The origins of the India IT story lay in the vision of a few far-sighted academics and technocrats in the mid-1950s, including Professor P.C. Mahalanobis at the Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata,
and Dr Homi Bhabha,


Indian institute of statistics AND prof Mahalanobis

who helped set up the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in MumbaY

e TATA Institute of Fundamental Research.


‘Ural’ model from the Soviet Union; AT THE SAME INSTITUTE ;1958

IBM 701 system, rechristened TIFRAC or TIFR Automatic Calculator.AT The TATA Institute of Fundamental Research.1959

The computing resources at TIFR quickly overtook those at ISI. Sharma also dredges up little-known facts about the earliest Indian efforts, by a trio of engineers, to build indigenous analogue computers: A.S. Rao, just returned from Stanford University and motivated by Bhabha to join TIFR; V. Rajaraman, a young engineering graduate at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore,

V. RajaramanHonorary Professor, Supercomputer Education & Research Centre

who volunteered to join a project headed by a visiting American professor, Vincent Rideout; and Samrendra Mitra at the ISI. Rajaraman went on to become a doyen of computer education in India, joining H.K. Kesavan and H.N. Mahabala to commission the first IBM 1620 computer at the newly created
Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kanpur in 1964.

Prentice Hall published Rajaraman’s first textbook, Principles of Computer Programming, in 1969, using cheap paper so that it could, as the author insisted, be affordable for every student at Rs.15. The book remained in print in new editions until 1992. A succession of other books made Rajaraman the most-read Indian author in computer sciences.


Bhabha’s ability to recognise talent led him to hire and empower R. Narasimhan, a product of the Government College of Engineering, Guindy (Chennai), who was to become the Bhishma Pitamaha of R. Narasimhan,

The developments in the early 1960s, as a chapter heading suggests, took place “in the state’s shadow”. An ad hoc Electronics Committee chaired by Vikram Sarabhai

Vikram Sarabhai

finally morphed into the Electronics Commission in 1971, headed by M.G.K. Menon,

Bhabha’s successor as head of the TIFR. As his mentor had done with the Atomic Energy Department, M.G.K. Menon prevailed on the government to shift the headquarters of the Electronics Commission to Mumbai.

In October 1977, IBM left India, unable to agree to the conditions set by

the Morarji Desai government,

which in essentials remained consistent with the policy of the preceding Indira Gandhi regime. And the company’s unspoken stance of “after me, the deluge” underestimated the resolve in India to ensure that the 100,000 systems that had been installed continued to do “business as usual”. In a rare instance of public and private enterprise rising to fill the breach, the task of keeping the IBM systems up and running was shared by the private Computer Maintenance Services and the newly created government entity,

the Computer Maintenance Corporation,
1978   - It took over the  
of over 800 IBM data processing and 
computer installations in the country in June and later started 
maintaining systems of other manufacturers as well. 

while IBM’s non-proprietary business was smoothly taken over by the International Data Management, a company floated by a group of ex-IBM employees. Fifteen years were to pass before IBM returned to do business in India in a joint venture with the Tatas.
In 1999, IBM set up a fully owned Indian entity and was one of the first to send out a signal that India was now a technology powerhouse, not a geography to dump outdated computers. In June 2006, IBM shifted its annual financial analysts’ meeting from the United States to Bangalore, showcasing in the process the achievements of its 60,000-strong team in India.



Even during his years as a pilot with Indian Airlines, Rajiv Gandhi had a lively interest in gadgets – and a mentor in P.S. Deodhar,
P.S. Deodhar

who was to set up


one the earliest Indian test and measurement equipment makers. Deodhar briefed Rajiv Gandhi on the labyrinthine laws that hamstrung entrepreneurs in India – and Rajiv Gandhi carried this message to his mother, then Prime Minister. Even as he assumed an unofficial role as a computer-friendly facilitator for events like the 1982 Asian Games in Delhi, he smoothed the passage for the major liberalisation that finally came to the IT industry as a gift in August 1983. It fell to committed technocrats such as Deodhar, N. Seshagiri and T.H. Chowdary to take forward the Rajiv Gandhi vision once he became Prime Minister after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. Soon afterwards, Rajiv Gandhi announced a new computer policy, which among other things also saw the creation of the

Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT),

Providing Total Telecom Solutions

where Sam Pitroda

Sam Pitroda

was to transform and indigenise the massive business of upgrading India’s archaic telephone systems; and the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing

where Vijay Bhatkar would make India a supercomputing power.

