Vichaar Manthan's Sustainable Narratives conference held its final fireside discussion this weekend with Shashi Tharoor entitled 2050: Global World Order?. This thought-provoking conversation, led by Dr Sachin Nandha, delved into Tharoor's perspective on the biggest challenges facing humanity over the next 30 years from a governance perspective. His assessment landed on autocracy, deglobalisation and environmental sustainability, advocating that to counteract these challenges we must "recognise the shared interests of our common humanity".
Shashi Tharoor draws on his nearly three-decade long career at the United Nations (UN), where he served as a peacekeeper, refugee worker and administrator at the highest levels, serving as Under-Secretary General during Kofi Annan's leadership of the organisation.
Dr Sachin Nandha as Chair opened the enquiry highlighting that, in the age of technology, we have never been more connected, yet we are seeing themes of tribalism and totalitarianism flourishing. Are these sustainable ideologies?
Sachin, reflected on his prior discussion held with Professor Steve Tsang and BJP member Ram Madhav entitled 'Sustainable Governance In A Rapidly Changing World' that concluded Democracy "remained the most sustainable governance system available to us today" yet it also "cultivates and perpetuates mediocrity". Sachin therefore raised the question to Tharoor as to whether there is something fundamentally gone wrong with liberal democracy.
Tharoor asserts that the "Totalitarian state of China looks crisp and clear. Liberal democracies haven t done well", arguing the 2008 crash meant confidence in the system plummeted. Furthermore, he highlighted a flaw that many of the "strong-men" who lead democracies don t believe in it, referring to the likes of Trump, Erdogan, Modi. However, he went on to defend the position that "Democracy is an ongoing process of debate, discussion and election therefore permits diversity and self-correcting mechanisms."
Nationalism vs International Cohesion: What is the impact of ideologies that threaten nations?
*Fascism - Tharoor pinpointed that the likes of Erdogan Orban, Putin and Xi Jinping are "appealing to popular sentiments which brought fascists to power in Italy and Germany with their stance of 'vote for us because we?re like you'?.
* Nationalism - Historical iterations of nationalism (e.g. ethno-nationalist) occurred between the World Wars and Aryan persecution of Jews Tharoor determined that these totalising absolutes defined nationalism.
*Patriotism - A new kind of nationalism - Civic Nationalism. Tharoor characterised this as being grounded in constitution, a sense of belonging to that country i.e. patriotism. Civic nationalism is a "viable version of patriotism for a country like India". Multiple religions, languages, cuisines, a melting pot or thaali, if you will?, where the combinations of all parties brings a perfect balance such that it's greater than the sum of its parts.
His main concern is the emerging trend of "undermining multilateralism" as he believes "global system works to benefit of all of us and if the US start backing away, the world faces trouble". This echoes the conclusions of Vichaar Manthan's previous panel discussions on Governance.
What does a tripolar world look like?
Tony Blair stated that by 2050, we will live in a tripolar or bipolar world (including India).
*US We saw that in the period from 1990-2010 the US 'lead' global geopolitics. However with China's strengthening purchasing power its on course to surpass the US as number one manufacturing economy and exporter, and so Tharoor predicted their GDP (although not the only important measure) will surpass the US in next five to ten years. Despite this, we are reminded that currently the US has greater military power and their economic model has to date proven more effective than that of Chinese model.
*China - In Tharoor's opinion, Covid19 aside, the Chinese are "not doing themselves any favours at the moment." He sites that Xi Jinping is preoccupied with "consolidating power, eliminating potential leaders and being aggressive with his neighbours (i.e. Japan, India, Philippines)". Furthermore, by changing the system to make him leader for life he also remains -?"the focus of blame when things go wrong. This is not sustainable."
*India The above mentioned panel discussion on Sustainable Governance with Ram Madhav concluded India had all the potential to be a global leader. With this in mind it was useful to then hear Tharoor's balancing views on what India may need to consider in order to strengthen its place in the game.
For India to become a Tripolar player, Tharoor as an Opposition politician called for a "different kind of India politically liberal and economically different". He suggested areas like land laws, regulation and upholding the Constitution as key areas of focus. He highlighted that "the unity of diversity is special and makes us admirable in the world" and strengthening this value through policy could be most beneficial to India. If we look back far enough, India certainly thrived as an ancient civilisation when it operated this way and could be a source of inspiration as India builds to greater heights going forward.
With the its largest donor (the US) bordering on withdrawing, is the UN de-stablising?
"The UN is worth preserving but also worth reforming, it is a real worry about how to make the UN fit for purpose in the next 25 years.
Tharoor advocates that "We need international cooperation. We must actually recognise the shared interests of our common humanity, and the UN is an existing forum. It may not be perfect, but we've got it. It'll be crazy to destroy it or undermine it because it may be difficult to rebuild again. It's very important the UN rise to the occasion now, and at the same time that the countries of the world realise that we can't afford to do without it."
What are we going to say when we look back in 2050?
Tharoor concluded that where we end up depends on how we the tackle current trends like the attraction of ethno-nationalism, populism, the defaming of globalisation and impatience of economic results. Although the debate highlights the ever-increasing shift towards a totalitarian future, history has shown that through enquiry, debate and action, we can change our course at any time. Tharoor sums this up by saying: "An Optimist regards the future with uncertainty. The future has to be fought for. We can t sit back and let it all happen? Liberal democracies must counter with tools of reason and emotion."
He reminds us that important trends are visible now and those of us in a position to challenge them should do so." Being in a Democracy, change is in our hands.
Daksha Raval is a graduate of Economics. After over a decade working at the Big4 on cross-border tax, she is now Founder of Serve.Social'setting out to create a global culture of volunteering, and is one of Vichaar Manthan's newest volunteers.