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India: from unification and slavery under the British East India Company to the push for becoming a leading force in the technological rodeo of Artificial Intelligence.
India is the Jugaad Nation, a country that transformed the art of fending of oneself into effective innovation. A country that today, according to a NASSCOM report, represents the third largest technological startup ecosystem in the world.
The technology companies in India, in fact, have driven the country’s growth, created jobs, increased access to resources, education, and health, resulting in lower levels of poverty and improved lifestyles.
India is also a region with unique geography and history, which owes many tragedies to colonization and foreign occupation, but also the infrastructures that would allow it to develop in a power, and in fact (for good or bad), in the unification of empires and principalities in one great nation.
A democracy in great development, therefore, which might soon overcome China in the technology race, and which is, in fact, today one of the nuclear powers. But India has not always been a democracy. In fact, we could as well say that it has not even always been a nation.
Actually, before the colonization, the Indian subcontinent (we do not even call it India yet) was divided between Empires and many small principalities, often at war with each other.
Historical premises: from the English colonization to the declaration of independence
India is a complex country, with almost 30 official languages (sic!) And with at least half a dozen official religions. Furthermore, the very concept of “India” as a nation, including the sense belonging to India, is pretty much recent. If we are to understand, even roughly, the Indian mentality it is crucial to see how, over 200 years, an extremely composite subcontinent, had been merging with the British mentality. A mentality that, for good or bad, left indelible marks on the formation of modern India.
The British East India Company
Being at the center of the routes for spices, the Indian Ocean was frequently sailed by the ships of the East India Companies1 of the main European powers. The British East India Company (also known as the Honourable East Indies Company – HEIC), however, arrived late to carve out a slice of the Malaysian spice market, which was basically monopolized by the Dutch Company2.
HEIC had, therefore “fallen back”3 on the Indian subcontinent, establishing trade links with the Moghul Empire4. However, despite initially being considered a second choice, the Indian market proved to be profitable, especially with tissues and nutmegs, and the Company made substantial profits in the early decades of peaceful trading.
But the Moghul empire was in decline, and therefore its unifying force fading with it, giving way to a multitude of local territorial conflicts. HEIC saw in these conflicts damage to its trade, and did its utmost to maintain peace, often resorting to local mercenaries. In this way the Company managed to establish itself as an increasingly powerful force of mediation, becoming gradually, de facto, “the” main force in India.
In this regard, it is interesting to tell the story of George Graham, one of Scotland’s many second-son adventurers5 of the time: Graham in fact, after an initial failure in Jamaica, he had managed to make his fortune in India. However, his fortune was not due to trade with the locals, but to the supply of uniforms for… the private army of the East Indies Company.
In fact, it is here that the story changes: what had been a story of commerce now became a story of conquest.
Divide and rule: the Company Raj
At that time the Indian Nabobs6 were basically all aligned with either British or French (an excuse often used by the two powers to put the locals against each other). In 1756 the Bengal Nawab Suraj-ud-Daula (in favor of the French), had attacked a British fortress in Calcutta, imprisoning the captured soldiers in a small room, in the incident later known as “the black hole of Calcutta“. True or false, accurate or exaggerated, the incident was the excuse for the reaction of the Company, which won a decisive victory at the Battle of Plassey. A victory that swept away the French from Bengal, effectively paving the way for the conquest of the rest of the Indian territory.
It seems almost unbelievable that a private company could enjoy its own army, with the power to declare wars and sign armistices. Yet HEIC, with a series of scattered wars7, progressively managed to push France into a corner and to oust the other powers from the subcontinent, thus becoming the dominant European force. But, of course, history was not destined to end here.
At the end of the 18th century, in fact, the two strongest Indian powers (Mysore and Marathas) were in decline, and the Duke of Wellington took the opportunity to grab as much Indian land as possible for the crown. In fact, with two great wars, he conquered in India more land than Napoleon had conquered in Europe, starting a dominion of over one hundred years, known as the Company Raj.
The liquidation of the company
In 1857 the Company had already conquered most of the Indian territory, managing it with an efficient administration, and building a series of infrastructures that will prove decisive for the development of the country even after the declaration of independence of 1947.
The historians, in fact, locate the birth of modern India between 1848 and 1885. The appointment of the Marquis of Dalhousie as Governor General of the East India Company laid the foundations for the essential changes to the birth of a modern state. These changes among other things included citizens’ education, and the introduction of technologies such as railways, canals, and telegraph.
However, the efficiency of this administration was not exactly in the best interests of the locals, and the brutal exploitation (like the one that led to the great Bengal famine in 1770) perpetrated by HEIC did generate quite a few resentments. These resentments grew progressively, leading to the Indian Rebellion of 1857, a series of revolts8 on a large scale. These revolts were finally bloodily suppressed, but it took the Company several months to come to terms with them.
