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‘Fancy Calculating Machine’: Computers and planning in independent India

  • NIKHIL MENON (a1)
Abstract

In the middle of the twentieth century, statistician P. C. Mahalanobis strove to haul India into the computer age. Convinced that these machines were integral to the future of economic planning in India, he and the Indian Statistical Institute mounted a campaign to bring India its first computers. In the years following independence, Mahalanobis and the Indian Statistical Institute acquired significant influence in the Indian planning process—culminating in them effectively authoring India's Second Five-Year Plan (1956–61). The tale of the computer's journey to India demonstrates that the decision to centrally plan independent India's economy, and the resultant explosion of official statistics, provided the justification for the pursuit of computers. They potentially solved what was considered centralized planning's greatest puzzle: big data. Mahalanobis persuaded the Indian government of the need to import computers for the purposes of development, and then negotiated the import of these exorbitantly expensive machines during visits to Europe, the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Needless to say, the question of which country would provide India its first computers would ruffle Cold War feathers. This article brings together and identifies a link between the research activities of the Indian Statistical Institute, its deepening association with economic planning and the installation of India's earliest computers.

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1 M. Nadler, No Regrets (2008), Chapter 26, http://filebox.vt.edu/users/tampsa/pdf.files/26.%20Flight%20from%20Prague.pdf [accessed 30 November 2015].

2 P. C. Mahalanobis (1893–1972) was the founder and Director of the Indian Statistical Institute. Educated at Presidency College (Calcutta) and Cambridge University, Mahalanobis returned to India and taught physics at his alma mater in Calcutta. Mahalanobis founded the Indian Statistical Institute in 1931 and, in 1933, he began Sankhyā, a statistics journal, of which he was the editor. As a statistician, his stature stemmed from making pioneering contributions to the design and application of large-scale sample surveys. He was elected Fellow of the Royal Society in 1945, inducted as Foreign Member of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics Academy of Sciences in 1958, and elected Fellow of the American Statistical Association in 1961. He was a member of India's Planning Commission between 1955 and 1967.

3 Founded in 1931, and registered as a non-profit learned society in 1932, the Indian Statistical Institute emerged out of the Statistical Laboratory that Mahalanobis began in his room at Presidency College in the 1920s, swiftly becoming India's foremost institution for statistical research. The Indian Statistical Institute's activities and funding during its early decades were determined by the projects it worked on contract for the government and private firms. This included research on flood control in Bengal and Orissa, agricultural field trials, sample surveys to estimate crop yields, meteorology, and demography. In the 1950s, it became closely associated with the National Sample Survey and studies on economic planning. It was deemed an ‘institution of national importance’ with the status of a university in 1959 through the passage of the Indian Statistical Institute Act in parliament.

4 Mahalanobis had met Jawaharlal Nehru several times before the Second World War, usually when the young Congress leader called on Rabindranath Tagore. Their conversations on planning began in 1940 at Anand Bhavan, the Nehru family home in Allahabad. Mahalanobis recalls them staying up past two in the morning discussing the future of economic planning in the country. In 1950, Prime Minister Nehru considered making the man he described as the ‘presiding genius of statistics in India’ a member of the inaugural Planning Commission. Nehru decided against it then, but the statistician did become a de facto Planning Commission member in 1955. Mahalanobis, P. C., Talks on Planning, Statistical Publishing Society, Calcutta, 1961, p. 3; Gopal, S. (ed.), Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru, Series II, vol. 17, Jawaharlal Nehru Memorial Fund, New Delhi, 1995, p. 288; Letter from Jawaharlal Nehru to Vallabhai Patel dated 20-2-1950, File No. 37, Part 1, Jawaharlal Nehru Papers, Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi (henceforth NMML).

5 A notable book on the history of computers outside the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union is Eden Medina, Cybernetic Revolutionaries: Technology and Politics in Allende's Chile, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2011.

6 The few works that do address the history of computers in India swiftly skip past development during the late 1940s and 1950s at the Indian Statistical Institute to a discussion of computer programmes instituted elsewhere in the 1960s. These include, for example, the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research's TIFRAC, which was commissioned in 1960, and IIT Kanpur's computer education centre which began in 1964. See Shyamsundar, R. K. and Pai, M. A. (eds), Homi Bhabha and the Computer Revolution, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2011; Bassett, R., ‘Aligning India in the Cold War Era: Indian Technical Elites, the Indian Institute of Technology at Kanpur, and Computing in India and the United States’, Technology and Culture, vol. 50, no. 4, October 2009, pp. 783810; Sharma, D. C., The Long Revolution: The Birth and Growth of India's IT Industry, Harper Collins India, Noida, 2009; Rajaraman, V. History of Computing in India (1955–2010), IEEE Computer Society, Bangalore, 2012.

