From NBT To FTII: Is The BJP Indulging In Political Favouritism?

A few days back, the internet was flooded with news of the apparent unfairness of Gajendra Chauhan’s appointment as the new chief of the esteemed Film and Television Institute of India (FTII), Pune. It took me a moment to piece the face in pictures with that of the mustache-sporting, crown-wearing Yudhisthir who spoke spasht Hindi and had me hooked to the TV every Sunday morning. I spent around 10 fruitless minutes trying to recollect what else he has in his kitty to justify the entrustment of such a big responsibility before I came across an article that explained his political affiliations and – lo behold! I wasn’t in the dark anymore.

Picture Credit: FTII Wisdom Tree
Picture Credit: FTII Wisdom Tree

Interestingly, the phenomenon of political favoritism when it comes to official appointments is not a new one. It is common practice for political parties to pull out the wrong color grass and replace it with the right one – it has been done before and it will be done again. However, nepotism in the field of education is exceptionally lethal and should be done away at any cost.

Educational institutions have, and will continue to be, the breeding grounds for the future citizens of our country. It is here that ideas arise, ideologies are discussed, and studied and impressions formed. Hence, it is of utmost importance that these arenas of knowledge not be limited by any kind of political or religious agenda or arm-twisting. However, this is exactly what the current Government is doing.

First, Baldev Sharma, former editor of RSS mouthpiece ‘Panchjanya‘, was appointed as chairman of the National Book Trust. Then, Vishram Ramchandra Jamdar, a professed RSS swayamsevak, was appointed as the head of Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur (although he was not among the four shortlisted candidates for the post), not to forget the much publicized resignation of Dr. Amartya Sen from the helm of Nalanda University, which was followed by the repainting of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) with a cluster of saffron supporters. And now this. Read it all together and you’ll realise that the paranoia and suspicion that greeted the news of Chauhan’s appointment was not uncalled for.

FTII, which had been home to the likes of Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Shabana Azmi, Naseeruddin Shah, and Raj Kumar Hirani, to name a few, has long been a space that treats cinema as an art. This is hugely relevant in today’s times than we imagine, because it still adheres to viewing cinema in its hugely multifarious role for social comment, socio-political reflection, and as an important cultural tool that makes sense of the society we live in. Considering the importance of free speech in the constructive criticism of society, the government and the culture in general, it is of utmost importance that the spaces that facilitate the same not be under the shadow of any particular political entity. This is particularly valid in the current scenario where the opposition party (or what is left of it) is as effective as a pen without a nib.

Last that I heard, the FTII students at Pune have launched an indefinite strike against this blatantly political appointment. Taking into consideration the reports that Chauhan was picked ahead of lyricist Gulzar and filmmakers Shyam Benegal and Adoor Gopalakrishnan, who were apparently shortlisted by the ministry for the top job, this is not surprising. Meanwhile, Chauhan maintains that he doesn’t understand the reasoning behind these ‘blind protests’ and that he is planning to meet the students in person and try and address their concerns.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to mention that the reign of the BJP government has been peppered with controversies of favoritism and U-turns from Day 1, which is amusing since it is for the same that they had pointed fingers, with much gusto, at the earlier government. Needless to say, this is not going to be the last of the many controversies that the ruling party is so very fond of unleashing. In the meantime, as the headline of a leading daily goes, appointment of ‘Yudhishtir‘ has triggered an FTII ‘Mahabharat’”.

(This article was first published in Youth Ki Awaaz)

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The Amma Show

Jayalalitha’s conviction in the 16 year-old disproportionate assets case has been celebrated as a triumph of justice by her detractors and the aam aadmis of our country. The high profile case which was moved to Bangalore in 2001 and saw 4 judges come and go was ridden with drama and would be remembered for its many firsts – the first judgement against a sitting Chief Minister, the ruling of Rs.100 crore as fine and so on. Needless to say, the days following the judgement saw sporadic violence in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka borders and the unsurprisingly insane show of loyalty by many of her followers – last I heard, 16 of her fans had committed suicide, apparently heartbroken at the ‘harsh’ judgement. When news like this surface, I’m reminded of the words of a acquaintance of mine. He, a top-level member of a political party, used to narrate stories of how, whenever news that tarnishes the image of their members come out, the party used to silently ‘encourage’ their gullible followers to create a scene, often by giving up their lives or fasting to death so as to make a statement. I remember laughing it off as an exaggeration then, but now that I think back, I don’t think he was joking.

