From the era of Nehru and Bhabha

From the era of Nehru and Bhabha

... to the age of outsourcing

... to the age of outsourcing

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Reviving Business History in India - new paper from IIMB quotes author of The Long Revolution

"Emphasising the need to seek answers to some relevant questions, Mr Sharma suggested that if one looked at the top companies and tried to investigate the historical policy context that led them to their present position, it is very likely that interesting insights would emerge which are often missed otherwise. For instance, in the context of the developments in the IT industry in the past 40 years which he had catalogued, Mr Sharma maintained that there still remained some interesting questions about the IT industry that could be looked at. As an example, he pointed out that tracing the history of TCS, the largest software company in India, to identify its origins, would lead to the abolishment of the managing agency system, that forced the Tatas to look for an alternate revenue stream, which they found in Tata Data Centre, that later became TCS. A few other themes were suggested for detailed study by Mr Sharma.
The role of state entrepreneurship in IT – the context that led to the setting up of state enterprises like Electronic Corporation of India Limited and CMC, the reasons behind the commercial success or failure of such attempts at state entrepreneurship.
The new legion of entrepreneurs who are creating new types of businesses such as cut flower business, renewable energy, Ayurvedic drugs, medical tourism, low cost aviation, dot com businesses, and so on, thus reshaping the traditional business landscape.
How the idea of creating industrial estates, electronic cities, hardware technology parks, software technology parks, and electronic cities came about and the reasons for their success, growth or failure.
Themes of research thrown up by the knowledge economy – for example the study of the rise of new industry sectors such as the IT industry, biotechnology, and the emergence of companies in these industries in the last 20–25 years that have contributed significantly to the growth of GDP, the policy environment and the influences in these industries  ......"
Read the full paper here:

Monday, September 23, 2013

Nehru: The Unlikely Hero of India’s Information Technology Revolution

A talk by author of The Long Revolution at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Libraray

Read the full NMMLOccasional Paper, published under the Perspectives in Indian Development Series:

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A tribute: IT guru, technology forecaster, Computer Boy, mentor and a source of inspiration

By Dinesh C Sharma, June 20, 2013

In my 30 years of journalism career, my heart has never felt so heavy while writing an obituary. The sudden demise of Dr N Seshagiri has shaken me from inside. One often comes across a variety of people during journalism career. Most are just temporary ‘contacts’ whom you forget the moment your beat changes or tour assignment is over or the contacts retire from their positions; while a few leave everlasting impression on you. Just a handful remain your friend, philosopher and guide for lifelong. For me, Dr Seshagiri belonged to that rare category.

To the world, he was a founding father of the great Indian IT revolution and a technology forecaster, one of the shining ‘computer boys’ of the Rajiv Gandhi era, an institution builder, a great computer scientist  and a mover and shaker of the IT Task Force set up by the Vajpayee government, which led to second wave of reforms for the IT and telecom sectors. To me personally, he was a source of information, knowledge, inspiration, encouragement, energy and a pillar of strength. A telephonic talk with him or an email message from him was sufficient to energise me.

The first time I met him was in early 1990 when he was the Director General of the National Informatics Centre (NIC) and the last telephonic conversation I had with him was as recent as two months ago. In the intervening 23 years, I must have met him several times, got a number of exclusive stories and heard a lot of interesting stories from him. My communication with him was more intense after he had retired and settled down in Bangalore. I have no hesitation in placing on record that my book on the IT industry – The Long Revolution – would never have been written or if written, would have never been complete, without Dr Seshagiri.

The first time I mentioned the idea of the book to him was in 2004 when I met him in Bangalore. I vividly recall the meeting which took place at Pavithra Restaurant in Jayangarar Fourth Block Market over hot cups of coffee. I had already mentioned to him about the book project, so he came prepared with a lot of photocopies of book chapters, reports and other material. This became the seed material for my book and I straight away launched into research for the book. He was very encouraging and supportive.  A detailed, formal interview took place only two years later, in July 2006, at the NCST city office in Visvesaraya Towers.  This was followed by constant communication with him and more meetings at IIC Delhi and in Bangalore.

While providing me information and documents, he always emphasized that I should write an unbiased history of IT industry, supported by references and documents and not mere views and anecdotal remembrance. Many elements of the story would have remained unexplored or poorly explained but for critical leads provided by Dr Seshagiri. Whenever I got conflicting version of events from other players, he would listen to me and come out with logical arguments or produce documentary proofs in support of his point of view. It was an intellectual camaraderie that I thoroughly enjoyed and will always cherish its memories. Every word of the praise he wrote for my book came from his heart and he meant it. I will value it all my life. He was gracious enough to come for the Bangalore launch of the book, along with Ram Guha and S Sadagopan, making it a memorable show.

