On appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as Chairman of FTII
Author: Ashok Chowgule
If one were to go by the media (at least the English variety) attention to the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as Chairman of Film & Television Institute of India (FTII), it would seem that not only the future of the film and television industry in India is bleak, but so isthe future of India. Okay, I may be exaggerating on the latter!
Looking at the objections to the appointment by some students at FTII, some in the industry, and a majority of the bold and the beautiful of the English media, it would seem that the appointment will take a well-run institute down the path of destruction. There are of course others – like Gajendraji is a believer in the ideology of the RSS, that he is not such well-known film or television personality, and some such. Now why is all this a crime is not really stated, except to hint that a person with this background will, by definition, be bad for the institute. But then, we have now a prime minister who served tea to passengers and others at a small train station in Gujarat. And his bio-data, as he himself has stated, would not really qualify him to be a prime minister!
So, let us concentrate on what is supposed to be the meaty part of the argument – namely that the institute will be destroyed by making Gajendraji as the chairman. To do this, we need to see the state of the institute at the moment.
The appointment was made on June 9, that is 34 days ago, as of writing this piece. However, it is only in the last two/three days, there is a trickle of information about the real state of affairs at the institute. A student at the institute wrote to the magazine “Swarajya” (which has declared itself to be at the right of centre) and it was published on July 10 and is available at:
The tone of the letter is set out in the introduction as follows: “An open letter to Swarajya readers from a student of FTII on how a handful of FTII students have completely hijacked the strike to suit their pre-determined agenda.”
The student writes anonymously, stating that those leading the strike would take vindictive action against him if his identity is known. If true, this itself would indicate the miserable situation at the institute, and the terror that has been created. If not true, the media can easily disprove the events and happenings that have been mentioned in the letter.
There is a mention about the incidence of a drunk student hurling abuses at the registrar of the institute. And when the registrar protested, the student body made him apologise to the drunk student. The letter says that being drunk and taking drugs is the norm for many of the student leaders. It claims that these leaders have been at the institute for more than seven years, while the maximum duration of a course is three.
Those in the English media giving space to the student leaders could easily verify these facts, particularly that these leaders are professional students, misusing the hospitality of the funds provided by the citizens of the country. But no such effort seems to have been made.
The protest at the institute started on the day of the appointment of Gajendraji. A report in NDTV states:
"A person who has an official affiliation with the ruling-BJP and who lacks the vision and stature of the past chairpersons in film-making, has put a question mark on the process of selection for the post earlier held by eminent people like Girish Karnad, Shyam Benegal and Adoor Gopalkrishnan," Harikrishnan Nachimuthu, who heads the FTII students' association, told PTI.
A report in Rediff, quotes an unknown government source saying that there have been thirty-two strikes over the last fifty-five years, and a convocation was last held seventeen years ago. At the time of the last convocation, the student leaders mounted the stage with black flags and booed the chief guest, Dilip Kumar. Another film veteran, Shyam Benegal was also on the stage, and it is said that he felt disgusted.
If all this is true, then the picture that one gets about the affairs of the institute is not a pretty one. And all this was happening during the time when persons with supposedly better qualifications than Gajendraji were the chairman. While the post is an honorary one, surely these eminent persons would be aware of what was happening. And they either did not do anything or were not effective in setting things right.
There are some on the right-of-centre have waded in the controversy by asking whether the government should fund the institute at all. It seems that more than Rs 10 lakhs is spent on each student at the institute every year. The institute prepares students to get jobs in the commercial industry where they would command good salaries if they perform well.
While there is a validity in the point of whether state should be funding the institute, it is also applicable in many other state institutes which offer professional courses. However, with respect to the present controversy, I feel that this point is not relevant. Even if the state decides to stop the funding, it should first clean up the mess that exists, and then it can be privatised, or the fees raised substantially.
The letter from the FTII student alleges that the protest is pure politics. The English media by not bringing out the facts, or at least investigating the allegations made by the student, has allowed itself to be used for the purposes of a political propaganda. It is, of course, complete freedom of the media to allow itself to be so used. But then the publication and the channel should stop pretending that it is unbiased.
(Ashok Chowgule is the Working President (External) of Vishwa Hindu Parishad.)