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Solidarity with students

The Trinamool Congress became the third political party to join the chorus of support for protesting students from the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), after the Congress and Aam Aadmi Party. According to news reports, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee recently gave her support to the students protesting against the appointment of chairman, Gajendra Chauhan, who was reportedly chosen over others on the basis of a two-sentence resume of his acting career, and other members of the film institute’s governing body, whose credentials needed close scrutiny. 

“The central government must resolve the prevailing unrest in FTII, Pune. They must talk to the students and the teachers and take them into confidence. The political purpose should not stand in the way as institutions are above everything. Since I was actively associated with students’ movements in the past, I respect students’ movement. I support their genuine cause always,” Banerjee said. Political commentators have argued that such a move is part of her well-calibrated political strategy to take on the Modi government on controversial issues. What is relevant to the current impasse at FTII is Banerjee’s call for greater dialogue with students and the use of political purpose to appoint heads of various academic institutes. After more than 70 strike-plagued days, there seems to be no end in sight for the FTII. 

The government has certainly displayed ineptitude in finding competent talent to take over the reins of important offices. The appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as the Chairman of the Governing Council of Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune, is a case in point. Chauhan, who is remembered for playing the role of Yudhistir in BR Chopra’s  Mahabharat, was selected by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting ahead of much celebrated and internationally acclaimed film personalities like Gulzar, Shyam Benegal and Adoor Gopalakrishnan. One finds it hard to understand that an absolute non-personality like Chauhan was approved by Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley. The only reason Chauhan was appointed was because of his affiliation to the ruling party at the Centre. 

In addition to its stubborn position on the appointment, the Centre had even threatened to rusticate those who continued their protests. However, in a change of tack, the Centre, last week sent a team to the campus for talks with the FTII authorities and protesting students. On Friday, hectic parleys between the three-member delegation and the FTII staff, faculty and student representatives were held. Although no breakthrough has been made, the signs are encouraging. The students of the institution, meanwhile, have stood up against the gradual deterioration in the film institute’s standards. Quick fixes will not work. A passion and commitment to serious cinema and pedagogical practice are required. To revive FTII, an absolute non-entity like Gajendra Chauhan will not suffice. When Chauhan was appointed as the chairman of FTII, his political masters may not have known that his appointment would cause an avalanche of anger and frustration. However, it is the high time his political masters heeded the clarion call of the students and resolved this issue decisively.
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