One of my Facebook friends had put up a post that gained much traction considering the current atmosphere. He wrote “People are terribly angry at the court for finding out that their leader stole a lot of money from them.” Fair enough. After all, the response to her conviction has been nothing but confusing. Keeping aside her supporters, the politically neutral diaspora has been reacting to the news with a mix of ‘justice prevailed’ and sympathy. The reasons for this are two-fold. One – she was, as far as Chief Ministers go, a pretty good one. In between all the gold and property she is said to have amassed, she is one CM who actually managed to try and give back to the poorer-than-poor section of her state with her rice for Re.1, Amma canteens, Amma school bags and her latest, Amma Cements. Of course, the choice of name did provide for a lot of amusing one-liners then and now, but it is an irrefutable fact that her schemes did go a long way in easing the pangs of being poor in TN. Another, and in my opinion, more prevalent reason for the sympathy towards her is the fact that she has been caught in the net of justice of which many of her contemporaries have eased through like slippery eels. In a country where politician is synonymous with corruption, it seems to many that Jayalalitha has been singled out and prosecuted, particularly in light of the upcoming elections. It doesn’t need a rocket scientist to figure out that the ruling could not have come at a better time for DMK, and, interestingly, to the BJP who has been, for long, looking for ways to weasel its way into South India and Tamil Nadu.

It is no doubt that justice have been served. The idea that no politician, not even a CM, is above law is a comforting thought, especially to the Indian youth who are increasingly frustrated with the Indian politics. The lack of transparency has long hampered the enthusiasm of the youth, so much so that a mention of development is all that it takes to fire their bloods. By its brave judgement, the Indian judiciary has indeed set an encouraging trend. It has proven that justice delayed is not justice denied. Of course, it is naive to assume that just because the ruling is passed, Ms.Jayalalitha is going to spend 4 years in prison. The law is ridden with infinite loopholes and second-chances – no doubt her team of lawyers will find a way to bring her out. As often is the case, the ruling here is symbolic. Yet, this symbolism is a breath of fresh air to the citizens who are being starved of its faith in judiciary and the law. One can only hope that the wind of change would someday fondle the likes of Mr.Amit Shah who has, allegedly (aah..how I love that word!), blood in his hands and yet holds one of the highest positions in the ruling party.

But then again, money & development triumphs lives, so it is befitting that a case for corruption is viewed with much more seriousness than that of a ruthless massacre.

Live From Gujarat #1

Almost a month back, when I was all set to move to Gujarat, I put up a post in Facebook covertly poking fun of a certain Mr. Development. It is common knowledge that I’m a secularism-spouting, slightly-pretentious, arguably-naive new kid on the block and hence by principle I was against Mr. Development. So I stepped into Gujarat rather curious to see the much-touted “development” – I was all set to report the level of deceptiveness of all those articles that was buzzing around every Indian’s ears.

My first day in Gujarat was pretty much what I expected. The road connecting the airport to the Old Ahmedabad city started deteriorating exponentially as we moved away from the airport. Filthy roads crowded with chaiwallahs (pun not intended. Honestly!), roadside vendors, not to mention hoards of animals, vehicles that buzzed around with little or no regard for traffic or the lives of the pedestrians, women with every inch of their body covered to protect themselves from the unbelievable dust… the scoffer in me grinned like a maniac. See..! This…this right here is the development you were talking about huh?? What a Modification of the truth!

And so I started my life in Gujarat with a certain sense of peace. I was right after all…who doesn’t love hearing that? (Even if you are the only person who is saying it!) Nowhere I looked could I see even the ghosts of the much-touted D-word. All was well.

It started out with little things. Like how I could walk around at 9.00 in the night without a care in the world, reassured at the sight of the police vans at every other junctions. Or how I am yet to sit through an hour of power failure. Or the beautifully paved roads lined with sturdy & shady gulmohar trees on either side. It was with no little horror that I realised that I have been sighing in contentment a tad too often for my comfort! “So…?” I argued with myself. “It wasn’t as if I was hosting chai pe charcha. And I wasn’t even impressed with what I was seeing.”

And then I went on a trip to Ahmedabad City.

As you might have heard, thanks to the relentless media music, Gujarat is home to one of the largest man-made lakes India, the Kankaria Lake. It was during the journey from Kankaria Lake to ISKON Mall in Ahmedabad that I first came across Janmarg. Janmarg, which means ‘the people’s way’ in Gujarati, is a rapid transit bus service system that was inaugurated in late 2009 by the then Chief Minister Mr.You-Know-Who.

Now Janmarg…Janmarg blew my mind. As a civil-engineer who has often lamented on why-can’t-India-have-a-comfy&attractive-public-transport-system, to say that Janmarg had me drooling would be the understatement of the year. Dedicated lanes just for public transport which ensured zero traffic-jams, smart-cards for ticketing, numerous flyovers, automated buses and middle-of-the-corridor bus stations…I had goosebumps by the time I got down at the destination. Later I heard that the Ahmedabad Janmarg Limited went so far as to offer free rides to commuters for three months before commissioning the service to get suggestions, most of which it implemented. I seriously contemplated rearranging my priorities and, at a weak moment, inching over to the dark side.

No kidding.

So what’s with those dusty roads and emancipated kids selling chai on the road-side, you ask? The covered up women and the dangerously speeding vehicles…the roads with not one speed-breaker or pavement or a shadow of a cop… Turns out I hadn’t chosen the best galli of Gujarat to shack-up in those initial days.

Funny it didn’t dawn on me earlier considering how everywhere I looked, kajal-rimmed eyes and paan-smeared lips had smiled at me.