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7 months on, Gajendra Chauhan takes charge as FTII chairman

Amid protests by students, TV actor and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member Gajendra Chauhan on Thursday took charge as the chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) – seven months after his appointment, even as the police resorted to lathicharge and detained nearly 40 students.

Looking calm and composed, Chauhan hinted that if approached, he could examine scope for the withdrawal of cases against some students filed during the 139-day-old strike last year. “But I can examine scope for withdrawing cases filed against the FTII student-protesters (during 139-day strike period) if they approached me. I cannot do so until I see the files concerned,” he said.

However, in what could be a compromise formula to resolve the row over Chauhan’s controversial appointment that led students to go on an unprecedented 139-day strike, the FTII society on Thursday chose producer-director BP Singh as its vice-president and also as the chairman of the Academic Council. The students, who are demanding Chauhan’s removal, had called off their strike on October 28 last year.

Singh, who is known for Television serial ‘CID’, is an alumnus of FTII.

A senior Information and Broadcasting Ministry official said during negotiations, student representatives had at times questioned Chauhan’s credentials and they believed that with Singh heading the Academic Council, such issues won’t arise. “Singh studied film-making at FTII and is a veteran in this field, so a lot of concerns raised would be accomodated,” he said.

The police rounded up 40 student protesters using force as they staged a demonstration, beating drums and displaying placards with slogans of “Gajendra Chauhan go back” and calling him a “political appointee”.

During the course of the protests, Chauhan was confined to his hotel room in the vicinity of the institute.

At the FTII society meeting held on Thursday, apart from Chauhan and Singh, filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani, actor Satish Shah, film critic Bhawana Somaiyya, Akademi Awardee Director Urmil Thapliyal, Assamese Film actor Pranjal Saikia and others were present.

An official statement released said that BP Singh was elected as the Vice President of the FTII Society while Hirani, Singh, Saikia, Shah, Pathak and Somaiyya were nominated to the Governing Council. Singh was elected as the vice-chairman of the Governing Council and it was decided to nominate the vice-chairman of the Governing Council as the Chairman of the Academic Council, the statement added. 

The FTII Students Association (FSA) members, who had called off their 139-day strike last year, opposing Chauhan’s appointment, alleging that he lacked stature to head the institute, gathered early in the morning at the main gate of the FTII, ignoring a warning issued by the police to maintain peace at the time of Chauhan’s entry on the campus. A scuffle ensued between the police and students as police used batons to disperse them.

Shimi, a student, said, “We were protesting peacefully to register our dissent because political appointees are taking charge as members of the FTII Society. We got beaten up without provocation and taken to police station. Our protest and resistance will continue.” 

However, Pune’s Deputy Commissioner of Police Tushar Joshi, who was on the spot, said, “We had asked the students to demonstrate peacefully, but we had to use force because they wanted to block the way to the institute and therefore we had to detain them. We used minimum force.”  The students continued to raise anti-Chauhan slogans even as his car entered the FTII premises.

Meanwhile, the FSA said that though they had withdrawn their prolonged strike on October 28 despite lack of response from the Information and Broadcasting Ministry to their demand for removal of Chauhan, the students were determined to carry on their resistance to his political appointment in a peaceful manner.
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