Why the Indian techie is so 'polarised' today
Don't blame the techie alone though – we're all totally political now.
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Why is the Indian techie so politically polarised — even intolerant?
I was asked this question in the wake of an Indian techie, very recently, verbally abusing a senior journalist in Bangalore. I will reserve my answer till the end of this column. For now, I certainly want to state this – I am happy that Indian techies have started taking an interest in Indian politics.
There is a reason why I say so. The 21st century success story of India has been led by IT (and ITES). Becoming the service provider to this new-age tech-savvy world has catapulted India onto the global map. The last two decades have witnessed millions of aspirations – of being a part of this globalised work culture and making a good living – fructifying. As a middle class boy who graduated from an engineering college, I too was once a part of this tribe; happily so. I had the fortune of kick-starting my career at an Indian IT giant – Infosys. The experience came to a happy end at the offices of a global IT giant – Microsoft.
However, in my stint of eight years in IT, very rarely would I come across people at the workplace discussing politics. Either IPL and other seasonal sports or new gadgets and movies dominated the conversations around the coffee machines and on online in-house discussion forums. Amid current affairs, politics too was discussed, but not to that great a length – not until recently.
The success of democracy though demands an interest in politics, more so by people who are putting this country onto the global map. Yet, for a long while, the majority of techies had a limited interest in this domain. Unlike in various other industries, the employees at the bottom of the pyramid here won’t form unions and fight for their rights; perhaps there is no need to do so.
The engineering colleges they graduated from didn’t witness college elections to claim power and democratically rule the system. Youth politics, Students’ Unions, college elections were terms seldom heard in four years of engineering. While the students in DU were debating fundamental rights and its misuse in their classes of humanities and social science, the ones at the Delhi College of Engineering were debugging the program codes to make the next generation robot.
The engineering curriculum and the corporate culture of multinational private (and public listed) IT companies have shaped the interests of techies quite differently. In the tech space, there are other aspirational things occupying the minds of techies – H1B visas and the next onsite trip, the next level cutting-edge technology, so on and so forth. That has been the quintessential apolitical background for the majority of techies.
However, does that mean things have remained the same? Certainly not.
We now live in a digital world and through this new-age medium, Indian politics is fast discovering its place in the minds of techies, who, along with many others too, were apolitical till now. Political parties are doing everything to reach out to this new India – a good chunk of which is in the IT sector. What was once a minority (techies) is now becoming a majority. Political parties eyeing winning elections are finding it difficult to overlook the opinion of this segment of the workforce.
On the other hand, with digital and online social media becoming the new avenues for almost everything, hundreds of techies are writing algorithms to propel different political parties in this sphere. This is a whole new domain from a unique clientele – and its influence on the minds of techies is inevitable.
For all the above reasons, the conversations around the coffee machines and on the bulletin boards of IT companies too are changing – and becoming more inclusive of Indian politics. Every techie who had worked onsite, in a developed nation, would have certainly thought at least once – Why, even after 70 years of independence, hasn’t India become a developed nation?
That then boils down to whom we elect to run this country.
That such techies have begun taking an interest in politics is definitely a good thing.
Very recently, 50 IIT alumni quit their jobs to form a political party. Not just at the bottom of the IT workforce pyramid though, such change is also visible at the CXO levels. The likes of the former CFO at Infosys, V Balakrishnan, and Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani entered the political arena and fought elections in the recent past. Soon, there will be more techies taking this path. This is a positive change.
Then, where does this polarisation begin?
From our belief system which was installed in our subconscious minds during our upbringing. We picked it up from what our parents taught us at homes and discussed with others in social gatherings. We tend to believe all that was told to us was right and can’t be questioned. And, gradually, as we grow, our belief system becomes so rigid that it wants to counter-attack the very rationale challenging it.
With their newfound interest in politics and in light of their belief system, techies too are taking polarised positions in democracy. They may not have the time or interest to watch an entire news debate to derive sense out of it, but in the fast-paced world they live in, they prefer consuming news clips social media brings them at their fingertips. That’s shaping their opinion.
Internet has a lot of garbage along with facts. However, rarely does anyone put in an effort to distinguish the two. The moment we see something on social media, depending upon our belief system, we tend to accept or reject it. People don’t want to trade positions based on reasoning – that appears like a defeat of their belief system. That’s how we unknowingly step into this highly polarised political world.
We enter debates not to listen to the other person’s point of view, but only to state ours.
Bigotry is replacing the fundamental understanding of agreeing to disagree. If proven wrong, we counter that by pointing to the opposition’s misdeeds, completely forgetting that two wrongs never make one right. We want to stick to our preferred party’s stand at the cost of logic; even when the netas in these parties are smart enough to trade their positions whenever they feel it suites them. In this battle of ideologies, we mindlessly try to defend the indefensible, just because that’s the stand of the party we support.
By doing so, we reduce ourselves to only becoming a vote bank the political parties prey on.
However, the sad truth is, it’s not just this country but the entire world that is getting polarised. We have seen so during Brexit and the US elections. A techie in the US would support Trump, if the latter promises him that he won’t let an Indian techie take away his job in America. At the same time, a feminist friend of this techie would abhor someone like Trump for the way he reportedly treated women in the past. They stand divided. Back home, the story is alike.
So, when you ask me — are techies politically polarised? – my answer would be – Yes, just like others.
However, being polarised does not mean abusing others. For one techie who verbally abused a journalist, I would not look at all other techies through the same lens.
Let’s not blame the whole pond but just that one bad fish.