Monday, August 14, 2006

Richard Stallman in Calcutta!

Today morning, I read in the newspaper about a public symposium on free software in Calcutta, on 16 August. Dr Richard Stallman, president of the Free Software Foundation, will be speaking.

Wow! Was I pleased! I must attend. He is one of my heroes. And now that I am blogging and self-publishing on the internet I feel even closer in spirit to Stallman.

But that gladness was immediately marred by reading the name of another speaker. This is a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), who is a member of the upper house of India's parliament. He is often on television. I dislike everything about him.

The CPI(M) likes to be associated with and patronise "progressive" concerns and movements, and personalities. Thus, I once attended a lecture by Prof Noam Chomsky in Calcutta in 1996. Nelson Mandela was given a public reception in Calcutta in 1990. Prof Amartya Sen had been felicitated after his Nobel Prize in economics. Last year, Hugo Chavez addressed a public meeting.

But having worked in slums in Howrah and Calcutta since 1996, I have been exposed to the reality of what the CPI(M) is about and like at the grassroots. This is quite sordid and ugly, and very far away from the associations with Chomsky or Stallman.

It made me seethe. I decided I would attend, and when the time came for questions from the audience, I would give a scathing knock to that pathetic politician. I would say that it was most inappropriate for him to be on the same platform as Richard Stallman, as his party's conduct in the state of West Bengal, which it has ruled since 1977, demonstrated only systematic disregard of transparency; mis-information, dis-information and witholding of public information; the party has been about its own empowerment rather than people's empowerment; it has patently failed in providing basic education to the people; it has disavowed pursuit of total literacy; decentralisation has meant distribution of corruption; it has used people's ignorance and lack of information to manipulate them; and it has bred a culture of cynical middleman-ship, a form of extortion, which has seeped into the fabric of the state's people.

So if Microsoft is Mr Enemy - so is Mr CPI(M), and no one should be fooled by the pathetic politician's puny pseudo-progressive platitudes.

Truth must be told. The cat must be belled. The bluff must be called. The naked emperor must be exposed.

But I began to wonder whether it would not be lacking in taste and grace on my part to do this, especially when Richard Stallman is a guest, and has probably been invited by some govt agency. As a citizen of Calcutta, I am proud and honoured that he is speaking at a public programme in my city. Wouldn't my sharp attack on the politician discolour such an important occasion?

Could this be done gracefully?

On Richard Stallman's personal home page, he quotes Mahatma Gandhi:

"You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees. An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul."


Don Iannone said...

Tough dilemma Rama. I've been in this position before and chose the high road...that is enjoyed what I came to hear and disregard the rest. After all, you are there to feed your own mind and soul I would presume. Best of luck!

Bonita said...

I would agree with Don Iannone, that to use this public forum for addressing a personal grievance would be a distraction, even if your intention is good.

"The real art of conversation is not only to say the right thing at the right place but to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment." ~Dorothy Neville

Anirban said...

I share your desire to call the bluff of the CPI-M. Richard Stallman might not be aware of his official hosts' hypocrisies. It would be good to bring this to his attention although doing it outside this public event seems more appropriate to me.

Leighton Cooke said...

Better not to put your foot in it in front of your hero!

Vikram R K Nandwani said...

I think if you attacked the problem, not the person, you should do fine :)

Dave_Marco said...

Call me a cynic. The truth is altruism is an ideal that is seldom found in nature. A man as smart as Stallman likely knows something about the people sharing the podium with him. But he also knows that both of them are present by invitation. Stallman can't bite the hand that feeds him. Getting the invitation to speak requires a willingness to compromise. Without compromise, he would lose his ability to speak and affect change.