7 See Chakrabarty, B., ‘Jawaharlal Nehru and planning, 1938–41: India at the crossroads’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 26, no. 2, 1992, pp. 275–87; Chattopadhyay, R., ‘An early British government initiative in the genesis of Indian planning’, Economic and Political Weekly, vol. 22, no. 5, January 1987, pp. 1929; Zachariah, B., Developing India: An Intellectual and Social History, c. 1930–50, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2005; Kudaisya, M., ‘“The promise of partnership”: Indian business, the state, and the Bombay plan of 1944’, Business History Review, vol. 88, Special Issue 01, Spring 2014, pp. 97131.

8 See Chatterjee, P., ‘Development planning and the Indian state’, in The State and Development Planning in India, Byres, T. J. (ed.), Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1994; Chibber, V., Locked in Place: State-Building and Late Industrialization in India, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2006; Bose, S., ‘Instruments and idioms of colonial and national development’, in International Development and the Social Sciences, Cooper, F. (ed.), University of California Press, Berkeley, 1998; Prakash, G., Another Reason: Science and the Imagination of Modern India, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2000, Chapter 6. For more general accounts of planning in India independent India, see Khilnani, S., The Idea of India, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1999, Chapter Two; and Guha, R., India after Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy, Harper Perennial, New Delhi, 2007, Chapter Ten.

9 See Kudaisya, M., ‘“Mighty adventure”: institutionalising the idea of planning in India’, Modern Asian Studies, vol. 43, no. 4, July 2009, pp. 939–78; Kudaisya, M., ‘Developmental planning in “retreat”: ideas, instruments, and contestations of planning in India, 1967–1971’, Modern Asian Studies, available on CJO 2014 doi:10.1017/S0026749X13000644; Engerman, D. C., ‘Learning from the East: Soviet experts and India in the era of competitive coexistence’, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, vol. 33, no. 2, 2013, pp. 227–38. N. Menon, ‘“Help the Plan—Help Yourself’: Making Indians Plan-Conscious,” in G. Prakash, M. Laffan, and N. Menon (eds.) The Postcolonial Moment in South and Southeast Asia, Bloomsbury Academic, London (forthcoming 2018).

10 The account of Nadler's life is based primarily on his unpublished memoirs entitled No Regrets, Chapter 17.

11 Ibid., Chapter 18.

12 Ibid., Chapter 19.

13 Ibid., Chapter 21.

14 There were Americans who spied for the Soviet Union. Two of them—Joel Barr and Alfred Sarant—were associates of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg (executed in 1953 on charges of espionage). Barr and Sarant obtained American military secrets, evaded arrest, and helped build the earliest advanced computer and weapons systems for the Soviet Union. They were both in Prague from 1950 to 1955 and Nadler recalled meeting them in 1955. Introduced to him as Filipp Staros and Joe Berg, they attempted to persuade Nadler to join them in Leningrad. Tempted, but unable to decide immediately, he asked them to stay in touch. Later, Staros wrote to Nadler from the Soviet Union, luring him with descriptions of the facilities at their disposal. When Nadler asked what he would work on, they responded ‘an eye in the sky’. While he could not make sense of it then, he would later realize that they were referring to Sputnik. Nadler claims that this was the extent of their interaction. Nadler, No Regrets, Chapter 21; Usdin, S., Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied for Stalin and Founded The Soviet Silicon Valley, Yale University Press, New Haven, 2005, pp. 174, 184.

15 Nadler's renunciation of American citizenship was reported in the New York Times. ‘Citizenship renounced: American in Prague says he seeks Czech nationality’, New York Times, 4 November 1950, p. 34. Nadler, No Regrets, Chapter 21.

16 The Walter-McCarran Act deemed ineligible for an entry visa ‘anybody who is or has ever been’ a member of a long list of subversive groups. Nadler had been a member of at least eight. Nadler, No Regrets, Chapter 24.

17 Ibid., Chapter 25.

18 Dorothy Luria Nadler went to the Federal Bureau of Investigation on 9 January 1958. In her interview with Special Agents, she said ‘she and her husband abhor communism and accordingly they have denounced their son’. She asked for advice on how to respond to her son's letters and announced ‘she would be willing to furnish all information in her possession concerning her son, his past activity and the activity of his wife’. Morton Nadler would learn about his mother's contact with the Federal Bureau of Investigation years later when sifting through documents in his Freedom of Information file. Ibid.

19 Ibid., Chapter 24.

20 Ibid., Chapter 24.

21 Ibid., Chapter 25.

22 Ibid.

23 Mahalanobis, P. C., Papers on Planning, Statistical Publishing Society, Calcutta, 1985, p. xlv.

24 Rao, C. R., ‘Prasantha Chandra Mahalanobis 1893–1972’, Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, vol. 19, December 1973, p. 455.

