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.

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Nameless

gas-mask-soldier_087726

I am calm and composed in the shadows,
The stillness and silence is empowering,
I shift between the shadows, dodging the light,
They call for me, yelling a name,
But it’s never mine.

My purpose is simple,
I fall a monster with a blade,
I am unmoved by the weak relief of civilisation;
Of robes, debates and claims of humanity,
I serve the blind god with conviction,
She knows me by a name,
But it’s never mine.

The world howls in hate,
For I test its many illusions again and again,
Yet it whispers about me with relief and gratitude,
They say a name,
But it’s never mine

I am a dog of War,
I am consumed by the Berserker trapped inside,
I cannot live in lands of hopes and dreams,
I will perish under a banner I will not know,
They will carve a name on my tomb,
But it’s never mine.

I wander this desolate plane,
I understand it and it understands me,
They cry and they rejoice over my actions,
But the dead remember no glory,
The dead remember no sins,
Hero, monster, saviour, they say,
But these names are never mine.

Not Just the Opposition, the News Media has tasted blood

sushmaExternal Affairs minister Sushma Swaraj and Rajasthan CM Vasundhara Raje’s aid to Lalit Modi has energised some Opposition parties, namely the Congress, to counter PM Modi’s ‘scam free’ year in power.

Multiple press conferences by Congress leaders are trying their best to sustain the issue. Former union ministers are slamming Swaraj and Raje, accusing them of undermining the  Enforcement Directorate investigation against the former IPL commissioner. They have even accused PM Modi of being hand-in-glove with Lalit Modi, conflating the IPL scam with Swaraj and Raje’s actions, making allegations of a quid pro quo despite any evidence of a money trail.

This is natural in politics to counter the might of the BJP, which has maintained a relatively positive image regarding governance in the last one year. The Centre has not buckled under pressure, and even hit back with a reality check that several Congress leaders have rubbed shoulders with Lalit Modi in the past.

cong pcBeyond the politics, the news media seems to have tasted blood. After the Congress offered a scam feast on a silver platter, even press conferences laden with controversial sound bites from union ministers like Beni Prasad Verma, the Modi government has made the news media starve. The last one-year has been packed with achievements of the Modi government with mini-controversies over sound bites which don’t survive more than a few days in the news cycle. Swaraj and Raje’s case has wet the news media’s appetite, reflected by the constant coverage, the long, loud, righteous tone debates, and the standard line of questioning with the repetition of the basic facts to keep the allegations alive – creating more room for speculation and less reporting.

The news media seems to be in a vengeful mood as the Modi government has effectively managed political communication ever since it came to power. With the BJP’s dominance on social media where it speaks directly to the voters, the party has reduced its dependence on the conduit of the mainstream media, a fact the big media houses are painfully aware of. On almost every news channel, there are shrieks over why isn’t ‘serial tweeter’ PM Modi speaking up on the issue, despite clarifications from senior ministers in the government. There have even been attempts to compare UPA’s multi-crore scams with the Lalit Modi row, with the simple thread that the PM’s office is silent on the issue. Yet, unlike the UPA era – there is no public mobilisation against the Centre, no public protests or online campaigns against corruption, with the outrage contained in the political arena, where even the Opposition is divided.

mediaWhile Congress is there to prop up the coverage, the news media even looked to Twitter, seeking its blessings. However, it was not cooperative for long. Twitter discussed the story the first few days, but attacked the news media for conflating the Lalit Modi row into a full-fledged ‘scandal’. The number one hashtag which emerged just a few days after the story broke was #ShameonTimesNow followed by #IStandwithSushmaSwaraj. The news media was primarily attacked for not highlighting how leaders across political parties have links with dubious personalities including Lalit Modi and even extended favours to them from positions of power. The focus on Sushma Swaraj and Raje has come across as a media witch-hunt.