Of course, once settled, the revolts were followed by a series of trials. At the end of those trials, the Parliament decided, through the Government of India Act 1858, to transfer control of the whole region under the British crown, liquidating (or nationalizing?) the Company.
The British Raj was thus born.
The establishment of the British Raj led to the coronation of Queen Victoria as Empress of India in 1877. In the second half of the 19th century, the effects of the industrial revolution had also arrived in India, continuing the process of modernization already begun under the HEIC. Furthermore, Britain preferred initially to ensure that the control of India would be as indirect as possible, starting to include Indians in local administrations with the Councils Act of 1892. Furthermore, 1885 saw the birth of the first Indian party: the Indian National Congress. Later on, the Councils Act of 1909 was ratified, increasing Indian involvement in the government. This act, together with the introduction of an educational system, was not so much intended to promote true Indian independence, but to create an Indian bourgeois class that would support the British government.
However, the bourgeois class that was being born became gradually a force of opposition rather than support.
WORLD WAR I: INDIAN PARTICIPATION
The Great War of proves a watershed for the relations between India and Great Britain: India, in fact, contributes with more than one million soldiers to the allies’ victory. Pictures of Indian soldiers fighting shoulder to shoulder with the English go around the world. India gains visibility, the Government of India Act of 1919 expands the participation of Indians in the government, and lays the groundwork for the beginning of a “responsible government”. Moreover, the increase in visibility allows India to participate in the foundation of the League of Nations as an autonomous entity, under the name “Les Indes Anglaises” (British Indies). All these things greatly contribute to the birth of a sense of belonging to India as a nation, something that did not exist before.
The massacre of Amritsar
April 3rd, 1919, marks a point of no return in relations between India and the Empire. Thousands of civilians, mostly Sikhs, had converged in Amritsar (Punjab) for the Vaisakhi celebrations, as well as for a peaceful protest against the deportation of the two national leaders, Satya Pal, and Saifuddin Kitchlew. Coming from the outside, most were probably unaware of the martial law imposed by Dyer for fear of revolts. Dyer’s reaction was brutal: the British blocked the crowd gathered in the Jallianwala Bagh (public garden of the city, with only one entrance, very narrow) and opened fire for more than ten minutes until the ammunition was exhausted.
This “incident” made the people angry, leading them to doubt the true intentions of the empire, and it was the fuse that would lead to the fall of the British dictatorship.
Gandhi and civil disobedience
Mohandas Gandhi had trained as a lawyer in the British education system and had already experienced on his own skin the white discrimination in his travels to South Africa. Returning to the country in 1914, he noted the conditions of extreme poverty in which the country was reduced and had already started organizing peaceful protests against excessive taxes on the population. The massacre of Amritsar led him to lead several demonstrations of civil disobedience, following the Satyagraha‘ philosophy or nonviolence, and in 1921 assumes the leadership of the Indian National Congress. The popular consensus grows and in 1930 Gandhi leads what will become known as the “Salt March”, bringing many Indians to join the movement. The Government of India Act, 1935 did not fully satisfy the population, and in 1937 the first elections were held, with the Congress winning almost everywhere.
WORLD WAR II AND THE QUIT INDIA MOVEMENT
World War II sees India as one of the most significant actors in the Allied effort against the Axis, with more than two million Indians at the front. In September 1939, when the war broke out, the viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, declared war on behalf of India, without consulting the Indian leaders themselves. Congress leaders resigned in protest, while the Muslim League decided to support Britain. Given the strong internal division, Churchill sent a delegation to deal with Congress in order to obtain full Indian support in the war9. But the British proposals were too vague, and Gandhi interrupted the negotiations demanding the immediate establishment of an Indian government (principle of the Swaraj, self-government) in exchange for support in the war.
In August 1942 the negotiation fails, and Gandhi, with his famous speech, launches the Quit India movement, demanding the immediate exit of Britain from India. Gandhi is imprisoned along with thousands of congressional leaders, and the violence that follows is repressed in less than six weeks. However, the seed has been sown, and in 1946, at the end of the war, new elections would be held.
The end of an Empire: the partition of India and the birth of Pakistan
In the 1946 elections, the Congress was the winner in 8 out of 11 provinces. However, the negotiations between the Congress and the Muslim League of Jinnah got bogged down on the partitioning issue. Jinnah proclaims the Direct Action Day, with the official goal of highlighting peacefully the need for a Muslim territory in India. Unfortunately, it would turn into a bloodbath in Calcutta, whose real causes still divide historians today. The divisions between the Hindu and the Muslim population had by now exploded.