25 For further details on P. C. Mahalanobis's life, see ibid.; Rudra, A., Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis: A Biography, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1996); Mahalanobis, A., Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, National Book Trust, Delhi, 1983; and Sanyal, H., ‘Prasantachandra Mahalanobis: a biographical sketch’, Sankhyā: Indian Journal of Statistics, vol. 35, Supplement: Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, December 1973, pp. 311.

26 Nadler, No Regrets, Chapter 25; and Record No. 74, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis Memorial Museum and Archives, Kolkata (henceforth PCMMMA).

27 Nadler's memoir ends with his arrival in Calcutta. We know he spent the year 1959 at the Indian Statistical Institute as Electronic Data Processing Machine consultant, working primarily at the institute's Computer Laboratory that was managed by S. K. Mitra. His book, Topics in Engineering Logic (1962), was based on lectures he delivered at the Indian Statistical Institute in the spring of 1959. He also published an article, ‘Some notes on computer research in eastern Europe’, while in Calcutta. In 1960, he joined Cie des Machines Bull in Paris as a Research Adviser, where he worked until 1972. He then worked at as scientific adviser to Inria, a French public computational sciences research organization, until 1983. Nadler would become a pioneer in pattern recognition, especially optical character recognition (OCR), founding North American Digital Logic Inc. in 1985 (a company that, post renaming and acquisition, would deliver the Central Intelligence Agency a multilingual OCR system). He eventually became a professor of electrical engineering at Virginia Tech in 1984, serving on its faculty until 1991. Nadler was computer savvy until the end of his days: at the time of his death on 13 November 2013, at the age of 92, he possessed an active Facebook profile. “Morton Nadler” in IEEE Transactions on Electronic Computers, 1963, p. 927, http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?reload=true&arnumber=4038046 [accessed 27 March 2017]; Nadler, M., Topics in Engineering Logic, Pergamon Press, New York, 1962; Nadler, M., ‘Some notes on computer research in eastern Europe’, Communications of the ACM, vol. 2, no. 12, December 1959, pp. 12; ‘In memoriam: Morton Nadler, Professor’, News/Events: Bradley Department of Electrical Engineering, Virginia Tech, https://www.ece.vt.edu/news/article/in-memoriam-morton-nadler-professor [accessed 27 March 2017].

28 Mahalanobis was not alone in his faith in computers’ ability to transform economic management. At least two very prominent mid-twentieth-century economists, Tjalling Koopmans and Oskar Lange, argued that computers provided a solution to the computational complexities of centralized economic planning. This contention was part of a debate among economists, the ‘economic calculation’ or ‘socialist calculation’ debate, that had begun in the late nineteenth century, but gained momentum during the First World War with the successes reported in state-directed production planning. In the inter-war years, defenders of the unfettered market such as Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Lionel Robbins published influential articles arguing that planned economies were fundamentally incompatible with the efficient allocation of resources because they abandoned the only instrument that guaranteed it—the ‘invisible hand’. The Polish socialist Oskar Lange responded that ‘rational economic accounting’ was certainly possible under socialism—planners only needed to solve a system of simultaneous equations. Hayek retorted that, since solving thousands of such calculations in any reasonable timeframe was impossible, efficient planning remained a chimera. The invention of the computer changed this. At a conference in 1949, Koopmans declared ‘To von Mises’ arguments regarding the unmanageability of the computation problems of centralized allocation, the authors oppose the new possibilities opened up by modern electronic computing equipment’. Lange, who knew Mahalanobis well and visited the Indian Statistical Institute several times in the 1950s, published a short essay in 1967 claiming that socialist planning had been vindicated: ‘Were I to rewrite my essay today my task would be much simpler. My answer to Hayek and Robbins would be: so what's the trouble? Let us put the simultaneous equations on an electronic computer and we shall obtain the solution in less than a second.’ Mahalanobis, it appears, was a silent partisan. Hayek, F. A. (ed.), Collectivist Economic Planning, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London, 1963); Erikson, P., Klein, J. L., Daston, L., Lemov, R., Sturm, T., and Gordin, M. D., How Reason Almost Lost Its Mind, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2013, pp. 70–1; Kowalik, T. (ed.), Economic Theory and Market Socialism: Selected Essays of Oskar Lange, Edward Elgar Publishing Co., Brookfield, 1994, pp. 252300, 361–5.

