“Technology policy is today at the forefront of most government policies”, says a person deeply involved with the technology ecosystem in India. For such an innocuous and true statement, he doesn’t want his name disclosed, though. As do all of the other sources The Ken spoke to for this story.
“Everyone now recognizes that technology is political, and thus you must engage with political parties,” says another person, a senior member of a policy research outfit.
The story we set out to report and write was about the top “influencers” of technology policy formulation in India. Businessmen, civil society, bureaucrats, academics, industry experts, lobbyists – we didn’t want to filter out names. But literally, every person we spoke to said they did not want to be quoted in the story. Many repeated this request multiple times during their conversations with us.
Because technology policy today has the power to alter or stymie the most well-planned and well-funded of corporate plans. Ask Facebook. It can alter competitive dynamics and enable late entrants into mature, competitive sectors to upset delicately crafted equilibrium. Ask Reliance. It can cause immensely powerful global corporations to stumble and course correct rapidly. Ask Uber. It can reverse decades’ worth of carefully nurtured effort to paint the opposing side as dangerous. Ask Microsoft.
The list could go on. But you get the point. Whether it be Facebook’s Free Basics debacle; Reliance’s famed ability to disrupt telecom with favourable regulatory tailwinds; Uber’s underestimation of the challenges of clearing regulatory hurdles in India; or Microsoft living to see India adopt an open-source software policy, technology policy is a powerful mega force today.
Before we get into the listing of the people influencing technology policy in India, a few points to keep in mind about how the overall game has changed in the last 5-10 years:
- Technology is central to most government initiatives today, and thus technology policy is of paramount importance to all stakeholders – large companies, countries, governments, citizens, startups, etc. Once associated with vendor management, government IT Departments at both the central and state level are setting macro policies that cut across numerous other sectors. “Look at Rajasthan. Its planning secretary and IT secretary are both the same person, Akhil Arora. When everything in government is tech-enabled, tech becomes everything,” says a veteran policy watcher.
- Technology is political. And it is not value-neutral. Political parties and governments realize it too now.
- The game of technology policy lobbying has changed. “Previously those who had influence never let others know. But now the game is played in the open. For instance, iSPIRT states loudly and clearly that their objective is to influence policy,” says one of the people quoted earlier. In the late 1990s and most of 2000s, “government affairs” was the phrase used to describe the work of lobbying and engaging with the government on policy.