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Raisina Files 2024 - The Call of This Century: Create and Cooperate


Samir Saran and Vinia Mukherjee, Eds., The Call of This Century: Create and Cooperate, Raisina Files, February 2024, Observer Research Foundation.

Editors’ Note

Armageddon / ˌɑːməˈɡɛdn / noun

The end of days.

Pralaya / ˈpɹʌləjə / noun

The end of days that heralds the rebirth of the world.

Much of contemporary discourse regarding global affairs is clothed in eschatology. We read of a planet on fire, of proliferating war and famine, of a plague enveloping the globe. Perhaps the Abrahamic notion of Armageddon—the end of days—has infected the times in which we live with a certain degree of fatalism. Yet doomsaying is rarely conducive to transformation, and doomsayers seldom build our futures. Take that line segment, with all its linearity and finiteness, and make it a circle: The more productive Indic notion of Pralaya—the end of one age and the rebirth of another; the deep notion that destruction is intrinsically linked with creation, that every Armageddon is necessarily followed by a Genesis.

The 2020s are the new 1940s. After being ravaged by the pandemic, and by the conflicts across Europe, Africa, and Asia, we are now faced with a clean slate, a tabula rasa that is teeming with possibility and potential. Here is the chance to build the proverbial city upon a hill. We have an opportunity to script a better future—to create and recreate, write and rewrite, with each passing day.

The genesis of a new world is within our reach and we cannot take it for granted. It demands a concerted effort to assemble the right cast of characters, a 21st-century entente. Be it nations that influence, voices that include, or leaders that inspire: the call to action is clear. We must cultivate communities and collectives, united in the shared pursuit of a better tomorrow. This is the moment for individuals, regardless of ethnicity, gender, caste, or creed, to take up the mantle of leadership. This is the time in the sun which, not the first billion people, but the next seven billion have awaited.

This edition of the Raisina Files is infused with this conviction. The call of this century is to dispense with cynicism and to embrace what is appearing and emerging. A call to work towards inaugurating an inclusive and sustainable future. Rising up to the task requires us to create and cooperate, to build communities fit for this purpose.

This volume comprises contributions from an ensemble of thinkers who problematise, and attempt to answer, the pressing questions that matter. What are the power dynamics between a State and its citizens in this age of the digital? How do we protect our children in their always-online world, while preserving their agency and rights? If the current Western-led mechanisms of international aid are failing to meet the needs, how do we ensure that assistance truly reaches the grassroots? What transformations do our food systems require so they can be fit for the zero-hunger goal? As we move to the green frontiers, how will women lead the change? And how does the global financial system become just that—global?

The authors of our fourteen essays confront these questions, and more, giving us a glimpse of the possibilities and the promises that are for us to keep.

Stephanie Diepeveen opens the volume with her essay on power: Who wields it, in an era when digital technologies become part of the infrastructure and tools through which political, social and economic life plays out? She says the relationship is dialectical. “Any form of power is not without limitations: digitally-mediated government is no exception, and citizens continue to evade and contest state power.” 

Mallory Knodel writes in the same context of the digital age and ponders the question of how we should protect children’s rights as they live it. She argues for a human-rights-centric framework that “emphasises the dignity and well-being of every child, acknowledging their right to privacy, safety, and freedom from exploitation.”

Whether in a digital or analogue age, however, certain issues have hardly changed for the world’s women. Gala Díaz Langou and Sofía Fernández Crespo call attention to the enduring challenge of gender gaps in economic autonomy: Women are either unemployed, or if they are, they are segregated in the ‘economy of the shadows’. And yet, Gala and Sofía argue, “narrowing and closing these gaps will foster women's rights; it is also a strategy for overall development.”

Mariam Wardak gives us hope in her essay, that even amidst the seemingly intractable Taliban rule, Afghan women are effecting change in every way they can. We may not be hearing about them from the media—maybe because people like the news to be loud—but quietly, they are reclaiming their space.