29 Letter from P. C. Mahalanobis (henceforth PCM) to Maurice F. Ronanyne, dated 12 February 1960, Record No. 74, PCMMMA.

30 Mahalanobis was attending this event as a representative of the National Institute of Sciences of India. Another Indian representative was Homi J. Bhabha, who had only recently founded the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR) in Bombay. Bhabha would soon spearhead India's nuclear programme as first Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission.

31 Mahalanobis continued to make enquiries about calculating machines throughout his stay in America and during the few days he spent in London before returning to India. He talked to R. C. Allen & Co. in Michigan and British Tabulating Machine & Co. in London regarding possible purchases. Ibid., pp. 405, 409, 410.

32 John Mauchly and Presper Eckert built the first general-purpose electronic digital computer (ENIAC) at the University of Pennsylvania in 1943. They founded their own company, Eckert–Mauchly Corporation, which was acquired by Remington Rand in 1950.

33 The UNIVAC was delivered to the United States Bureau of Census in 1951. Mauchly to staff, dated January 1948, as quoted in Ceruzzi, P., History of Modern Computing, MIT Press, Cambridge, 2003, pp. 26–7.

34 To be sure, it is unlikely that the advertisement meant centralized economic planning on the national scale when it referred to ‘economic planning’. While this may not have been an advertisement directed toward socialist economies, it definitely was aimed at government agencies and large corporations that dealt with complex economic calculations and forecasts. Brochure for ‘The UNIVAC System’ (1948), Computer History Museum, http://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/access/text/2010/08/102646308-05-01-acc.pdf [accessed 27 March 2017].

35 Until 1970, the Indian Statistical Institute was in charge of all aspects of the National Sample Survey (NSS), except conducting the fieldwork. That was done by a government agency—the Directorate of the National Sample Survey.

36 Wassily Leontief would win the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1973, primarily for his work on input–output matrices.

37 From this point on, the United States continued to conduct input–output research on a regular basis, except for a few years in the 1950s when the Eisenhower Administration shut it down due to its perceived proximity to planning in communist countries. Polenske, K. R., ‘Leontief's “magnificent machine” and other contributions to applied economics’, in Wassily Leontief and Input–Output Economics, Dietzenbacher, E. and Lahr, M. L. (eds), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2004, p. 12.

38 The workshop also manufactured, maintained, and repaired desk calculators, punched card machines, precision measuring instruments, and machine tools. Indian Statistical Institute, ‘Twenty-second Annual Report: 1953–54’, Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics (1933–1960), vol. 14, no. 4, February 1955, p. 395.

39 Mitra, S. S., ‘A child grown into manhood’, Samvadadhvam, vol. 1, no. 3, March 1957, pp. 1011.

40 Record No. 74, PCMMMA.

41 Though the computer was not christened, it is referred to in one Indian Statistical Institute annual report as the Analogue Linear Equation Solving Machine. Record No. 74, PCMMMA; and D. Sinha, ‘Glimpsing through early days of computers in Kolkata’, p. 5, http://goo.gl/8lTLwo [accessed 15 November 2015].

42 Sharma, The Long Revolution, p. 7.

43 Speech by Mahalanobis quoted in Indian Statistical Institute, ‘Twenty-second Annual Report”, p. 406.

44 Announced by President Harry S. Truman in 1949, the Point Four programme provided technical assistance to developing countries.

45 Note made by PCM on 9/6/57, Record No. 72, PCMMMA.

46 Pitambar Pant was a friend of both Jawaharlal Nehru and P. C. Mahalanobis. Imprisoned during the Quit India movement in 1942, he had met Jawaharlal Nehru in jail and served as his secretary there. During this time, he developed an interest in economic planning that would last the rest of his life. After independence, Nehru sent Pant to the Indian Statistical Institute to help Mahalanobis. Pant would lead an Indian Statistical Institute cell in Delhi and enter the Planning Commission staff in 1956 as head of the Manpower Division and in 1958 led the Perspective Planning Division. He was, however, present at Planning Commission meetings from even earlier in his capacity as secretary to the Chairman of the Planning Commission (the prime minister). Pant rose to the rank of Planning Commission member in 1967. He would also serve as honorary Joint Secretary of the Indian Statistical Institute. Letter from PCM to Pant, sent from London, 23 June 1954, Pitambar Pant Papers, NMML.

47 The Professor wanted another Indian Statistical Institute employee who worked in the Electronics Division, Mani Mukherjee, to join him in the search, but it was too expensive for the Indian Statistical Institute to afford. Letter from PCM to Pant, sent from Geneva, 12 April 1954, Pitambar Pant Papers, NMML.

