Choose the heads of India’s great institutions wisely

  • Lalita Panicker, Hindustan Times
  • Updated: Aug 20, 2016 18:49 IST
A visitor stands next to a portrait of India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru inside the Nehru memorial museum and library in New Delhi, India, September 24, 2015. REUTERS/Anindito Mukherjee

When you h ave virtually got carte blanche to make appointments to institutions of great prestige, you exercise your authority very carefully. This is something the government would do well to internalise given its rather patchy record in executing this task since it assumed office. Quite a few of its choices have been controversial, largely on the grounds of objections from several quarters about the unsuitability of those chosen to head great institutions. The choice of Gajendra Chauhan to head the Film and Television Institute in Pune ran into trouble from day one with many students refusing to accept Mr Chauhan’s leadership. His lack of qualifications was cited as the main reason and quite justifiably so. His association with films did not extend beyond mythological serials and a few forgettable films on the big screen. Yet, despite the institute being thrown into turmoil for months, the government stuck to its guns when there were many people, some of them alumni of FTII, who could have been chosen.

Read | FTII controversy highlights problems with our premier institutes

Similarly, it did not cover itself in glory with the choice of Pahlaj Nihalani as chief the Central Board for Film Certification. Mr Nihalani’s film on the PM was so embarrassing that Mr Modi himself expressed his disapproval. Since he took over, Mr Nihalani has tried to cut scenes he felt were unsuitable — this involves reducing the length of a kissing scene in a Bond film — and using strong arm tactics to bring producers and directors to heel. Once again, there is no dearth of qualified people the government could have chosen. And the list continues. A historian whose credentials have been questioned by his peers heads the Indian Council of Historical Research. The directorship of the Nehru Memorial has run into controversy after the government made it intentions of appointing a former aide to AB Vajpayee clear.

Read | FTII controversy: A case of very bad casting

The choice of candidates should be based only on merit — something the prime minister holds dear — and not on ideological affiliations. The net should be cast wide to include even scholars from abroad before a choice is made. After all, some of the finest scholars of Indian history and culture can be found in foreign universities. This would raise the bar in research and scholarship. The choice, wherever possible, should be made in consultation with eminent people from the field so that there can be no hint of suspicion that a particular appointment was guided by political expediency. These posts should not be treated as sinecures given as grace and favour.

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