Dr. Vijay P. Bhatkar



The link between politicians and technocrats that Rajiv Gandhi presided over faced a strong backlash from the IAS lobby, which finally saw the bureaucracy wrench back almost all the authority in the IT domain by 1990. It was fortunate that the candidate who found himself in the Department of Electronics in June that year was a young IAS officer of the Gujarat cadre, N. Vittal.
Within days of taking charge, he reached out to industry associations like NASSCOM and MAIT (Manufacturers’ Association for Information Technology), apprised himself of their wish lists and proceeded to set in motion liberalisation’s Second Coming, including the crucial decision to set up State-based

Software Technology Parks.
Old technology warhorses such as Seshagiri were requisitioned once more to implement the new vision; international IT giants like Texas Instruments, and then Motorola, Bosch and IBM were enabled to harness satellite technology and set up their first development centres in Bangalore. Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited (VSNL)

vsnl tower

was created to provide such international data umbilicals.

Meanwhile, the India IT story had grown in two more directions: the IITs, each with a different godparent (the U.S. for Kanpur,

the Soviets for Mumbai,

Germany for Madras)
became epicentres of technology excellence though the fruits did not immediately translate into direct national benefit. The academic mindset that set more store by a doctoral “dhobi mark” rather than practical applications continued to hamper the IITs for decades. Scientists such as S. Ramani, who helped create the National Centre for Software Technology

(NCST) in Mumbai,

S. Ramani,
set out to repudiate the IIT model and helped train a generation of earthier engineers. The educational arena also saw the rise of far-sighted entrepreneurs such as R.S. Pawar

R.S. Pawar

, Vijay Thadani

and P. Rajendran

who amicably left the nation’s number one private IT player, HCL, in 1981, to set up NIIT

and impart non-formal computer training for the masses. It was to become one of the world’s biggest IT trainers

Their parent company had played no small part in creating a truly “desi” computer industry. HCL

was born when Shiv Nadar

and half a dozen of his colleagues left the first Indian computer maker,

DCM Data Systems, in 1975

to start their own outfit. For some years, the two companies – joined by ORG and PSI – continued to innovate and provide Indian corporate and lay customers the computer muscle that complex import regulations still denied

The first desktop computer was the HCL Workhorse,

Busicom 141-PF / NCR 18-36

a personal computer that pre-dated the PCs that IBM hardware and Microsoft software was to launch jointly almost four years later. The Workhorse used a green display monitor and five-inch floppy drives (no hard disk then!) to load software that came free – HCL’s cleverly developed clone of Wordstar called “Secretry” (title restricted to eight characters!) , and their own versions of other contemporary database and spreadsheet softwares. Sharma provides fascinating detail of those pioneering years of Indian computer manufacture.

Sadly, skewed policies made it unviable to manufacture PCs or printers in India. The lack of a strong indigenous hardware manufacturing base continues to hamper the Indian IT industry.

in 1970 F.C. Kohli, a senior manager at Tata Electric,

was asked to help build the group’s computing services department into an independent IT house –

Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).

Azim Premji
Click to show "Azim Premji" result 9Wipro Campus Bangalore

steered his family vegetable oil business (Wipro originally stood for Western India Products Ltd) into computers and persuaded an engineer from ECIL
, Sridhar Mitta, to quit and become the first employee of the new tech entity in 1980. An Osmania University graduate, Vinay Deshpande gave up a career at Stanford University to start PSI Data Systems in Bangalore. And the drawing room of his home in Pune served as the first office for N.R. Narayana Murthy
Narayana Murthy - 2529
and five of his colleagues at Patni Computers when they left to start their own IT company in late 1981.

They called it Infosys Consultants.
Today, TCS, Infosys and Wipro straddle the Indian IT scene as the three musketeers of the outsourced services business. Deshpande, having sold off PSI to a French company, Bull, now heads a small but innovative outfit called Encore, which has come up with more than its fair share of compelling products.