After retiring from NIC and the Task Force, Dr Seshagiri was involved in another major project, which was non-IT about which many people are not aware of it. He edited a massive series of reference books on Cities and Towns of India, published by the Delhi-based Gyan Publishers in 2008. In 2012, he came out with similar series on villages of India. It was seminal work, never before attempted by any government agencies. This is something he wanted NIC to do, but government support did not come for this. He had planned a system for constant updating of the two series, and also a digital version of it in future. My most recent interaction with him was for a paper I was writing on the future of India’s IT industry. The insights which be provided for this paper are invaluable.

Dr Seshagiri had a pleasing personality, was unassuming yet had a magnetic personality, was eager to help and was always seeking to break new grounds even at 73. He was the shining star of Indian IT and the nation must be grateful for his contributions. Many of the ideas he had about the use of technology, the future of Indian IT and social aspects of IT diffusion are still unpublished and in private domain. I thought I would convince him to pen all his ideas into a new book.  Alas, that opportunity has been lost. May his soul rest in peace. 

Saturday, April 13, 2013

IBM wanted FERA flexibility, Coke had political connections: Kissinger cables

By Dinesh C Sharma, Mail Today, April 13, 2013

The dramatic exit of American multinationals – IBM and Coca Cola – from India in 1977 is often attributed to tough stand taken by the government over the issue of cap on foreign equity.

Cables of the Kissinger era leaked by Wikileaks, however, show that the pull out was not a knee-jerk decision and, in fact, secret talks were held between the two companies and government representatives during the emergency period. The final decision by American companies to exit came during the Janata government in which George Fernandes was the industry minister.

Communication exchanged between the American embassy in Delhi and Washington in April 1976 reveals that top brass of IBM lead by Ralph Pfeiffer - Chairman of IBM World Trade Americas/Far East Corporation - was keen to remain in India but at its own terms.

The company offered several sweeteners such as a Computer Sciences Centre in India and a USD 6 million grant to the government for computer-related research in exchange of concessions on the equity issue. IBM was willing to divest to the 40 percent level – as required under the Foreign Exchange Regulation Act (FERA) – in non-core areas such as manufacturing unit for exports.

State department officials got an impression that “India wanted IBM to remain in India, but on Government of India terms” and that the position of IBM as a major transnational operating in the country “was likely to prejudice IBM efforts to obtain a reasonable concession”.

The strategy drawn for Pfeiffer’s visit to Delhi was “to try to talk reasonably with M G K Menon (who was negotiating with IBM on behalf of the government) and others without acrimony or ultimatums. If this ploy fails he return within a month to try to see Mrs Gandhi or Finance Minister Subramanian in last attempt to negotiate agreement whereby IBM can remain in India on acceptable terms”. If all this failed, IBM was ready to pull out, as it did a year later. 

Another cable sent from New Delhi in December 1976 mentions about problems Coca Cola was facing with the FERA. However, the cable said, “because it (Coca Cola) has connections at a high political level it was able to obtain relief.” The Ministry of Industry was told that it should not deny the company import licenses while its FERA case remained to be negotiated.

Besides IBM and Coca Cola, several other companies such as Goodyear and Firestone too were in trouble. The thrust of American lobbying was on “flexible interpretation” of FERA guidelines. The embassy officials also wanted that representatives of foreign firms should be allowed to actually appear in person before FERA Committee to state defend their position.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Long Revolution now selling through Amazon

For readers in the US and other parts of the world, The Long Revolution is now shipping through

Happy reading!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

'A fascinating account of Indian IT' : The Tribune

India’s IT success story
Review by D. S.Cheema, The Tribune, July 4, 2010

THIS book is a fascinating account of how the tapestry of information technology (IT) in India has been woven by the hand of history in the past four decades. This objective record is a fitting tribute to the industry, which contributes maximum to the Indian economy, and also to the exceptional contribution of men like Mahalanobis, Bhabha, Bhatnagar, Naval B. Tata, M.G.K. Menon, Sam Pitroda, Naren Patni, Azim Premji, Narayna Murthy and many others who nurtured the industry during its formative years. These men looked boldly to the future and peered beyond the common to fight the deep-rooted "license-permit culture" and helped in the ultimate triumph of the Indian IT industry. This romance has not waned a bit; in fact, the industry is scaling new heights, thanks to the solid foundation laid by many visionaries.

The eventful story of Indian IT industry has been told in a cogent manner by the author, a journalist with deep insight into science and technology communication. The foreword by Sam Pitroda, who has played a very significant role in the story and is a witness to the entire saga of IT development in India, rightly sees it emerging as "a great social leveler" from a mere "rationed commodity".

