ASET Colloquium

Midnight’s Machines: A Political History of Technology in India

by Mr. Arun Mohan Sukumar (The Fletcher School, Tufts University, USA)

Friday, March 4, 2022 from to (Asia/Kolkata)
at Online ( )
Every Prime Minister of independent India has guided, if not personally overseen, one prized portfolio: technology. If in the early years, Nehru and his scientist-advisors retained an iron grip on it, subsequent governments created a bureaucracy that managed everything from the country's crown jewels - its nuclear and space programmes - to solar stoves, and mechanized bullock carts. But a lesser-known political project began on 15 August 1947: the Indian state's undertaking to influence what the citizens thought about technology and its place in society. Beneath its soaring rhetoric on the virtues or vices of technology, the state buried a grim reality: India's inability to develop it at home. The political class sent contradictory signals to the general public. On the one hand, they were asked to develop a scientific temper, on the other, to be wary of becoming enslaved to technology; to be thrilled by the spectacle of a space launch while embracing jugaad, frugal innovation, and the art of 'thinking small'.

In this talk, spanning the arc of modern India from the post-War years to the present day, Arun Mohan Sukumar will draw on his book, Midnight’s Machines, to highlight the political context in which important decisions on technology were made by the Indian state. It will focus on individual moments that brought independent India to the 21st century, analysing also the role of personalities and their politics in nudging India to embrace or reject new technologies.

About the Speaker:
Arun Mohan Sukumar is a PhD candidate at The Fletcher School, Tufts University, and a pre-doctoral research fellow at Fletcher’s Centre for International Law and Governance. He previously headed the Cyber Initiative at the Observer Research Foundation, one of India’s biggest think-tanks. His first book, Midnight’s Machines: A Political History of Technology in India, was published by Penguin RandomHouse India in November 2019. Midnight’s Machines won the Ramnath Goenka Award for Non-Fiction (2019). The book was also named among Bloomberg’s Best Books of 2020, and shortlisted for New India Foundation’s Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay Book Prize (2020). Arun was previously a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on the Digital Economy and Society (2016-2019).  He was appointed in 2017 by India’s National Security Advisor to a 'Study Group on Cyber Norms' that advised the Indian government on a national strategy towards the development and negotiation of global cybersecurity norms.
Organised by Dr. Satyanarayana Bheesette