Students of Pune’s Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) and government officials on Tuesday will hold talks in Mumbai to break the deadlock over their demand for the removal of TV actor and BJP member Gajendra Chauhan as its chairperson.
Officials of the Union information and broadcasting ministry will hold talks with the students who called off their relay hunger strike, that was undertaken on September 1, on Sunday after the government agreed to come to the negotiating table.
In a letter to the students, K Sanjay Murthy, joint secretary with the ministry, conveyed the details of the meeting at Films Division of India.
“The joint director has replied to our letter stating that a meeting has been fixed on Tuesday, September 29, 11am at Films Division,” said Ranjit Nair, representative of FTII Students’ Association.
In its earlier letter to the students, the government had asked them to withdraw the ongoing strike prior to resuming talks. The ministry wrote that the “talks can happen only if the students withdraw their strike.”
The students, however, decided to continue with their strike but called off the relay hunger strike.
FTII students have been protesting since June 12 to oppose the appointment of Chauhan as the institute’s chairperson. Chauhan has been accused of lacking “stature” and “vision”. They have also been questioning other appointments to the FTII council which students claim have been politically influenced.
Vikas Urs, spokesperson of the sssociation, said there is no agenda and they want the issue to be resolved and all their concerns addressed.
“Our demands are not limited to removal of a person,” said Urs when asked if the students are firm on Chauhan’s removal.
Among other issues, the students also want the present FTII society to be dissolved and a new search committee be simultaneously set up through a transparent process in place to look into appointments of chairperson, members and other staff.
They also want FTII to be given the status of a premier national institute like the IITs and the IIMs, so that no bureaucrat is appointed as the institute’s director.
“We don’t have any personal animosity against Gajendra Chauhan and other members. We want someone who truly has a body of work of national and international standards,” said a former FTII student.
After a police crackdown on students who had ‘gheraoed’ FTII director Prashant Pathrabe, the information ministry had appointed a three-member panel headed by SM Khan, registrar of Newspapers for India, to have a dialogue with the students.
The step was taken due to all-round pressure from students, their parents, alumni association as well as the film fraternity to end the logjam.
The ministry-appointed committee had visited FTII’s Pune campus on August 21 and held discussions with students, faculty members and the alumni association.
Addressing a press conference at the Press Club in New Delhi, a group of FTII students said on Monday that they appreciated Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s efforts abroad, but also felt that world class institutions cannot be built if the government makes “sub-standard” appointments.
The students also released the text of the letter to PM Modi, that has been signed by several intellectuals, and in which they have raised concerns not only about Chauhan’s appointment as the FTII chief but also regarding the credentials of some other council members and several other institutions.
Kislay, an alumni of FTII, said around 200 prominent intellectuals in the US, including Noam Chomsky of MIT, Partha Chatterjee of Columbia University, and IT professionals and students have expressed solidarity with them. They also said intellectuals like Arundhati Roy and artist Vivan Sundaram had also expressed support to them.
The I&B ministry, however, took exception to the press conference held by the students on the matter, saying it was not the best way to create a “conducive atmosphere” for dialogue.
“If some office bearers of FTII Students Association (FSA) have engaged in this kind of sideshow and that too on the eve of our scheduled dialogue, intimation of which was given by email and phone on 27.09.2015, it is not exactly the best way for creating a conducive atmosphere for a dialogue,” said Murthy in the letter to FTII Students Association president Harishankar Nachimuthu.
The ministry official, however, added he along with his colleagues would nevertheless be there for the dialogue.
“The negotiations over any deadlock/impasse require a certain commonality of resolve and an ecosystem of trust and faith. Histrionics, even of the most advanced aesthetic vintage are not exactly the best recipe to find solutions,” Murthy said in the letter.
The ministry said it is understood that some unsigned communication purportedly addressed to various authorities were circulated to members of the press. It also added that the iconic names mentioned in the press conference were much respected, but such an action was avoidable at the juncture.
Asked for a response, Nachimuthu said that students were very “hopeful” about Tuesday’s meeting and added they had even called off the hunger strike.
He said probably the students, who interacted with the media, wanted to convey that important intellectuals had expressed support to their cause.
( With inputs from agencies)