Ashish Kothari and K.J. Joy have brought together 50 thinkers to assemble this unique 600-page tome containing 32 reflective essays on ideas to shape India’s future. The book’s title — Alternative Futures: India Unshackled — itself reveals the intentions of its editors, who have both been part of environmental activism and democratic struggles across the country for several decades. Encompassing ecological, political, economic and socio-cultural themes, the book explores solutions to current day developmental challenges and defies popular ideologies of economic growth and modernisation as the only available model for building our future.
Elaborating on what inspired the editors to conceive the idea of this book, Kothari writes that while working on the politics based on alternatives as an activist with the Mukti Sangharsh Movement in Maharashtra, he realised how one not only had to resist destructive development projects on the ground but also define what they were seeking in its place. This need to present a positive agenda around which demands for future projects could be based is what drives this book forward essentially.
Arguing for India’s water future, for instance, Shripad Dharmadhikary and Himanshu Thakkar state that large dams are not the way forward for harvesting water sustainably given how Maharashtra’s Chief Minister himself has admitted that despite having 40% of the large dams in the country, 82% of the agriculture in the State is rain-fed. The authors instead argue for an ecosystem approach to river water conservation that is holistic and community-oriented and pitch for practices such as decentralised rainwater harvesting as the way forward.
Discussing India’s energy future, Harish Hande, Vivek Shastry and Rachita Misra come up with a novel idea: club India’s rural livelihood mission with decentralised renewable energy production. A policy convergence of low carbon village development and energy entrepreneurship could stem distress migration to urban areas and also help fulfil India’s rural electrification goals.
Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Praavita Kashyap of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan propose the idea of direct democracy through a rainbow coalition of grassroots social movements to help frame the nation’s development agenda.
Muchkund Dubey encourages India to take a lead when it comes to shaping the future world order. At a time when the U.N. has been weakened in its peace-making agenda by a few powerful nations, the author argues for India to take the lead in restructuring the world order by building a global coalition for democratic multilateralism under the world body.
The book is filled with many more such gems of ideas that policymakers can benefit from immensely. Perhaps, a better way of organising this book would have been to bring it out as a series based on focussed thematic areas rather than packing it all into one giant book. That way the book would have been easier to read and its valuable ideas quicker to assimilate.
Alternative Futures: India Unshackled ; Edited by Ashish Kothari and K.J. Joy, Authors UpFront, ₹735.