That engineers played a major role in the economic development policy of India is undeniable. If their training is institutionalised in the 1850s, even before being undertaken in Great Britain, it is because the colonial authorities considered them as the main agents of ‘development’ of the colony (Kumar, 1995). In the early days following independence, the economic and social development of the country is perceived as mainly determined by the mastery of technology. One of the priorities of the Nehruvian Government thus becomes to train a highly skilled workforce in various engineering fields (Ramnath, 2007). This workforce is de facto assigned a central role in the implementation of development programmes integrated with economic planning in the years 1950-1970.
The specific procedures of the intensive involvement of engineers in the economic growth of India are not however documented in depth. Their position vis-à-vis the state, for instance, remains unknown. Although the engineers employed by the colonial authorities are organised right from the last quarter of the 19th century into a corps governed by procedures and internal hierarchy, do they necessarily demonstrate an “esprit de corps” which would enable them to defend their positions? Despite the frequent historical attribute of a “gentlemanly” ethos to British engineers working in India, common to all colonial administrators, is this chivalrous ethic, constitutive to a liberal professional model in Europe, shared by their staff and Indian colleagues? Indeed, in 1892, two distinct bodies are created: the Imperial Engineering Service, which included employees engaged in England, with higher salaries, and the Provincial Engineering Service, which recruited exclusively engineers trained in India. What about in the wake of independence: do the engineers participate actively, by any means, in designing the ideology of ‘development’ that dominated politics in the first decades of Independent India? B. Marnot’s study on French Parliamentarian engineers of the Third Republic showed how much they could influence the orientation of the industrial policy (Marnot, 2000). Did they dispose of the same political outlet and leverage in India? How did the stakes and the priorities identified by the new decolonised nation influence the restructuring and internal prioritisation of the profession, either promoting or marginalising certain sectors of engineering? Several proposed case studies will address these issues and will seek to study the role allocated to technique in political management of contemporary India more extensively.
We also seek to analyse the nature of their participation in the industrialisation process and more recently in the ‘services-driven growth strategy’, focussing on the relationship between the profession and the business world more closely this time. It is indeed difficult to grasp the industrialisation process in India, that began under colonial domination, without analysing the role of engineers in the transfer, transmission and acclimatisation of new technologies and manufacturing processes: have these engineers been encouraged to file their patents and to exploit them, or have their inventions been imported by firms, thus reinforcing India’s economic subordination towards other countries? The analysis of the position of engineers within a company will be further fertile ground for research: what are their relationships with employers? Are they, and to what extent, associated with the executive boards of firms? How did the group react to the salarisation process? What positions did the engineers defend when the Indian state demonstrated its interventionist perspective towards the country’s economy? What can be observed in the development of hierarchy within the profession between State and private sector engineers? Have liberalisation policies initiated in the 1990s contributed to amend their respective constitutions? The issue of engineers-contractors will finally be a last approach to this broad topic. While virtually all wealthy industrialist Indian families have a trade background (Markovits, 1994), has the new economic context, particularly the positioning of India in the ITC sector, favoured the emergence of a new class of entrepreneurs out of a skilled technical labour force?
The studies conducted in the West particularly in comparative perspectives showed the wealth of opportunities that can be derived through studying the position occupied by engineers in production systems, in areas of corporate management as well as in the State apparatus, to understand both the national specificities of capitalism experience and “the forces of convergence from increasing globalization and economic integration”(Meiksins and Smith, 1996). In this sense, the studies that we could carry out on this group could shed new light on one of the models of “Asian capitalism” that mainstream media evoke so often.
Kumar, A. 1995. Colonial Requirements and Engineering Education: The Public Works Department, 1847-1947. In Macleod, R. and Kumar, D. (eds.). Technology and the Raj: Western Technology and Technical Transfers to India 1700-1947. Delhi: Sage.
Markovits C, 1994, Histoire de l’Inde Moderne, 1498 – 1950. Paris : Editions Fayard.
Marnot, B. 2000. Les ingénieurs au Parlement sous la IIIe République. Paris: Éditions du CNRS.
Meiksins, P. and Smith, C. 1996. Engineering Labour. Technical Workers in Comparative Perspective. London: Verso.
Ramnath, A. 2007. Breaking free: Technical education policy in India immediately before and after Independence. Unpublished M.Phil. thesis, Oxford University.