These students are vibrant; they are the symbol of a democracy that is still alive though tottering. On the other hand, the government’s response to the protest has been most inappropriate and childish. They could have handled it better but when the intention is to rule with absolute power with no space for dissent, then dissent will raise its head. Yes, it’s irritating to see people like Rahul Gandhi, Yogendra Yadav and Arvind Kejriwal trying to jump on the bandwagon to gain brownie points. And it’s painful to see the hapless students succumbing to their fake concern. But what is more hurtful is the response one gets from government officials, ministers, official spokespersons and supporters of the ruling system.
They harp on “taxpayers’ money being wasted”. Seriously? Twelve lakh per student for approximately 200 students a year? Is art and culture really seen as a waste? Is cinema so inconsequential? When their taxpayer argument fails, they resorted to Congress-bashing. The Congress failed. You were voted into power to change things. Then why quote a precedent? That too in such a pathetic manner given the quality of appointments to the FTII governing council (not to speak of bodies like CBFC, CFSI, ICHR etc).
Yes, the film institute has been plagued by administrative failure and infrastructural inadequacies. The debate should be about scaling up film studies and supporting more such centres of excellence. Sadly, the debate has regressed into rhetoric, name-calling and threats. There are solutions that could be in the interest of both the students and also face-saving for the government. Suspend new appointments, appoint an interim council and review the recruitment process while students continue their education. But does the government really want a way out of this imbroglio?
I was in a panel discussion on TV on the FTII issue and I pointed out to the Bharatiya Janata Party representative during the break that they have grossly underestimated this protest. It is in their interest as a democratically elected government to resolve this amicably and with sensitivity rather than stick to their hard-nosed, egoistic position. The FTII strike is symbolic. It points to a government that is trampling upon our democratic rights. It represents a vibrant and peaceful rebellion that will not succumb to such repression.
The government (and its ideological partners) have been systematically imposing mediocre sycophants on institutions of excellence in art and culture. As I write this, I hear that Naresh Kanodia (a senior Gujarati actor with no requisite credentials) is tipped to head a committee to select India’s entry to the Oscars. This is again a clear signal that our government will relentlessly pursue its agenda of imposing mediocrity on works of art. Most of us have chosen to be mute spectators. We have allowed this intrusion on our freedom of expression in the belief that our survival hinges on silence. This silence is going to cost us dearly.
The protest is generating a lot of debate but it hasn’t come down to the level of sound discussion. It’s still a very angry, polarised debate. But that it is generating debate gives me hope. Suffering in silence will lead to destruction, raising our voice in the wake of violations will at least let us breathe in this toxic political atmosphere. Meanwhile, I stand in solidarity with the protesting students. I stand in solidarity because without my freedom I cannot create. Without creating, I may as well not exist.
Hansal Mehta’s films include Shahid and City Lights; E-mail your columnist: hansal.mehta [AT] gmail [DOT] com