Up against saffronisation: FTII protests aren't just about Gajendra Chauhan's appointment

New Delhi: What exactly is troubling students of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) who have decided to continue their strike which entered the 26th day on Tuesday? While their opposition to the appointment of television actor Gajendra Chauhan as president of the FTII Society has hogged the limelight, this does not appear to be whole matter. They are also up in arms against four of the eight members appointed as member of the governing council under ‘Persons of Eminence’ category. All four have strong Hindu right wing connection.

Students assert that the stature of these people falls far short of what members of the governing council require. They provide a look at who they are and their background.

Gajendra Chauhan

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Best known for his role as Yudhisthir in BR Chopra’s TV series Mahabharata aired on Doordarshan between 1988-90, Chauhan has acted in various nondescript television soaps and ‘B’ grade Bollywood movies. Although he joined the BJP in 2004, he is associated with the saffron party for over 20 years. He campaigned for the BJP in Haryana during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. His appointment as FTII chief is being seen as an instance of political largesse.

Dr Narendra Pathak

Nominated under ‘Person of Eminence’ in the field of art, theatre and filmmaking, Pathak has no contribution in the field of art and culture. He was the president of Maharashtra unit of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP) whose activists allegedly attacked FTII students on 21 August 2013 following a film screening and a cultural programme by Kabir Kala manch, which is accused of having links with Maoists) at Pune-based National Film Archives of India (NFAI).

He had been the editor of an ABVP’s in-house magazine for 14 years.

Anagha Ghaisas

The maker of a documentary films like Ram Mandir - Adalat aur Aastha and Shri Narendra Modi - Gatha Asamanya Netrutva Ki (A Tale of Extraordinary Leadership), Ghaisas (according to a court order) “has not taken education in film shooting, editing and directing, does not have technical knowledge regarding making of a film and even does not know the difference between fiction and documentary”. She, as she herself accepts, is “100 percent RSS and proud of it”. Her husband Vinay Patrale, according to her own admission, had been a Sangh pracharak for 21 years.

She says a “new thought process should start at FTII and students should have nationalistic feelings”. Despite a court order, she has not so far paid Nandan Kudhiyadi, an FTII aluminous, internationally acclaimed director and a three-time National Award winner and also the recipient of the prestigious Golden Lotus award, his full fees of Rs 4,05,000 with an interest of 6% for making a film entitled My Flag My Life on NDA.

Pranjal Saikia

He was office-bearer of the RSS-linked Sanskar Bharati. He also believes that students passing from the FTII should have “traditional, moral and ethical values” in addition to knowledge in film making.

Rahul Solapurkar

He was seeking a BJP ticket from Pune in last year’s state assembly elections.

Shailesh Gupta

An FTII aluminous, Gupta is known for his “propagandist” film Shapath Modi Ki.

“All five members have RSS or BJP connections but no one of them has strong credentials to become the member of such a premier institution. The appointments have made the government’s agenda very clear — saffronise an academic institution of this unique nature,” Kislay Gonzalvez, former general secretary of FTII Students’ Association, told Firstpost.

When Finance Minister Arun) Jaitley announced that FTII would be made an Institute of national importance, students here hoped that the institute would be autonomous. “But it seems that the government is more interested in rewarding its workers rather than thinking about the institution. This is the first time in the history of the FTII that appointments have been made without any academic considerations,” he added.

Jaitley had announced last year that the government proposes to accord status of institute of national importance to FTII, thereby putting it in league with IIT and AIIMS. Ironically, the institute has remained without a chairman for over a year after Saeed Mirza’s term ended in 2014.

When asked are they protesting against the appointment of Chauhan only because he is associated with the BJP, Vikas Urs, secretary of the FTII Students’ Association, said, “Students did not oppose the appointment Vinod Khanna despite the fact that he was a BJP MP at the time of his appointment as the chairperson of the FTII's governing council. It was because he is an artist and knows art. Our fight is not against a person or a party. Our fight is against the vision of the government and the visible degradation of the premier institution.”

As per the norms of the Society, the chairperson is also the chief of the governing or academic council. “For such an institution, the chairperson and members of the society need to be of national and international repute, as has always been practised. The institute conducts courses in the entire spectrum of filmmaking but the composition of the new society is skewed with five actors appointed. The Society of FTII, we believe, has to be far more wide ranging and inclusive. Some eminent members have already stated their unwillingness to be part of this new Society, thereby further diminishing its effectiveness,” he said.

Asked about their demands, Vikas said, "We request that a new committee consisting of approximately five persons is formed to look into the issues, suggest guidelines and assist in the process of transition into an ‘Institution of National Importance’. We would like to suggest that the outgoing chairman and the vice chairman with their knowledge and understanding of academics, the industry and the institute are included in this committee. Till such time, the newly formed society should not be operationalised.”

Film maker Nakul Singh Sawhney, who is an aluminous of the FTII, terms Chauhan's appointment along with four others in the governing council of the FTII Society “outrageous”. “On what basis have these appointments been made? Why is the procedure so opaque? Clearly, these people are not here to guide the institute and don't have a vision for the institute. Now, with the government threatening to privatise FTII, it is clear that the five of them were sent to further the dual agenda this government has for higher education- privatisation and saffronisation,” he told Firstpost.


Published Date: Jul 08, 2015 09:20 am | Updated Date: Jul 08, 2015 09:29 am