48 Letter from PCM to Pant, sent from London, 23 June 1954, Pitambar Pant Papers, NMML.

49 Ibid.

50 At the time, $200,000 was roughly equivalent to one million Indian rupees.

51 Letter from PCM to Pant, sent from London, 23 June 1954, Pitambar Pant Papers, NMML.

52 Letter from PCM to Pant, sent from Prague, 27 June 1954, Pitambar Pant Papers, NMML.

53 Note prepared by PCM and ‘handed over to the Prime Minister for his information’, dated 4 March 1959, Record No. 119, PCMMMA; Life Magazine, 31 March 1958 Issue, p. 46.

54 Note prepared by PCM and ‘handed over to the Prime Minister for his information’, dated 4 March 1959, Record No. 119, PCMMMA.

55 Slava Gerovitch has speculated that the layers of secrecy that Soviet digital computers were enveloped in might have also been a result of a rivalry between the Ministry of Machine Building and Instrument Construction (whose Special Bureau No. 245 was in charge of STRELA) and Soviet Academy of Sciences (which oversaw the Institute of Precision Mechanics and Computer Engineering's development of the BESM). The first agency to develop a large high-speed digital computer was to be rewarded with an order for serial production. The cloak of secrecy began to slip after the death of Stalin in 1953. It was formally acknowledged only in October 1955, when the Soviet Union announced to the world that it had developed high-speed digital computers. For a discussion of the competing Cold War pressures of suppressing information about computer developments and publicizing it, see S. Gerovitch, ‘“Mathematical machines” of the Cold War: Soviet computing, American cybernetics and ideological disputes in the early 1950s’, Social Studies of Science, vol. 31, no. 2, Science in the Cold War, April 2001, pp. 272–6.

56 Ibid., p. 274.

57 Note prepared by PCM and ‘handed over to the Prime Minister for his information’, dated 4 March 1959, Record No. 119, PCMMMA.

58 This did not go down well with the Indian Ambassador in Berne, Y. D. Gundevia, who expressed his displeasure over the letter passed on to Mahalanobis instead of being formally handed to a diplomat. It is possible that Gundevia was upset because he was kept in the dark regarding the contents of the Soviet letter to Mahalanobis. He carped about this in a letter to N. R. Pillai, the Secretary-General at the External Affairs Ministry. This was not the first time the Professor had trodden on diplomatic toes. Gundevia complained about how Mahalanobis had, on more than one occasion, conducted negotiations with the Soviets—meddling with something that was best left to diplomats. Note prepared by PCM and ‘handed over to the Prime Minister for his information’, dated 4 March 1959, Record No. 119, PCMMMA; and Singh, I., Between Two Fires: Towards an Understanding Jawaharlal Nehru's Foreign Policy, Volume 2, Orient Blackman, New Delhi, 1998, pp. 264–5.

59 Indian Statistical Institute, ‘Twenty-third Annual Report: April 1954–March 1955’, Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics (1933–1960), vol. 16, no. 1/2, December 1955, pp. 1819.

60 BESM stood for Bystrodeystvuyushchaya Elektronnaya Schetnaya Mashina or ‘High-Speed Electronic Calculating Machine’.

61 The parameters of the BESM would be formally disclosed to other nations more than a year later at the Conference on Electronic Digital Computers and Electronic Processing in Darmstadt, West Germany, in October 1955. Gerovitch, ‘Mathematical machines’, pp. 274–5.

62 ‘Soviet experts to visit India’, Hindustan Standard, 19 July 1954, as reproduced in Desp. No. 536, Confidential U.S. State Department Files, India 1950–54, Internal Affairs, RG 59, General Records of the Department of State.

63 Letter from PCM to Pant, sent from Moscow, 7 July 1954, Pitambar Pant Papers, NMML.

64 In the mid-twentieth century, most of the countries that possessed computers used them, at least initially, in military applications. In England, the Colossus was used in code breaking during the Second World War. In America, the US Army Ordnance Department sponsored the development of ENIAC, the first general-purpose electronic digital computer, to facilitate the calculation of artillery firing tables. The first digital computer in Soviet Union, or in continental Europe, the MESM, was used for calculations of rocketry and atomic bombs. As Slava Gerovitch, historian of Soviet computing, put it: ‘The primary task of the first computers in a socialist country turned out to be exactly the same as in the capitalist world—calculations for the military.’ Gerovitch, ‘Mathematical machines’, p. 264. For an examination of Soviet endeavour to use a network of computers for economic planning, particularly from the 1960s onward, see Gerovitch, S., ‘InterNyet: why the Soviet Union did not build a nationwide computer network’, History and Technology, vol. 24, no. 4, December 2008, pp. 335–50; and Cave, M., Computers and Economic Planning: The Soviet Experience, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom, 1980. For more on the Chilean attempt to marry computer technology and socialist economic management in the 1970s under Salvador Allende, see Medina, Cybernetic Revolutionaries.

