excellent set of variables and potential approaches. It’s time to begin categorizing these. Let me share some of my initial thoughts, based on your feedback.


I will take Martyna’s suggestion, and divide it into phases, because the outcome of the first phases will determine the path of the later years. But, for simplicity, I’ll keep it to two: the present till 2030, and then 2030-2060.

Relative Certainties

One of the key tasks in forecasting is to understand how past changes and continuities might translate into future uncertainties (and risks) and certainties. The foremost here is what Chris suggested: climate change. Past changes are relatively certain to have impact on migration, and put strain on, as Chris put it, “inclusive politics.” But the timeline of it is not certain yet … 30 years, 50 years, 100 years?

However, another change-related certainty is: food crisis. This will be due to the loss of arable land because of sea-level rise and/or himalayan glacial melting.

Continuity from the past, I think, will assure two other relative certainties: (1) increase in literacy levels. I think Lubna’s thesis is right on this (although I don’t know whether the education will be “secular” though; I think it will continue being more technical and less critical). (2) increase in per capita income across the region. Overall GDP, however, may get affected by the climate change situation.

Relative Uncertainties

The path of anything else other than these seems uncertain to me: size of army, nuclear weapon possession or even use, press freedom (Lubna’s point), human rights performance, external trade / GDP, ethno-nationalism (Denis’s point), terrorism, US role in the region (Murli’s point), or Middle East peace (Lubna’s point).

Of these, I think the path forward for ethno-nationalism is the most complex one to predict. Greater fragmentation might continue, because of regional/local collapses (e.g. warlordism), strains from climate change, reactions to terrorism, unequal economic growth (to wit: India’s northeast or the Naxalite insurgencies in its underbelly), or as a reaction to globalization.

On the other hand, common crises such as climate change or a limited nuclear war (heaven forbid) or common positive trends, such as region-wide economic growth and the establishment of a common market might reduce the political (not cultural) importance of ethnic groups.

Health improvements to me seemed a certainty at first. But sea-level rise and flooding could intensify the incidence of water-borne diseases.

I need to think more about the path of these trends, and the changes/continuities in specific actors that can affect these trends.

Cause-effect relationships

I like Martyna’s suggestion: first figure out, what do theories of democracy predict about the empirical cause-effect relationships, and then guess how the certainties and uncertainties might affect those relationships. The consolidation literature is indeterminate with regard to many of these variables, from trade, to terrorism, to economic growth. Some say they help strengthening of democracy and others say it is unclear. I’ll need to look more into this.

Lubna also makes a very interesting point that boundaries are bound to change anyway, so we might as well think about the region as a whole. (Makes it easier for me to rationalize the project.)

So, this is an initial attempt at categorizing some of the suggestions. Please let me know what other crucial variables I’m missing or anything else! Meanwhile, I’ll be doing some background research on some of these to provide the next iteration, so stay tuned.

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I have never used crowd-sourcing in my work. But I am beginning a project in which I think crowd-sourced insights would be particularly appropriate.

The Pardee Center for the Study of the Longer Range Future at Boston University has invited me to contribute to its South Asia 2060 Project. The goal of this project is to envision how South Asia, as a region, would look fifty years from now.

Within the team, my task is to predict the future of democracy in South Asia. I am to think about the region as a whole and not do the typical country-by-country analysis.

This introduces a couple of novelties. First, whether we remove the borders or not, “India” remains the big influence. Given its past democratic performance, will it be the source of stability or continuity in the region? Or, given that its foreign policy is really about realist competition, will its values subside in its external behavior?

Or, given the million mutinies going on — from Naxalite insurgencies, to the condition in the Northeast, to Kashmir, to Hindu fundamentalism in Maharashtra and Gujarat, to the large increases in economic inequality — will democracy be challenged significantly in the next 50 years?

Aside from what happens “internally” in India, the removal of borders from consideration means that other pan-regional forces or identities, such as ethnicity or religion, will come to the fore of the analysis. And movements of political risk and reward here are harder to predict.

Of course, this forecasting exercise will follow a structured method, which I have used in other projects, and which my graduate students are familiar with. We will identify the actors and trends, the axes of likely change and continuity, the relative certainties and uncertainties, and we will develop scenarios. But what should all these be?

So, here’s an open call to blue-sky this. Help me out, and help me think through this by putting forward what you see as the future, the movers, the shakers. What might democracy in South Asia look like in 50 years?

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