The news media and the Congress can at least take credit for pressuring the ED to increase the speed of the probe into Lalit Modi. However, in the court of public opinion, which the news media dearly values, the coverage of the controversy has got a thumbs down. The news media and Congress’ blitzkrieg against the Modi government has not been digested well. The bottom line of the case is that a man was helped by the government to be with his ailing wife. Raje’s case has come across as a non-issue. The recommendation letter has failed to make the ‘impropriety’ argument a serious one as Lalit Modi is not public enemy number one and this is reflected by the absence of public outcry. It is extremely difficult to generate even manufacture public outrage over this case.

Sushma Swaraj’s Twitter hotline: Part 2

sushma 2It has been over two weeks and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj continues to face flak from the Congress party and the news media over the Lalit Modi case. Yet, the political assault has not deterred the union minister from helping normal Indian citizens who ‘tweet’ her their problems. Beyond the political skirmishes in newsrooms across the nation, Sushma Swaraj continues to elevate the stature of the MEA, through her ‘direct governance’ approach. Mumbai-based professional Neha Parikh spoke to me about how the External Affairs minister recently came to her family’s aid.

CNN-IBN: What predicament did your family face that prompted you to reach out to Sushma Swaraj?

Neha Parikh: My parents were returning to India from their first international trip to Europe on May 29. While travelling from Rome to India via Istanbul, my mother’s passport got lost in transit and my parents were stranded at Istanbul Airport for a day. My parents are senior citizens and I was extremely worried about their situation. My family members and I were trying to do whatever we could but nothing productive happened.  A friend suggested that I should tweet about the situation to Sushma Swaraj. At that time, I had no knowledge of how helpful it could be, but nonetheless I posted a tweet to Sushma Swaraj and appealed to her for help.

CNN-IBN: How prompt was the help from the MEA?

Neha Parikh: Within a few hours, I saw that Sushma Swaraj had favourited my tweet. Soon after, the Indian embassy in Turkey got in touch with my father over the phone and assured him of all assistance. By the evening of May 30, the Indian Embassy in Turkey issued emergency travel documents to my parents. They were able to board the flight and fly back to India that very night.

CNN-IBN: Would you say Sushma Swaraj has set a new standard of governance as External Affairs Minister?

Neha Parikh: Definitely. The use of digital media by the government to connect with the common man and resolve their problems in this manner is something unheard of in our country. It feels so great to reach out to the External Affairs ministry directly in times of distress without having any intermediary in between.

CNN-IBN: What message do you wish to convey to Sushma Swaraj?

Neha Parikh: I am very grateful to Sushma Swaraj and her ministry for such prompt response and all the help.

Sushma Swaraj’s Twitter hotline

Sushma Swaraj’s Twitter hotline

SushmaWhile Sushma Swaraj faces flak from the Congress party and the news media over the Lalit Modi case, the External Affairs minister continues to help normal Indian citizens who ‘tweet’ her their problems. Beyond the political skirmishes in newsrooms across the nation, Sushma Swaraj has elevated the stature of the MEA, through her ‘direct governance’ approach interacting with voters via social media to address their problems. Delhi-based businessman Monty Chadha spoke to me about how Sushma Swaraj recently came to his family’s aid.

CNN-IBN: What predicament did your family face that prompted you to reach out to Sushma Swaraj?

Monty Chadha: On Friday June 19, my sister and her family were detained at the airport in Cape Town since my niece was not carrying her birth certificate. Indian passport holders ideally should not be carrying any such document as the date of birth and parents’ name is mentioned on the passport itself. But apparently, South African authorities have made it mandatory from June 1 to carry birth certificates to prevent human trafficking. The travel agent in India did not mention any such thing. My sister started panicking as her flight boarding time was approaching. My nephew sent a WhatsApp message to me stating the problem. I called up my sister and she told me about what was going on. While I was thinking about whom to contact I just happened to tag a tweet to the MEA and Sushma Swaraj appealing for help.

CNN-IBN: What help did the MEA provide?

Monty Chadha: Sushma Swaraj contacted me over Twitter by first favoriting the tweet within 5 minutes. I didn’t understand it at first, as I am new to Twitter. I called my sister again and asked if the authorities had allowed her to board. The MEA had called up my sister assuring her that someone from the Indian High Commission in
Pretoria will get in touch. MEA took about 15 minutes to call my sister after the tweet. The Indian High Commission sorted the issue out and my sister and her family boarded the flight soon after.

