A few days back, the internet was flooded with news of the apparent unfairness of Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment as the new chief of the esteemed Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. It took me a moment to piece the face in pictures with that of the mustache-sporting, crown-wearing Yudhisthir who spoke spasht Hindi and had me hooked to the TV every Sunday morning. I spent around 10 fruitless minutes trying to recollect what else he has in his kitty to justify the entrustment of such a big responsibility before I came across an article that explained his political affiliations and – lo behold! I wasn’t in the dark anymore.
Interestingly, the phenomenon of political favoritism when it comes to official appointments is not a new one. It is common practice for political parties to pull out the wrong color grass and replace it with the right one – it has been done before and it will be done again. However, nepotism in the field of education is exceptionally lethal and should be done away at any cost.
Educational institutions have, and will continue to be, the breeding grounds for the future citizens of our country. It is here that ideas arise, ideologies are discussed, and studied and impressions formed. Hence, it is of utmost importance that these arenas of knowledge not be limited by any kind of political or religious agenda or arm-twisting. However, this is exactly what the current Government is doing.
First, Baldev Sharma, former editor of RSS mouthpiece ‘Panchjanya‘, was appointed as chairman of the National Book Trust. Then, Vishram Ramchandra Jamdar, a professed RSS swayamsevak, was appointed as the head of Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur (although he was not among the four shortlisted candidates for the post), not to forget the much publicized resignation of Dr. Amartya Sen from the helm of Nalanda University, which was followed by the repainting of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) with a cluster of saffron supporters. And now this. Read it all together and you’ll realise that the paranoia and suspicion that greeted the news of Chauhan’s appointment was not uncalled for.
FTII, which had been home to the likes of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, and Raj Kumar Hirani, to name a few, has long been a space that treats cinema as an art. This is hugely relevant in today’s times than we imagine, because it still adheres to viewing cinema in its hugely multifarious role for social comment, socio-political reflection, and as an important cultural tool that makes sense of the society we live in. Considering the importance of free speech in the constructive criticism of society, the government and the culture in general, it is of utmost importance that the spaces that facilitate the same not be under the shadow of any particular political entity. This is particularly valid in the current scenario where the opposition party (or what is left of it) is as effective as a pen without a nib.
Last that I heard, the FTII students at Pune have launched an indefinite strike against this blatantly political appointment. Taking into consideration the reports that Chauhan was picked ahead of lyricist Gulzar and filmmakers Shyam Benegal and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who were apparently shortlisted by the ministry for the top job, this is not surprising. Meanwhile, Chauhan maintains that he doesn’t understand the reasoning behind these ‘blind protests’ and that he is planning to meet the students in person and try and address their concerns.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to mention that the reign of the BJP government has been peppered with controversies of favoritism and U-turns from Day 1, which is amusing since it is for the same that they had pointed fingers, with much gusto, at the earlier government. Needless to say, this is not going to be the last of the many controversies that the ruling party is so very fond of unleashing. In the meantime, as the headline of a leading daily goes, appointment of ‘Yudhishtir‘ has triggered “an FTII ‘Mahabharat’”.