In 1946, the British were exhausted by the freshly-ended war, and with a long reconstruction ahead, they declare that government power would be transferred to India no later than 1948. However, the increasing British concern over the ability of the army to face the situation, and the apparent impossibility of an agreement between Jinnah and Gandhi, led the viceroy Lord Mountbatten to bring forward the date, granting just little more than 6 months.
“2nd of April, 1947. I’ve now completed my first week in office. I should like to be able to paint an encouraging picture of my first impressions, but feel it would be misleading if I did so. The scene here is one of unrelieved gloom. At this early stage, I can see little common ground on which to build any agreed solution for the future of India. The only conclusion I have been able to come to is unless I act quickly, I may well find the real beginnings of a civil war on my hands.” Lord Louis Mountbatten.
In May, any attempt to create a unified India had by now failed, and Gandhi withdrew from political life. On 3 June 1947 Mountbatten announced that August 15th was to be the date of Indian independence. At the same time, the partition plan was presented, which included plebiscites to take the final decision, as well as the final date for the declaration of independence.
At the end of the consultations, despite Gandhi’s contrary opinion, Prime Minister Nehru and Jinnah agreed on the partition, and the main provisions of what would go down in history as the Indian Independence Act of 1947 were as follows:
- Partition of British India into the two new sovereign dominions of India and Pakistan, with effect from August 15, 1947
- The split of the provinces of Bengal and Punjab between the two new states
- Installation as a representative of the Crown, of a governor-general in each of the two states
- abolition of the title “Emperor of India” by the British monarch
The territorial division between Hindus and Muslims was decided, on an entirely religious basis. Actually, Western Pakistan was created in Punjab, and an East Pakistan in Bengal, which would later become Bangladesh. The two Muslim regions were separated by more than 1000 km of Hindu territory. The two colossal migrations in the opposite direction, the Muslims, expelled from India, who were fleeing to Pakistan, and the Hindus fleeing from Pakistan turned into one of the bloodiest massacres in history.
After almost 200 years of domination, the British were literally rushing out of India.
From independence to today
In 1950 the new constitution came into force: India was now a “sovereign, democratic and socialist secular republic”.
British rule was over, and along with a legacy of technology and infrastructure, and unwittingly helped to create a nation and an Indian (almost) united national spirit, it left behind deep scars and hardly healing wounds. The massacres and the blood spilled during the partition had divided Hindu and Muslim Indians forever: the wars for Jammu and Kashmir went on until 1965 (interrupted only by the UN), 1971 saw the liberation war of Bangladesh, and the last war (for Kargil) dates just in 1999.
Economic and technological growth
India has been through an extremely turbulent period since the declaration of independence, between wars and crazy natural disasters10. However, the liberalization process initiated by Narasimha Rao in 1991 has made India’s GDP grow exponentially, leading India to have the 4th world GDP in 2010 and the 3rd in 2012. This great progress shows for example in the field aerospace: in fact, in 2017 India launches in orbit 104 satellites in a single rocket, beating the 2014 Russian record of 34, to 1/3 of the total cost.
The young people who graduated from IT universities have almost all gained experience working for foreign companies, and thanks to it they started producing innovation in India. Today India has several major technological hubs, a national project of over 15 billion dollars for the urban planning of 100 “Smart Cities”, the third (according to NASSCOM) ecosystem of technology startups in the world, and Bharatnet, a project for a broadband network by 2019.
Innovation – The Jugaad Nation
The innovative spirit has never failed in the Indians, and there is a term specifically for this: the Jugaad, or the art of finding solutions to problems with anything you have at hand. It is not strange then that in a country so filled with diversities, and also with the scarcity of all sorts of means, this ability to fend for oneself has evolved. Also in the technologically speaking, this type of “frugal innovation” has generated the ability to produce effective and low-cost innovation, even if not properly following the dictates of “design thinking”.
The incubator and accelerator system for technological startups
India enjoys a very complex and active startup management system, according to NASSCOM, today the third in the world.
A growth to over 11,000 startups by 2020 is expected. With 100 accelerators, 200 business angels, and over 150 Venture Capital, the system of incubators and accelerators is making a significant contribution to this growth, although it has had some relapse during 2016.
To date, Bangalore is considered the “Indian Silicon Valley“, home of many of the largest corporations in the industry, such as Intel, Google India, EA, Apple Inc., Dell, Ericsson, Goldman Sachs, HP, Cognizant, Sony, Accenture, IBM. Hyderabad has become the largest software development center of Microsoft, after that of Redmond, while Mumbai is the financial capital of the country, and recently many IT companies have established offices there.
GIFT City is a financial hub in Gujarat should become the first smart city operating in India. It is currently under construction, and it will contain software technology parks for major IT industries, financial zones etc.