65 Letter from PCM to Pant, sent from Moscow, 7 July 1954, Pitambar Pant Papers, NMML.

66 Letter from PCM to Pant, sent from Moscow, 27 June 1954, Pitambar Pant Papers, NMML.

67 Letter from PCM to Pant, sent from Moscow, 7 July 1954, Pitambar Pant Papers, NMML.

68 Letter from PCM to Pant, sent from Moscow, 17 July 1954, Pitambar Pant Papers, NMML.

69 Letter from PCM to Pant, sent from Moscow, 7 July 1954, Pitambar Pant Papers, NMML.

70 Note prepared by PCM and ‘handed over to the Prime Minister for his information’, dated 4 March 1959, Record No. 119, PCMMMA.

71 Note prepared by PCM, dated 4 March 1959, Record No. 119, PCMMMA.

72 Letter from PCM to Pant dated 2 October 1954, Record No. 90, PCMMMA.

73 Indian Statistical Institute, ‘Twenty-fourth Annual Report: April 1955–March 1956’, Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics (1933–1960), vol. 17, no. 3, December 1956, p. 265.

74 M. Bhonsle, ‘Computer technology in India’, Vigyan Prasar Radio Serials, http://www.vigyanprasar.gov.in/Radioserials/Computer%20Technology%20in%20India.pdf [accessed 27 March 2017]; and ibid., p. 265.

75 Mukherjee, M., ‘The first computer in India’, in Computer Education In India, Banerjee, Dr U. K. (ed.), Concept Publishing Company, New Delhi, 1996, pp. 1315.

76 D. D. Majumder, ‘Foundation of Information and Computer Technology (ICT) in India and the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI)’, http://csidl.org/bitstream/handle/123456789/119/Computing%20in%20Kolkata.pdf?sequence=1 [accessed 4 December 2015], p. 8.

77 J. Mazumdar, ‘Deepest blue’, Outlook Magazine, 10 December 2007, http://www.outlookindia.com/magazine/story/deeepest-blue/236202 [accessed 27 March 2017].

78 These included the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur), Indian Institute of Science (Bangalore), Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science (Calcutta), Physical Research Laboratory (Ahmedabad), Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (Bombay), Andhra University (Waltair).

79 ‘Electronic Computer Laboratory’, Samvadadhvam, vol. 1, no. 2, October 1956, p. 32.

80 Mukherjee, ‘The first computer in India’, p. 15.

81 ‘Indian Statistical Institute: Electronics Computer Division’, dated 29 January 1960, Record No. 74, PCMMMA.

82 Letter from PCM to Pant, sent from Moscow, 7 July 1954, Pitambar Pant Papers, NMML.

83 D. Y. Panov was the retired Director of the Institute of Precision Mechanics and Computer Engineering. Melnicov and Zimarev were electronic engineers. Indian Statistical Institute: ‘Twenty-third Annual Report’, p. 162.

84 Note by PCM on 9 June 1959, Record No. 72, PCMMMA.

85 Indian Statistical Institute, ‘Twenty-fourth Annual Report, p. 266.

86 The URAL was designed by Bashir Rameyev, who had left the STRELA project after the first of the series was completed to head the computer centre in Pensa where the URALs were produced. ‘Indian Statistical Institute: Electronics Computer Division’, dated 29 January 1960, Record No. 74, PCMMMA.

87 The URAL was formally transferred to the Government of India. It was on loan to the Indian Statistical Institute, but the government continued to ‘retain complete freedom to utilize the equipment at their discretion’. Note prepared by PCM and ‘handed over to the Prime Minister for his information’, dated 4 March 1959, Record No. 119, PCMMMA.

88 ‘Quality control talks begin in Calcutta’, Times of India, 21 December 1958, p. 7.

89 ‘Soviet electronic computer—URAL’, Samvadadhvam, vol. 2, no.4, July–September 1958, p. 22.

90 Ibid., p. 22.

91 Rajaraman, History of Computing, p. 16.

92 These included Andhra University, Benaras Hindu University, Defence Science Laboratory, Directorate of Meteorological Observatories, Hindusthan Aircraft, Indian Institute of Science, Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur), the Ministry of Defence, Institute of Armament Research, Physical Research Institute, the Saha Institute of Nuclear Physics, Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, and the Atomic Energy Commission. ‘Indian Statistical Institute: Electronics Computer Division’, dated 29 January 1960, Record No. 74, PCMMMA.

93 Indian Statistical Institute, ‘Twenty-seventh Annual Report, April 1958–March 1959’, http://hdl.handle.net/10263/1899 [accessed 11 April 2017].

