FTII logjam: Where does the buck stop? (September 19 will mark 100 days of strike)

New Delhi, Sep 17 (IANS) Come Saturday and it’ll be a hundred days of strike and strife for over 250 FTII students protesting against the appointment of a chairman whose credentials they have deemed “questionable” – but is it all in vain?

On June 9, the government appointed BJP member and actor Gajendra Chauhan – best known for essaying ‘Yudhisthir’ in B.R. Chopra’s “Mahabharat” – as chairman of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII).

Three days later, the students of the Pune facility went on strike, primarily to express dissent over the lack of transparency in making such key appointments.

Since then, the stalemate has continued – with neither the students, Chauhan nor the information and broadcasting (I&B) ministry arriving at even the framework of a concrete solution.

FTII students’ body is awaiting a word from the government – hoping for a worthy dialogue, at least before the strike touches 100 days.

The students’ body president, Harishankar Nachimuthu, said they have made clear their willingness for a dialogue, while core committee member Ranjit Nair has questioned why the “government is not taking proactive steps in engaging with us directly”.

“We have nothing against Gajendra Chauhan. We are looking at getting the process right, through which such appointments are never made again under any government. If the government is any serious about higher education in the country, then its intent can be clearly reflected in its measures to resolve this issue.

“We are only asking this government to activate a fair and transparent process, a policy not just beneficial for FTII but for all such institutes where education can thrive at its highest quality,” Nair told IANS.

The FTII, the country’s premier film institute which was established in 1960, has produced the likes of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Jahnu Barua, Shabana Azmi and Om Puri, all of whom have thrown their weight behind the protesting students.

Among several others who came out and supported the students’ cause was Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi, whose visit to the FTII campus gave the issue a political twist.

Of late, as many as 190 eminent personalities even urged President Pranab Mukherjee to intervene.

Despite such attempts made by credible names to negotiate between the FTII students and the central government, there has been no outcome.

Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting Rajyavardhan Rathore has blamed the students for taking an “extremely hard line” in the matter for the lack of a solution. This, even though a three-member team committee comprising Registrar of Newspapers of India’s S.M. Khan, I&B ministry’s joint secretary S. Naganathan and director of Films, Anshu Shukla, had “satisfactory discussions” with all FTII stakeholders.

Three students are currently on a hunger strike. In fact, the strike took a national form when students of key institutes from across the nation, including in Kolkata and Delhi, joined the protests on September 15.

For the record, Chauhan had told IANS: “Hunger strike is no solution. I request them to sit across and have a dialogue with the minister or the ministry officially. Only then a solution can come out.” But there’s been nothing beyond that.All said and done, the ball now lies in the government’s court.

Acclaimed filmmaker Shyam Benegal, who was twice the FTII chairman, told IANS: “In a deadlock like this, some decision will be taken and that decision will be in the hands of the government.”

The Padma Bhushan awardee even shared that though he had advised Chauhan to meet the students and understand their viewpoint, “he appears to have done nothing about it”.

“He can still talk to the students,” Benegal said, adding that while “everybody is guilty of having made mistakes, there were indeed other ways to deal with this problem… but they (the government) have chosen to deal with it in this fashion”.

FTII alumnus Resul Pookutty, an Oscar winner, has also his eyes set on the government for an end to the matter.

“The problem could have been solved in five minutes… This whole situation also poses a doubt whether the ministry is capable of running an educational institute,” he added.

Voicing the concern of the parents of the protesting students, multiple National Award winning filmmaker Santosh Sivan wished that “soon the students get back to their academics”.

Remember the George Harrison hit “All things Must Pass”? Will the FTII imbroglio ever pass?

(Kishori Sud can be contacted at kishori.s@ians.in)

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