The region of Pune hosts many dedicated IT technology parks, such as EON Free Zone, Aundh, Business Bay, Magarpatta, as well as India’s largest technology park, which is Rajiv Gandhi IT Park in Hinjewadi. Other important hubs are Chennai for infrastructure and outsourcing, and the NCR (National Capital Region), including Delhi, Noda, and Gurgaon.
As already stated above, the Modi government is pushing hard for the realization of the Smart Cities Mission or the realization of 100 Smart Cities in the country. Initially, the idea was to realize them all from scratch, but the many critics have led the government to revise the proposal and move on to a “retrofitting” of cities (initially only specific quarters) already existing. However, the project remains extremely ambitious and has not yet been immune to skepticism.
From a political point of view India has always tried to remain equidistant from the two poles of alliance, contributing in 1961 to create the NAM (Non-Aligned Movement11), for the free exchange of technologies among the member countries, which allowed to maintain good relations both with Russia (friendship treaty in 1971), and with USA, and with China. After the various nuclear tests conducted between 1974 and 1998 (which led to various sanctions), in 2006 India signed an agreement with the US government for access to nuclear technologies, with the condition of clearly keeping separate military uses and civilians.
Another project the government is working on is Digital India, a “digital” modernization project, which includes 9 pillars:
- Broadband (Bharatnet, see below)
- Universal access to mobile connectivity
- Public Internet access
- E-Governance, government reform through technology
- E-Kranti, electronic delivery of services
- Information for everyone
- Electronic manufacture
- IT jobs
- “Early Harvest” programs
Bharatnet is one of the most ambitious connectivity projects. The official mission is none other than:
- Connect to 100 Mbs all Gram Panchayats, or all local administrations
- Provide B2B services in a non-discriminatory manner
- Facilitate the proliferation of broadband B2C and P2P services in rural areas.
- To act as a catalyst to increase the penetration of broadband in rural areas to facilitate socio-economic development.
On the official website, you can check the updated status of the project.
Free WiFi for everyone
The connectivity in India remains a huge problem, but it is not only felt by the Indians: the lack of connectivity it creates enormous difficulties to provide company also services like Amazon and Google (which in fact has taken steps to install hotspots free wi-fi in more than 100 railway stations), which in fact push to speed up the process. The government, on the other hand, is launching the Digital Village project, to provide free Wi-Fi to more than 1000 villages in the territory.
TeamIndu and the moon ride
The aerospace industry certainly plays an important role, and TeamIndu’s story is quite unusual. When Rahul Narayan learned of the Lunar XPrize prize set up by Google, Rahul Narayan decided to try, although he had absolutely no knowledge of space travel (he himself says he started looking for … Google). Today, Team Indu is one of the total $ 6 million competitors expected.
Ink from the … exhaust pipe!
India is a strongly urbanized country and … strongly polluted. Graviky labs thought that pollution could also be a resource, producing Air-Ink, an ink based on the exhaust fumes of cars.
Breast testing for everyone
In India, there are not many centers able to perform mammographic examinations, and cases of breast cancer arrive at the hospital now in an advanced state. Innovations such as IBreast Exam allow pre-screening to be carried out practically at home, at a very low cost.
AlgoSurg‘s XRayto3D technology makes it possible to create three-dimensional models using 3D printers, starting from plates and other two-dimensional images. The cloud-based platform is designed to help the orthopedic surgeon plan and make accurate decisions in implant surgery and deformity correction.
2. Also known as Vereenigde Geoctroyeerde Oostindische Compagnie, abbreviated as VOC.
4. The Indian subcontinent was initially considered a sort of “consolation prize” compared to the Malaysian market, considered much richer.
4. The Moghul Empire at its peak extended over almost the entire Indian subcontinent and parts of Afghanistan. It was the second largest empire to exist in the Indian subcontinent, covering roughly four million square kilometers at its height.
5. At that time it was customary for families to leave all the inheritance to the first son, while the others had to make their own way in the world, so they were kind of natural adventurers.
6. A Nabob or Nawāb was originally a subedar (provincial governor) or viceroy of a subah (province) or region of the Mughal Empire. It then became a high title attributed to Muslim nobles (cit: Wikipedia).
10. Cyclone Odisha of 1999, which killed more than 250,000 people, and the 2006 Kashmir earthquake that killed more than 100,000.
Arthur Herman (2008): Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age – Random House Publishing Group
Khan, Yasmin (2007): The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan Yale University Press
Andrea has been working in IT for almost 20 years, covering about everything, from development to business analysis, to project management.
Today we can tell he is a carefree gnome, passionate with Neurosciences, Artificial Intelligence, and photography