94 The other members of this committee were Morris. H. Hansen (United States), T. Kitagawa (Japan), A. Linder (Switzerland), and Frank Yates (United Kingdom).

95 Mahalanobis, P. C., ‘Indian Statistical Institute: National Sample Survey Review Committee Report’, Sankhyā: The Indian Journal of Statistics, Series B (1960–2002), vol. 26, no. 3/4, December 1964, p. 331.

96 This was the first presidential election that was broadcast on television coast to coast. It was also the first time that computers were used to help anticipate the results of an election. S. Henn, ‘The night a computer predicted the next president’, NPR, 31 October 2012, http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2012/10/31/163951263/the-night-a-computer-predicted-the-next-president [accessed 27 March 2017].

97 Ibid.; ‘Superman's girlfriend Lois Lane, comic featuring UNIVAC on the cover’, Object ID 500004046, Computer History Museum, http://www.computerhistory.org/revolution/early-computer-companies/5/102/446 [accessed 27 March 2017].

98 Note made by PCM on 9 June 1957, Record No. 72, PCMMMA.

99 Ibid.

100 ‘Professor P. C. Mahalanobis’, 30 July 1953, Desp. No. 192, Confidential U.S. State Department Files, India 1950–54, Internal Affairs, RG 59, General Records of the Department of State.

101 ‘Professor P. C. Mahalanobis, Chief of the Indian Statistical Institute’, 7 August 1953, Desp. No. 115, Confidential U.S. State Department Files, India 1950–54, Internal Affairs, RG 59, General Records of the Department of State.

102 Ibid.

103 ‘United States and USSR economic interests in India’, 12 November 1954, Desp. No. 536, p. 2, Confidential U.S. State Department Files, India 1950–54, Internal Affairs, RG 59, General Records of the Department of State.

104 Note by PCM on ‘Electronic processing facilities for the Indian Statistical Institute: informal discussions with the American Embassy’, dated 19 April 1957, Record No. 72, PCMMMA.

105 Letter from Donald H. McClelland (Economic Advisor, Program) to Professor P. C. Mahalanobis, dated 24 May 1957, Record No. 72, PCMMMA.

106 The ICA was a successor to the United States FOA. John Hollister was Eisenhower's conservative pick for Directorship of the ICA. It was viewed in America as a blow to those in favour of greater aid.

107 This was part of a grant request for a variety of items—the purchase of books and equipment from abroad, and the funding of travelling fellowships. Letter from PCM to Dr Douglas Ensminger on 5 December 1957, Record No. 72, PCMMMA.

108 Copy of a letter sent from Morris H. Hansen, Samuel N. Alexander, and Russell L. Ackoff to Dr Henry Heald (President, The Ford Foundation), dated 26 November 1957, Record No. 72, PCMMMA.

109 Letter from PCM to Morris Hansen, dated 11 December 1957, Record No. 72, PCMMMA.

110 Letter from P. C. Mahalanobis to Morris Hansen dated 11 July 1959, Record No. 72, PCMMMA.

111 It is noteworthy that, like Mahalanobis, Bhabha too had been inspired by Jon von Neumann's path-breaking computer design in the late 1940s. Bhabha learnt of it during a visit to Princeton University, and he brought back a report of von Neumann's design to India. Shyamsundar and Pai, Homi Bhabha, p. xxv.

112 Ibid., p. xxv.

113 It is worth noting that, until the computer was developed in Bombay, the secret calculations for the Atomic Energy Project were sent to Calcutta to be solved at the Indian Statistical Institute's computers.

114 Letter from Bhabha to Mahalanobis dated 22 August 1961, Record No. 72, PCMMMA.

115 Letter from Mahalanobis to Bhabha dated 25 August 1961, Record No. 72, PCMMMA.

116 ‘Studies in long-term economic development—tentative scheme of work’, note prepared by Tarlok Singh dated 27 April 1962, Record No. 73, PCMMMA.

117 Letter from Mahalanobis to G. L. Nanda dated 30 April 1962, Record No. 119, PCMMMA.

118 Minutes of the meeting held on 7 June 1962 in Room No. 126, Yojana Bhavan, New Delhi, Record No. 73, PCMMMA. It would appear that the Indian Statistical Institute and the Tata Institute came to some sort of agreement because, when the Professor wrote to Tarlok Singh of the Planning Commission that winter, he agreed with Bhabha's proposal for two computers to be sanctioned by the government—one for each of their institutions. The Professor added that, apart from the request for a large computer, the Indian Statistical Institute also required another smaller computer for ‘immediate needs, especially for the processing of urgent economic information required by the Planning Commission’. Letter from PCM to Shri Tarlok Singh dated 27 November 1962, Record No. 73, PCMMMA.