CNN-IBN: Would you say Sushma Swaraj has set a new standard of governance as External Affairs Minister?

Monty Chadha: Of course I would feel it’s a new benchmark as I had a first hand experience. I was later talking to my younger brother about how earlier we would not have even imagined getting through to the MEA
or any higher authority. My family’s problem was solved all thanks to Sushma Swaraj and social media.

CNN-IBN: What message do you wish to convey to Sushma Swaraj?

Monty Chadha: I would like to thank her and wish her all the best to continue the good work.

The Artist of the Soul

awakening

She sets the stage on fire,
Her impish charm is infectious,
Her words spur exhilaration and passion,
Eliciting laughter and sensation,
Even as the music fades away.

The cello plays a heavenly tune,
Her childlike smile turns to a passionate call,
Her words float on the wings of emotion,
Her guitar strums with her powerful devotion,
Her feet tap the tunes of her heart.

The music flows through her body,
The crowd watches in awe,
Losing themselves to the vision,
Soaking in her rhythm and passion,
Wondering how to capture her spirit.

The pianist lays down another tune, and she complies,
Recalling the joy of crafting her words,
Her lilting notes mesmerize,
Yet she, her eyes closed, is lost
In a world far away from my understanding,
Radiating her spirit as she roars and whispers.

Her voice rises like waves on the sun,
The instruments match her energy and the room comes to life,
Detached from the tedious world, all of us are alive,
Suspended in the moment’s bliss.

But we awaken as the tune fades,
The dimensions of the room become painfully real,
We realize, we are common.
But SHE, she is unique, special,
A phoenix in a crowd of tired souls.

Her soft voice calms the fires she ignited,
The crowd hangs on every utter,
Every strum of the guitar,
Every tap of her feet.
A spiritual buzz as the cold alcohol settles.

Who are you?
Where do you come from?
Where have you been?

You infused life in us wanderers,
Showed us joy that we’ve yearned for,
A happiness we can hold onto,
To melt away life’s recurring blues.

You are a true artist of the soul.

Expression cannot pierce the Armour of ‘God’

Humanity’s concept of ‘God’ is not flesh and blood, or a piece wood or stone. It is a natural rationale that ties our ethos, values and identity to our lives. ‘God’ is also considered a supernatural force that is compassionate, powerful, destructive, all-seeing, untouched by the evolution of the world. The concept is beyond the spatial and temporal boundaries of the mortal plane, and as history is witness has endured the test of time, playing a significant role in human society as an ideological power center even when temples and scriptures turn to dust.

GODIf this is the notion of ‘God’ across the world, how can faith and belief in such a power be rocked by mere words and expressions? True believers in such a power cannot be moved to anger and violence over cartoons, depictions, opinion and criticism that not only question, even lampoon ‘God’. Those who rage in the name of ‘God’ against expression clearly possess a flimsy faith, one that is easily open to suggestion and tinkering. That is where the politics of religion finds its power, and the host of atrocities in the name of ‘God’ stem from there. Just like corruption scandals, there are middlemen who corrupt the circuit of Man and ‘God’.

‘God’ has and will dominate the tapestry of time, and no cartoonist, journalist, newspaper, TV channel or interest group can challenge it. They are blips on the human timeline that cannot shake the belief in a supernatural force as well as an institution that is as old as mankind. Believers sully their conviction when they attack expression to defend ‘God’. If faith can survive human atrocities done in the name of ‘God’, why should mere expression spark fear in the hearts of believers? Speeches, written word and caricatures emerge and are forgotten, but true believers should look beyond them, treat them as insignificant to their faith and even question their conviction if anger lurks in their heart.

salman‘God’ has the tenacity to prevail. Those who express their faith through anger do nothing more than mask their doubt to convince the world and themselves of their devotion. But ‘God’ does not need their protection. Anger never empowers ‘God’ but goodwill in the name of ‘God’ will always empower mankind.