Thursday, August 17, 2006

RMS lecture in Calcutta

Richard Stallman had been invited to Calcutta by the West Bengal state govt's nodal agency for computer technology, to present his views on Free Software at a public symposium.

Mr Sitaram Yechuri, the ruling CPI(M) party's Politburo member and member of parliament was also one of the speakers, as was the state IT minister.

The Minister recognised the real benefits of Free Software for developing countries and said that the govt of West Bengal would consider using open source software as the default exploitation route for software infrastructure in e-governance. "May a hundred flowers bloom", he said.

Mr Yechuri urged the state govt to adopt a policy of using Free Software for all public domain functions, public information, e-governance and govt. educational institutions.

Dr Pushpa Mitra Bhargava, the Vice Chairman of the National Knowledge Commission expressed the hope that West Bengal would take the leadership in promoting free software and make a formal policy declaration to use only Free Software in all govt, education and information applications.

Stallman dwelt on the meaning of free software, the freedoms realised through this, the threats to such freedom and their consequences. He came up with a number of Stallman-isms, which I shall post shortly.

The chairman of the meeting, Pro Sankar Sen (a former state power minister and university vice chancellor) also recommended to the state govt that it adopt a formal policy on use of Free Software. He urged the creation of a road map in this regard for West Bengal, in the interests of freedom, creativity and self-reliance. He called for building awareness among decision-takers, so that they do not enhance proprietary software. He called this a "freedom struggle".

So, on the face of it, it would appear that Stallman's strategic objective - of getting the West Bengal govt to declare a policy in favour of free software in the public domain - was fulfilled.

At the end of the programme, Stallman signed autographs ("Happy Hacking") - charging fifty rupees per person, with the collection going to the West Bengal chapter of the Free Software Foundation. He also distributed GNU-Linux stickers and badges to users.

However, someone told me afterwards that the chief minister has made major commitments to Microsoft, and that this move in favour of free software was being made by another lobby, not really for the virtues of free software but for using this as a means to knock the in-power lobby with! Let's see what happens.

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