Gaining Political Capital for Open Source in India

Open Source in India

Open Source in India

Open source software has made it to the information technology plans of the political machinery in India. With national elections just around the corner in April and May, everyone in India’s multi-party system is looking for alliances, marriages, deals — any arrangement — to ensure their next win. And everyone is customizing their PR machinery to appeal to the millions of voters in both rural and urban areas – trying to fit the shoe to the appropriate foot.

On March 14th, one of India’s major opposition groups – the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) announced an Information Technology Vision that mentions open source software in two contexts – one of open standards and the other of open source in education. The plan urges the “Government of India to standardize on ‘open standard’ and ‘open source’ software.” It also suggests that “an IT standards-setting body would be spun out of BIS (Bureau of Indian Standards).” The plan further promotes using open source software to expand eEducation, to enable building a Rs.10,000 laptop and to spread innovation in the nation’s academic community.

Noble ideas that would represent giant steps for open source software adoption in India!

In close succession to the BJP’s announcement, another power bloc led by the Communist Party of India – CPI (Marxist) announced their manifesto on March 16th. This proposal for reform in science and technology includes some loaded statements listed below which seem to reinforce a collective model for using open source software and banning software patents.

“…promoting free software and other such new technologies, which are free from monopoly ownership through copyrights or patents;
… the promotion of a “knowledge commons” across disciplines, like biotechnology and drug discovery…..
… scrapping the public funded R&D Bill, that seeks to allow patenting of products that are developed through public funded laboratories…
… revamping the functioning of the Patent offices to ensure strict adherence to the Indian Patent Act;
… stop training and orientation of Indian Patent office personnel by the US and European Patent offices.”

The ruling coalition led by the Congress Party, in its manifesto released on March 24th, talks about using IT to expand educational institutions, to improve connectivity infrastructure and to provide citizen IDs. It does not yet address the opportunities offered to India by open source software but perhaps a little more encouragement could do the trick.

Credit must be given to India’s leaders in the open source software community. They have fought for, motivated and architected inclusion of open source software into the vision statements of some of the major political parties of India. The best of our tireless warriors fighting to gather political capital for open source have included Venkatesh Hariharan of Red Hat, Jaijit Bhattacharya of Sun Microsystems and Ashish Gautam of IBM.

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