MSAS Seminar: TT22, wk 3: ‘Technology at the Wheel’: Computers, Data and Tech-Utopianisms in the Political Imagination of 1980s

Convener: Nayanika Mathur

Speaker: Amogh Dhar Sharma (ODID)


During the 1980s, the Indian electorate was characterized by a rise in partisan de-alignment and an increased volatility in its voting intensions. How did India’s political elites respond to the challenge posed by the changing landscape of voters? This paper explores how an approach of technologism and a recourse to political marketing emerged as the principal solutions to this problem. As the prime mover of these changes, the Indian National Congress (INC) introduced a combination of large-scale data gathering, computerization, and greater reliance on advertising professionals to win elections. Influenced by global currents of cyber-libertarianism and spearheaded by Rajiv Gandhi, these changes were expected to reform INC’s organizational machinery and improve its electoral competitiveness. Although this modernization project had little success in strengthening the Congress, it left a far more decisive impact on the trajectory of the opposition parties such as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). By exploring the interface between politics, media, and technology, this paper shows that the 1980s marked an important inflection point in India’s political culture insofar as it transformed ideas of political expertise, benchmark of actionable evidence, and styles of decision making within intra-party politics.  



Amogh Dhar Sharma is an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow at the Oxford Department of International Development. In his ongoing research, he is using a mixed-methods approach to analyze the changing landscape of election campaigns in India and the infrastructure of political disinformation. He finished his DPhil at Oxford in 2020 where his doctoral thesis explored the ‘professionalization of politics’ in contemporary India. His wider research interests include political sociology of post-liberalization India, political communication, and party politics. He has previously held teaching positions at The Queen’s College, Oxford and Oxford School of Global and Area Studies. 


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The South Asia Seminar is co-funded by the Ashmolean Museum, the Asian Studies Centre of St Antony’s College, the Contemporary South Asian Studies Programme at the Oxford School of Global and Area Studies, the Department for International Development and Faculty of History and the Faculty of Oriental Studies.