The fortunes of a country, organisation or team are often intertwined with that of the leader. The two are difficult to separate. By all counts, 2021 was one of the most trying years for India in a long time. For the prime minister, the de-facto CEO of the nation, too it was a tough year when nothing seemed to be going right. When we exited 2020, after the holocaust of COVID-19, we thought the worst was behind us. Little did we anticipate what 2021 had in store. But, looking back, if one were to draw up a “balanced score-card” shorn of bias and prejudice, India has fared well in comparison to the rest of the world. Therefore, it is also not surprising that, at the end of the day, Narendra Modi’s own ratings remain higher than his peers across the world — much to the frustration of his detractors both in politics and the civil society.
However, this piece is not intended to be yet another Modi-Shah Nama. The more important question at this point is what we can expect in the year ahead — so as not to repeat the same mistakes of 2021 — if that is at all possible. If there is a lesson that we ought to have learnt from our two-year tryst with the pandemic it is, the only thing predictable is that nothing is, any longer, predictable. Though hindsight is said to be 20/20, the second wave of COVID-19 has shown the severe limitations of counterfactual analysis. Everything the experts said we should have done when the Wuhan virus was let loose upon the world two years ago, would not have protected us from the scourge of last year.
Similarly, as Omicron knocks at our door, the experience of the Western world which had to bear the initial brunt, shows old strategies may not be as effective. Even vaccination and boosters are no insurance against reinfection. Thus far, one can only hope against hope that the new variant is milder, even if more contagious than its precursors. So, like the virus, mankind too has to reinvent its game.
When coronavirus arrived, thinkers and trend-watchers indulged in frenzied crystal ball gazing to come up with ideas of a “new normal” in a post-Covid era. Most of those prophecies pertained to how we would live and work. While some of their prognosis may have turned out to be, at least partially, correct, many more have been miles off the mark.
The idea of “Work From Home” becoming the rule has been diluted with the concept of the “hybrid” workplace. But, air travel is back to old levels as clients and customers still prefer in-person or on-site interactions. Different sectors of the economy have reacted and responded in ways that were not expected, sometimes with pleasant surprises. In India, the rural economy has shown far greater resilience and spunk in the midst of apprehensions. Revenge buying during festivals notwithstanding fears of job and income loss flummoxed pundits. While digital transactions have taken off, the physical marketplace is far from dying.
Yet, changes are happening inconspicuously and imperceptibly that may be missing the naked and untrained eye. Epidemiologists and virologists, who once opined that pandemics appear and disappear with equal abruptness have now revised their prognosis and are saying viruses do not go away completely; they only recede over time in terms of severity and spread. So, we may not see the last of this micro monster any time soon. But, what happens in the interregnum? With the advent of AI, Robots and Technology, humanity may be in the throes of a tectonic shift without realising it that may sound like science fiction today but become reality sooner than we anticipate.
Yuval Noah Harari recognises these prospects to visualise what life would be for kids growing up today, 20 years from now when they would be in their prime. So, as parents, when we are fretting about when schools will restart putting an end to the trauma of online classes for them, students and teachers alike, it may be a good time to think about what kind of education we would like to give our children.
It is clear that the past will not for long be an indicator of the future. So, what kind of skills should we impart to the next generation? This isn’t relevant for the upper-class urban elite but society at large cutting across social strata. So, when politicians and economists clamour for more jobs, it is also important to reflect upon the jobs of the future so that we build age-appropriate competencies. Even politicians have to re-engineer their methods of connecting with stakeholders.
And, as for us adults, after two years of blaming everyone else, 2022 should be the year for looking inwards to see how we can make ourselves, our families and the society at large “future proof” as we wait for booster shots to make us Omicron proof.
The author is a current affairs commentator, marketer, blogger and leadership coach, who tweets at @SandipGhose. Views expressed are personal.