119 Letter from PCM to Shri Tarlok Singh dated 27 November 1962, Record No. 73, PCMMMA.

120 Ibid.

121 Ibid.

122 It is possible that the large computer of a UNIVAC type was not sanctioned because the Indian Statistical Institute had in 1962 already begun collaborating with Jadavpur University to build a second-generation digital computer. This computer, named ISI-JU, was completed in 1966, but was an unsuccessful project because the computer was unreliable and lacked the required software. Rajaraman, History of Computing, pp. 16–17.

123 The United States Agency for International Development’s funds were channelled through the Kanpur Indo-American Programme (KIAP)—a consortium of nine American universities that assisted IIT Kanpur through the provision of equipment and visiting faculty. In setting up the computer, IIT Kanpur had the help of scientists from the United States—Harry Huskey (U.C. Berkeley), Forman Acton (Princeton University), and Irving Rabinowitz (Princeton University). IIT Kanpur was one of four IITs that received foreign assistance. The Soviet Union provided support to IIT Bombay (1958), West Germany to IIT Madras (1959), America to IIT Kanpur (1960), and Britain to IIT Delhi (1963). See V. Rajaraman, ‘Impact of computer science education: IIT Kanpur on information technology in India’, in Shyamsundar and Pai, Homi Bhabha and the Computer Revolution; R. Bassett, ‘Aligning India’, pp. 783–810. For Harry Huskey's recollection, see ‘Oral history of Harry Huskey’, Reference number: X3455.2006, Computer History Museum, pp. 41–2, http://archive.computerhistory.org/resources/text/Oral_History/Huskey_Harry/Huskey.oral_history.2006.102657983.pdf [accessed 27 March 2017].

124 The CDC 600 (manufactured by Control Data Corporation) was installed at the Tata Institute in May 1964. It was acquired at the cost of $1.5 million and was financed through a loan to the Government of India by the United States Agency for International Development (AID). As in the case of the HEC-2M at the Indian Statistical Institute, the Tata Institute sent engineers to the Control Data Corporation United States to learn how to use and maintain the machine. Rajaraman, History of Computing, p. 17; ‘Bombay's versatile computer’, Times of India, 7 February 1965, p. 6.

125 ‘Computer: magic tool of future’, Times of India, 3 September 1964, p. 6.

126 Letter from Dr Forrest E. Linder and Dr Conrad Tauber to Dr Douglas Ensminger dated 21 January 1963, Record No. 73, PCMMMA.

127 Letter from Mahalanobis to Tarlok Singh dated 3 February 1963, Record No. 73, PCMMMA.

128 ‘1620 computer installations for New Delhi area’, Record No. 017762, Unpublished Reports, Ford Foundation Papers, Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow.

129 ‘Computer centre is opened’, Times of India, 24 September 1965, p. 5. The Ford Foundation grant to the Project Evaluation Organization of the Planning Commission was worth $462,000 (approximately 23,00,000 rs). It was used by the Planning Commission to purchase a medium-sized electronic computer—an IBM 1620—and ancillary equipment. The Computer Centre worked on a ‘open shop’ basis—outside users were charged fees based on a ‘no profit no loss’ calculation. The National Council of Applied Economic Research (up to 30 per cent of the time) and other government departments utilized the facility in this manner. The lack of trained staff and ‘teething troubles’ meant that the computer could be used for only one shift in a day until 1968, when improvements allowed a two-shift operation (an average of 13 hours a day). The demand for the services of the computer centre was twice what was available. By 1971, the computer system at Yojana Bhavan was obsolete and prone to breaking down. In January 1971, an Expert Committee was appointed to look into how the system could be replaced. As an official file noted, ‘the importance of having a modern computer facility in the Planning Commission . . . cannot be overemphasized. Planning and Development admittedly deserves the highest priority, and, therefore, the proposal to install a suitable computer system in the Planning Commission may be accorded high priority’. The committee recommended that approximately $0.6 million of the funds earmarked for India by the United Nations Development Programme be used to modernize the computer system. F. No. 9/51/71 RSR, Planning Commission, National Archives of India, New Delhi.

*I am indebted to Gyan Prakash, Jeremy Adelman, Bhavani Raman, Michael D. Gordin, Katlyn M. Carter, and Modern Asian Studies’ anonymous reviewers for their comments and suggestions. Earlier versions of this essay were presented at the Economic History Workshop in the Institute for New Economic Thinking (January 2015), Princeton's Colonialism and Imperialism Workshop (April 2015), Yale's Modern South Asia Workshop (April 2015), the Princeton-Humboldt Global History Workshop (May 2015), and Harvard Business School's conference on the Business History of India and South Asia (October 2015). I thank the participants for their feedback.

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