FTII Protests: Students losing perception battle

ftii protestA protest at India’s premier film studies institute over the appointment of Mahabharat actor Gajendra Chauhan has dragged on for over two months. Students boycott classes and agitate, demanding Gajendra Chauhan be removed even before he actively assumes his post as FTII Chairman. The protests escalated recently where the students
prevented the FTII Director from leaving his office, and the Director says the students forcefully interrogated him for hours. Meanwhile, the media is busy debating the idea of freedom and democracy, arguingit is the right of the students to protest, even saying Gajendra Chauhan is not the right fit for the institute.

In every organization, government or private, we know there are people who are not fit for their post, but it is the prerogative of the institution heads to make appointments. If anyone holds that organization to ransom, they will be kicked out without hesitation. Every employee in every news organization, which has been debating the morality of this case, knows this reality.

In the credibility war, the protesting students at FTII are not model candidates. The protesters have been delaying their studies for a long time, living on a government-subsidized campus for an indefinite period of time. They have the right to protest, but the institute has a right to take action against them for falling below the required standards, just like any other educational institute. Protesting students say, force and fear has been used against them, but functionaries of the
institute have accused the students of the same. At the same time, for the media, there has to be a limit to what extent we can actively back the nature of the protest at FTII. Hiding behind the notion of freedom to protest, is not the justification for hampering the studies of numerous other students as well as the functions of a government institution.

ftii protest 2It must be highlighted that students at FTII have been protesting for years over issues ranging from appointments to changes in course structure. They have agitated even when luminaries like Shyam Benegal and Mahesh Bhatt served as FTII chairman. The fact is that this protest is not just about Gajendra Chauhan, he is part of a series of
flashpoints via which some students have found a reason to agitate. Even if Christopher Nolan became FTII chairman, some students will find a reason to agitate, if he amended or tinkered with their course in any way.

This protest has now become political.  It fields an ideological argument re-iterating the age-old line that the Modi-led BJP government has been trying to bulldoze free expression across India. Now these protesters are accusing different functionaries of FTII of lying and being under the influence of the Centre, even denying their roles in perpetuating the systemic problems at the institute. Their argument is now similar to the Opposition during the last Parliament
session – that they will protest, but it is the government’s responsibility to resolve the impasse, not theirs.

They may feel that inviting Rahul Gandhi and other politicians to the protest is essential to keep their fight alive, but they shouldn’t be surprised if the government hardens its position. For AAP and the Congress, the FTII protest is nothing more than a launch pad to attack the Modi government. These parties are not interested in solving the issues at FTII, and even AAP’s Ashutosh’s remark that the protesters are heirs to the JP movement of the Emergency era, shouldn’t fill them with hope.  They should learn from the ex-servicemen protesting for One Rank One Pension. They shooed Rahul Gandhi when he tried to join them at Jantar Mantar, as they wanted to keep the argument between
them and the government. They know inviting other parties will pollute the debate.

The inability of FTII students to keep the protests ‘clean’, by keeping it away from political parties bent on targeting the government, even escalating it by threating functionaries of the institute – has weakened their position in the perception battle. This has turned the focus away from Gajendra Chauhan’s credentials, which is what started the agitation in the first place. The protesters now seem adamant to call the shots at FTII, in an open challenge to the government. But they seem to have bitten off more than they can chew, as the Centre will not remain this patient. Gajendra Chauhan might win this Maharabharat as well.