Full review at:

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

'A book for every right thinking Indian' : Yojana

By Suryakant Sharma, Yojana, February 2010

India owes its spectacular success in the IT sector to the vision, scientific temperament, commitment and perseverance of many - starting from our first Prime
Minister late Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru, to legendary scientists and statisticians like Dr. Homi J. Bhabha and PC Mahalanobis, right down to the Indian bureaucracy, technocracy and industry. IT is perhaps the most widely written about technology
sector in the country, but one rarely comes across literature bringing out the role of the government in developing the sector.

It is this gap that Dr Dinesh Sharma's book fills up, focusing on the government's role elaborately and lucidly. The book traces the history of India’s IT revolution, from the first generation of computers from UK/USA in the early 1960s and the decision to install a hired IBM 1401 machine in 1964.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Monumental work, says "Technology Review"

The Accidental Revolution
India’s $73 billion information technology industry emerged out of nowhere to the powerhouse it is today within four decades thanks to a series of unrelated happenings in the country and abroad.
By Narayanan Suresh, Technology Review, FEBRUARY 2010

When Thomas Alva Edison invented the electric bulb in the latter part of 19th century, he did not foresee the emergence public and home lighting and a huge global power generation and transmission industry. Similarly, laying the foundation stone for today’s aviation industry would hardly have been the main thought in the minds of Wright brother when they designed the human civilization’s first flying machine.The history of humans in the last few centuries is full of such examples of ingenuity of the inhabitants of our planet turning many small steps into collective giant leaps for all in thousands of unimaginable ways.

India’s information technology (IT) industry also owes its creation to one such act that happened at the opposite end of the globe. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) had decided to discontinue teaching of electrical engineering courses in power transmission and electrical machines in the early 1960s. Naren Patni, son of a textile mill owner in Rajasthan, was not aware of this change in MIT when he landed there to pursue higher studies in electrical engineering after getting a no-strings attached scholarship from the Grass Foundation, Massachusetts.

So Patni had to opt to study the newly introduced courses in control systems which were designed to train engineers to handle analog control systems of a variety of modern equipment such as gun turret controls and radar tracking systems. The western world, after the Second World War was moving towards greater use of analog computing methods in industrial production process and control systems.

Patni later met many other pioneers who were working on different aspects of computing. He also happened to work with the team that was converting large amounts of court documents and other public data into magnetic tapes using the rudimentary punching paper tapes. Patni saw the opportunity to get this work done cheaply in India. He founded Patni Computer Services (PCS) as one of the first Indian companies specializing in handling outsourcing services. The famed founders of Infosys were among the first set of employees of PCS and the innocuous decision of MIT to discontinue teaching electrical engineering had played a major role in seeding the growth of India’s IT industry.

The MIT and Patni story is just one of hundreds of happenings in various parts of India and the rest of the world that has had a major impact on the formation of India’s now much-acclaimed IT sector. Veteran science journalist, Dinesh C Sharma, based in New Delhi for nearly three decades, has attempted to document as many of these seemingly disparate happenings which have in some ways contributed to the emergence of the Indian IT industry. Sharma’s monumental effort has appeared as a Harper Collins book, THE LONG REVOLUTION, the birth and growth of India’s IT industry. Sharma’s decades of journalistic writing skills have been admirably combined with the rigors of academic research. The 427-page IT story has been embellished with 36 pages of extensive references, making it an extremely valuable resource for future researchers of India’s IT segment.

Read full review at :

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Arguably the most comprehensive book on Indian IT": Frontline


Frontline, Sep 26 -Oct 9, 2009

THE so-called “Internet Age” we live in imposes what is being called “Internet speed”. This accelerated lifestyle is exemplified in an extreme form by the saying attributed to Marshall McLuhan, media guru of an earlier, more leisurely era: “If it works, it’s obsolete.” Something the lay buyer of personal computing products has come to rue as hardware and software are often outdated even as one decides to acquire them. When events happen at such a frenetic pace, it is difficult to take stock and calmly assess the historic significance of fast-evolving trends such as outsourcing before they are overtaken by events and technology.

That may explain why compiling information technology happenings can be a frustrating exercise, with McLuhan-like obsolescence threatening a publication in the brief time between concept and publication. Yet, for India at least, the story of the country’s rise to become a respected, globally accepted brand in IT is a key component of its wider history, and the task of telling it can be both daunting and challenging. That is reason enough to welcome Dinesh Sharma’s contribution to the subject, arguably the most comprehensive treatment so far of the birth pangs, early development, growth and maturity of India’s information technology industry.

