Wrong selection of FTII chief

Wrong selection of FTII chief

The appointment of BJP member Gajendra Chauhan as Chairman of the prestigious Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) has turned out to be something of a hot potato for the Modi government. The Information and Broadcasting Ministry’s move to pick Chauhan, whose claim to fame was playing Yudhisthira (or the wise one) in the television serial Mahabharat, was unwise. For the last one week, the FTII has been in a turmoil with students agitating against Chauhan’s appointment.

The Modi government, since coming to power last May, has brazenly gone about “saffronising” appointments to top posts of reputed institutions like the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), causing intense resentment. The government arbitrarily intervened in the appointments of directors to a few Indian Institutes of Technology provoking respected academics to protest. In all these and other cases, the government managed to steamroll its appointments. At the FTII, the government has come across intense opposition from students who are simply unwilling to budge. Their reasoning is understandable as the FTII is a niche educational institution which needs faculty and leadership that can inspire students. The post handed over to Chauhan was earlier occupied by film industry legends like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Mrinal Sen, Shyam Benegal and Girish Karnad. By all accounts, Chauhan pales in comparison with these names. It is not as if there is no one else to occupy this position. The government has been unable to justify or at least explain the rationale behind picking Chauhan. Along with him, four others with links to the Sangh Parivar and virtually unknown in the film world have also been reportedly appointed to the FTII council.

In an institution like the FTII, the chairman’s position is not just that of an administrative head, but one that is expected to actively drive the students to excel. There are valid reasons for the protesters’ grouse. The BJP appointee has reportedly no previous exposure to the FTII, either as student or in any other capacity. Until now, either the top position went to super-duper film industry figures or to an alumnus with a proven track record. This is the first time that the government is imposing a virtual persona non grata into the top decision-making post in the institute. If the government expected a nominal opposition and an eventual turn to normalcy they seem to be mistaken. For, students as a community are hard to be arm-twisted. Historically several events have sparked off by protesting students around the world. In the present instance, it would be wise for the government not to make it a prestige issue and, instead, to reconsider its appointment.

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