FTII row: Why striking students deserve a round of applause

The striking students of the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) deserve a round of applause for standing up to the government for imposing an undeserving chairman on them.

Read more: Rahul Gandhi intearcts with FTII students, supports their protest

Unlike most members of other supposedly autonomous bodies like the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) or the National Book Trust (NBT), who quietly accepted the official nominees for the top posts -- evidently chosen for their Hindutva connections, the FTII students have been much braver.

They have held their ground despite protests by saffron outfits like the BJP's student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad.

FTII: Two cheers for agitating students

Only in the ICHR was there a resignation but, otherwise, the Hindutva lobby had little difficulty in placing its chosen man at the head of the organisation although the person was virtually unknown as a "historian" outside the RSS circles.

In contrast, the prolonged resistance in the FTII to the government's policy of planting saffronites in key positions in reputed institutions is the first of its kind.

However, it will be hoping against hope to expect the government to bow to the students' demand of removing Gajendra Chauhan, another nonentity like the ICHR chairman, from the FTII although a minister is reported to have admitted that he was not the best of choices.

But, the minister's subsequent observation that "as a government we cannot retract" is evidence of the obstinacy which generally characterizes the official attitude.

There are two possible explanations for this obduracy. One is temperamental, which is the result of the complete control which Narendra Modi exercised over Gujarat as chief minister when he simply brushed aside any opposition from either the Congress or rebels in his own party like Keshubhai Patel. The habit has persisted.

The other is the weakness of the opposition at the national level, where the Congress is trying to hide its irrelevance through unruly conduct in parliament.

But, there may well be a third explanation. It is that Modi is still unsure about his grip on the party. After all, he battled his way up to the top in spite of stiff opposition from L.K. Advani and others.

For the present, he has succeeded in marginalising them. But, he probably believes that they are waiting for an opportunity to strike if he misses a step.

Modi is also aware that his present line of sakba saath, sabka vikas, or development for all, goes against the grain of saffron politics and, therefore, may not secure the full approval of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) for a longish period.

Although the earlier slogan of the BJP was "justice for all, appeasement of none", it was a part of its tactics to turn the country away from the Congress's policy of "minority appeasement" which, ipso facto, denied "justice" to the Hindus.

As such, its anti-minority slant was obvious. But, Modi's present slogan is different because of its inclusiveness. He has to be congratulated, therefore, for moderating saffron politics.

However, since this is a major exercise in reorientation, he has no option but to keep the RSS in good humour by appointing men of its choice to key positions.

At the same time, he cannot afford to give the impression of being driven by the RSS in making appointments. How long will Modi be able to carry on with his tightrope walk is difficult to say.

But, as the uproar in the FTII has shown, he has to be wary of not only the internal compulsions on his own side, but also of those in the secular camp who are unwilling to accept the official diktat.

Unlike the ICHR and other institutions from where the Leftists have been evicted, the protesters in the FTII have no obvious ideological bias notwithstanding their appeal to Rahul Gandhi to take up the issue in parliament. All they want is that someone well known in the film world should be appointed the chairman.

The government has to tread carefully in this matter because films and television shows have a wide resonance at a time when Bollywood is producing movies of a high quality as prizes won by The Dirty Picture, Paan Singh Tomar and Haider show.

On the small screen, too, the television serials, documentaries and, above all, news, interviews and debates have become the staple of everyday life.

To give credence to the view that the government is stifling this flourishing industry with its politically-coloured selection of personnel will seriously dent its image.

The government's problems would have been far less if the RSS nominees had been of a high calibre. Unfortunately, the Hindu Right, as it is called, is not known to harbour individuals who are widely known for their intellectual accomplishments.

It is a trait which characterizes Rightists virtually all over the world in the field of social sciences although their economic outlook is gaining ground at the expense of the Leftists.

But, even in this field, someone like Jagdish Bhagwati, who is deemed to be in the same league as the Nobel laureate Amartya Sen, is of the view that Hindutva is like a "virulent disease".


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