On setting wrong precedents

If we agree that the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) is a world-class institute then we must continue to act in a manner that preserves that image and abstain from acts that do the contrary and denigrate the institution’s prestige. 

Amidst protests by the students of FTII, Gajendra Chauhan took charge, on 8th January, as the chairman of the institute. Students, who have been agitating since mid-June last year, have questioned Chauhan’s eligibility for the chief position of the premier film institute in the country and one of the prestigious cinema institutes globally.

Mr. Chauhan, an actor and a BJP member, was appointed by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry as the chairman of FTII in June 2015. Since this announcement, the students and alumni have protested against this decision, and have demanded that the government review it and appoint someone who can inspire the students. While prestigious academic institutions the world over apply stringent selection procedures to ensure that only the best students are admitted, they also hold high standards for appointments to the leading positions in both academic and administrative capacities. Of course, an institution of world repute needs a visionary at the helm. It is the less-than-noteworthy credentials of Mr. Chauhan that the student body at FTII is primarily unhappy about.

To be fair, we can’t judge Mr. Chauhan’s performance as the leading figure of FTII even before he has taken charge. However, as suggested by the agitators, there is no dearth of worthy individuals who are capable of being appointed as the chairman of FTII. What is more, many alumni of FTII are well respected (and have won awards the world over) for their contribution to various cinematic fields. The question that arises then is how do Mr. Chauhan’s credentials compare with those of someone like Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who has previously led FTII.

These are legitimate questions that the government had better considered and responded seriously to, for any such institution does not only train professionals but also prepares future leaders. A heavy-handed approach adopted in this appointment undermines not only the students’ agency but also the reputation of the institute.Disempowering the student body by ignoring their demands and appointing people to prestigious positions on their political affiliations rather than their job-specific credentials sends a wrong message to the world.

Nidhi Gupta is a Programme Manager at the Takshashila Institution and tweets at @nidhi1902.