For those who are part of the IT-driven business today as well as for lay readers, the book is a timely reminder of how the industry, which has played a large role in transforming India into a trillion-dollar economy, owes its growth to individuals and governments in almost equal measure across a five-decade time span. Indeed, Sharma, a veteran science communicator, who is currently Science Editor of the Delhi-based tabloid daily Mail Today, is the right person to undertake the task – bringing a combination of subject knowledge and detachment to bear on his measured yet highly readable account. This is no mean achievement because the rise of Indian IT must necessarily touch on the actions and decisions of a few dozen individuals, in positions of authority, most of whom are still around. It would have been easy, with the advantage of hindsight, either to laud or to trash their actions. Sharma avoids both pitfalls. While many of the protagonists may not agree with his judgments, they will be forced to respect them for a calm and uniform objectivity.

Read full review at

"Well researched, balanced, objective": SPAN


SPAN, Sep-Oct 2009

One lesson from Dinesh C. Sharma’s well-written and meticulously researched history of India’s IT industry is the caution against presuming one can find a moment when this phenomenon is static long enough to examine, categorize, guide or predict it. This leads to the question: Was the book not obsolete by the time it rolled off the printing press?

The answer in this case is no. And not only because of Sharma’s skill as a story-teller who, even with a subject some might consider dry, writes with humor, a sense of adventure, painting portraits of flawed heroes, the best intentions gone awry through human hubris and just plain fallibility. For Sharma’s story, just as a classic Greek drama, has a moral, more than one. His tale reminds us of the adage that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

Sharma’s book is of interest not only to historians and IT professionals, but psychologists, statisticians, and students of social and political science. His writing is also forward-looking, with a careful examination of India’s higher education system and how it can be developed to produce the graduates the country needs, not only for institutional research and national development, but to lead the businesses and private industries that will create jobs for the growing population.

Read full review at:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Story of a transformation

Deccan Herald, September 1, 2009

Dinesh Sharma’s latest book ‘The Long Revolution’, which talks about the birth and growth of India’s IT industry, was released at a City bookstore

The book The Long Revolution by Dinesh C Sharma could not have found a better place than Bangalore for its launch. As the author claimed, this City has helped him a lot in bringing about this book as it is a book about the IT industry.

The book was launched by the author recently at a City bookstore. He read excerpts from the book, which was followed by a panel discussion with historian and author Ramachandra Guha, N Seshagiri, former Director General, National Informatics Centre and S Sadagopan, Director IIIT, Bangalore.

The book tells the tale of a great transformation. How a country became a front-runner in the technology and knowledge-based sector and turned into the favoured investment destination for the US giants. The author has spoken about the birth and growth of India’s IT industry.

In fact, this is the first book which has covered everything about the IT sector in this country. From the time of its inception till it grew to become such a big giant, all minute details are covered by Dinesh. He has also emphasised on the fact that the Government of India has played a very important role in nurturing the IT industry. The decisions taken by the government, the amendments made, the laws passed, everything has been digged out by Dinesh.

Read full story here:

Monday, August 31, 2009

India's IT boom a brainchild of Indira Gandhi: New book

Business Standard, Bangalore, August 29, 2009

Rajiv Gandhi is often credited with ushering in IT revolution by implementing the new computer policy, liberalising the hardware imports in 1984 but the policy which provided a headstart to India in software exports was actually brought in by his mother Indira Gandhi weeks before her assassination, a new book on Indian IT revealed.

The 1984 policy providing the provision for software exports through satellite links was approved by Indira Gandhi's cabinet but was announced by the government headed by Rajiv Gandhi on November 19,1984, the book titled "The Long Revolution:The Birth and Growth of India's IT Industry" written by science journalist and author Dinesh C Sharma said.

It was the provision of exports via satellite which attracted American firms like Texas Instruments (TI) and opened up new gateway for software exports from India. Two other companies were licensed along with TI to set up software units with satellite links but only TI took off, it said.

In fact,a number of policy initiatives including liberalisation of policies for computer and electronics sector, rural digital telephone exchange, software technology parks and computerisation of railways, which are linked with Rajiv's era, were set in motion by Indira Gandhi after she came to power in 1980, it said.

"Post-1980, Indira Gandhi was a changed person. It was almost as if she was repenting for the excessive socialist policies unleashed under her rule in 1970s" Sharma told PTI. Dr.N.Seshagiri-former Director General of National Informatics Centre and one of the 'computer boys' of the Rajiv Gandhi era - who was present at the launch of the book here last night, said the technology initiatives of Indira Gandhi were vigorously pursued by Rajiv when he became the Prime Minister after her assassination.

Full story at:\s-it-boombrainchildindira-gandhi-new-book/72150/on