Some of the tools that the women of Afghanistan are using have to do with the digital. And it is the promise that Astha Kapoor writes about—how we must build our digital public infrastructures based on our contexts and needs. DPI should be inclusive, she says. “If the needs of countries are made the centrepiece of the global discourse on DPI, this approach is likely to achieve immense value for people across the world.”

One country that is showing the way here is India. Erin Watson celebrates the country’s DPI: “As developed countries seek to reform legacy financial systems or developing countries build new ones, India has a world-leading solution that can revolutionise how global economies engage with India and with each other.”

Lucy Corkin then gives us her view of another aspect of the financial system, that of currency exchange and the universalism of the US Dollar. She argues that our aim should not be to dethrone the USD, but to disintermediate the role of the USD in financial markets infrastructure and payments rails. “If successful, this will, in a stroke, provide a buffer against the [USD’s] use for political means.” While overhauling global currency exchange might be premature, disintermediation will reduce global reliance on USD-based norms.

What is a more urgent overhaul, Aude Darnal writes, is that of the dominant international assistance model—one that is “stained by colonial-inherited assumptions and attitudes favouring international Western institutions and knowledge systems.” She explores the possibilities in the ‘incubator’ concept, which removes from the equation foreign funding intermediaries and directly supports local actors of change, based on local expertise, knowledge, and tools.

The same creativity is needed in how we would now have to create pathways to reducing carbon emissions. Mannat Jaspal, Manjusha Mukherjee, Aurora Silitonga and Darcy Jones, in their article, show us a few ways, all of them framed by the principle of internalising the cost of carbon in goods and services. “Carbon pricing can serve as an effective pre-emptive strategy to rapidly decarbonise and build competitive economies geared for the global market.”

Indeed, the task of rapidly decarbonising has never been more urgent, amid worsening climate change. And to borrow the words of someone wise, global warming may be the same storm for all of us, but we are not in the same boat: for large populations across the world, climate change merely exacerbates the multiple, overlapping shockwaves that have battered their lives for generations. There are some 400 million of them, reminds Cecile Aptel, who are in need of direct humanitarian assistance. She outlines the risks to the continued viability of humanitarian aid, primary of which is the perpetually inadequate funding.

Climate change also threatens food systems, combining in a lethal way, notes Genevieve Donnellon-May, with “complex geopolitical dynamics, local conflicts, and external factors like economic downturns.” She makes a case for reforms to global food systems amid recurrent crises and threat multipliers.

Transforming food systems would require that women be placed at the frontlines of the battle. And for Priya Shah, it essentially means recognising the crucial role that women play in the many aspects of climate action. “As we attempt to develop ground-breaking, climate-positive technologies in laboratories, green organisational supply chains, and educate the next generation in new climate-friendly practices, there is a need to equip more women not only in policymaking roles but in private enterprise as well.”

The green transition, indeed, is both, fraught with obstacles and full of opportunities, if we can see them. Rachel Rizzo highlights an area of opportune global cooperation, and that is in the supply of critical minerals. A “cartel-like” approach must be shunned, she says. “Instead, global cooperation should take precedence over stove piping which could shut potential producers out, make prices more volatile, and in turn, slow down the green transition.”

Rounding up our volume is an exposition of the supply chain vulnerabilities in the electronics sector, from the perspective of India. Jhanvi Tripathi, Srividya Krishnan and Devna Joshi argue for an “ecosystem approach” to building resilience.

This collection of essays offers a toolkit for responding to the most pressing questions posed by these contemporary times. They benefit from the authenticity of the gaze of the authors, from their passion for their domain of study and practice and their desire to build a future that tends to those who were left behind in the last century.

None of us are mere spectators to our times; we are all life’s authors. Our contributors hope that their essays have delivered elements that could undergird a future that is prosperous, empathetic, and embraces all.

Read the journal here.

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Samir Saran

Samir Saran

Samir Saran is the President of the Observer Research Foundation (ORF), India’s premier think tank, headquartered in New Delhi with affiliates in North America and ...

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Vinia Mukherjee

Vinia Mukherjee

Vinia is Publisher at ORF. She oversees the production of long-form research papers, and is curator of the Fellows Seminar Series that showcases ORF's best ...

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