Abstract: Foreign Computers in 1960s India: Job Eaters, Consumers of Foreign Exchange, or Export Creators?

Ross Bassett


The Indian information technology (IT) business, today generating $100 billion in revenue annually and employing nearly 3 million people, had its origins in the 1960s, a time when the foreign computer was highly controversial in India. Trade unions, using information from the United States and Europe, argued that the computer was a job-eater that would destroy the Indian economy. They organized protests, called for anti-computer legislation, and blocked the installation of computers. The Indian government, trying to minimize imports, imposed heavy duties on computers and required purchasers of computers to guarantee that they would generate foreign exchange. In this environment, managers of the Tata business group, which long prided itself on acting in the interests of India, developed an IT firm, Tata Consultancy Services. TCS developed a business that wrote software for foreign companies, most notably the American computer manufacturer Burroughs. Tata managers argued for loosening of government restrictions, asserting that its computer business brought concrete benefits to India.