Undermining National Institutions to Create Regimented Minds – Irfan Engineer

Irfan

The students of FTII are agitated over appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as President Chair of the Governing Council of the Institute. About 150 students pursuing various courses at the FTII are on an indefinite strike against the patent political appointment because of Chauhan’s affiliation with the BJP. When we google Chauhan, all the information we get is that he acted in films like Andaaz (2203), Baghban (2003) and Tumko Na Bhool Payenge (2002). Wikipedia informs us that he acted in 150 movies and 600 TV serials. However, links to only some of the movies Chauhan acted in are given and when we follow the link, often his name is not even mentioned in the star cast of the film. Chauhan claims that he has worked in 600 serials, however only one TV serial in which Chauhan acted was popular – Mahabharat where he played the role of eldest of Pandava brothers – Yuddhishthir. He may have acted in 600 episodes. Students felt that Chauhan lacked the vision, stature and experience and was not qualified for the post which was once occupied by Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Girish Karnad, Shyam Benegal and Adoor Gopalkrishnan. Noted film makers like Anand Patwardhan have expressed their serious concern over the appointment of Chauhan when the short list included Gulzar, Shyam Benegal, Saeed Mirza and Adoor Gopalkrishnan. The previous incumbents of the Chair were winner of prestigious awards, including Padmashree, Padma Vibhushan, Sahitya Akademi, Dadasaheb Phalke, Jnanpeeth and other prestigious Awards. Gajendra Chauhan has no such credentials. There is lack of transparency in the appointment.

There is no explanation forthcoming from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting on the appointment of Chauhan. Nor has Chauhan been able to explain his eligibility for the job. All he has said is that the opposition from the students will only make him work better. He has not been able to spell out his vision for the Institute. Appointment of such a low profile person as chair of such a prestigious institute when persons like Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalkrishnan and Gulzar were shortlisted, can be explained only by the fact that Chauhan was special invitee to the BJP National Executive for two terms. The other explanation that is doing the rounds is that the RSS backed his appointment. The RSS involvement gains credence as four of the eight members nominated under ‘Persons of Eminence’ category to the society are from the Sangh Parivar. Anagha Ghaisas, has a strong RSS background and made documentary films supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Her husband was a long-serving Sangh pracharak – 17 of his 21 years as pracharak were in Gujarat. Another member is Narendra Pathak who was the Maharashtra president of the ABVP for four years. Pranjal Saikia is an office-bearer of the RSS-linked Sanskar Bharati. Rahul Solapurkar was in contention for a BJP ticket in last year’s state Assembly elections.

These political ladies and gentlemen, having links with the Sangh Parivaar, have been selected in the category of ‘persons of eminence’, on the governing council of FTII as they do not have any independent vision for the Institution. When Indian Express contacted them, they responded that they wanted the FTII students to have nationalistic (read Hindu nationalist) feeling. FTII in the past has groomed students to think freely, differently and boldly. Creative arts and aesthetics rarely come from conformist thinking, and even less from those accept hierarchies of race, caste, community, ethnicity, nationality, gender regionality or on any ground whatsoever; and accept hierarchical structures as natural and desirable. They produce conformist arts for propaganda. The objective of the FTII includes among others, “to constantly endeavor at raising the technical standards of Indian films and television programmes so as to make them aesthetically more satisfying and acceptable; to facilitate regular inflow of fresh ideas and new techniques in the field of Cinema and Television and a corresponding outflow of trained personnel imbibing these ideas and techniques; to create a new awarenessamong the future workers in film and television of the potentialities of their media not only as means of entertainment but also of education and artistic expression”. Does the present appointee to the Chair and the four Governing Council members seem suited to ensure these objectives of the FTII when their vision is to have students with nationalistic feeling?

Prime Minister Modi proclaimed himself to be a Hindu nationalist in his election campaign. The Hindu nationalists have always justified caste system and patriarchal traditions to be unique Indian values and superior. The Indian  cinema is coming of age and moving away from the portrayal of cultural traditions of feudal upper caste elite with ethos like pativrata Bharattiya nari, observing kadvachauth vrat even if her husband was evil and indulged in all kinds of vices as the ‘national culture’. There is increasing trend of films depicting live-in relations (Cocktail; Pyar Ke Side Effects) films with explicit and erotic scenes like (Shuddh Deshi Romance) bold portrayal of an assertive woman (Dirty Picture) questioning the motives behind wrongly accusing a Muslim as terrorist (Khakee) films portraying the deceits of godmen (PK) etc. One way of reversing this trend within the Indian Cinema is to influence and control the thinking and creativity of the students passing out of the FTII. Reduce them to be propagandist rather than creative artists questioning and critiquing what they witness around them and pushing cinematic boundaries, creating space for new creations. This can be done by ensuring, to the extent possible, that inflow of students is predominantly from elite and privileged social background as they love to be conformist; and by controlling the curricula which teaches them to be conformists and nationalists rather than creative artists. Being nationalist is to portray superior virtue of submissive wife and terrorism as the problem with terrorists belonging to one community.

NDA had earlier appointed Mukesh Khanna who had campaigned for the BJP, and was caught on camera calling Modi, “the Shaktiman (a character that he played) in Gujarat”,  as head of Children’s Film Society. Mr. Khanna had played Bhisma in Mahabharata. Similarly, Pahlaj Nihalani, a film maker who made promotional videos on Modi was appointed as censor board chief, the I&B ministry also appointed Malayalam actor and BJP supporter Suresh Gopi as the chairperson of the NFDC, in another controversial decision. Zafar Sareshwala, a businessman confidante of PM Modi was appointed as Chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University even though he has little knowledge of the language.

The larger issue:

The larger concern is that not only FTII, but the Hindu Nationalist Organization is systematically and in organized fashion percolating into the vital institutions of our democracy to undermine it, constrict the liberal secular space and promote hegemonistic Hindu nationalist ideology. The NDA Govt. is facilitating and partnering with the Hindu nationalists to achieve their objective of undermining academic autonomy and freedom to explore truth and frontiers of knowledge. The Hindu nationalists largely believe that all knowledge is in ancient epics, Vedic scriptures and Vedanta, and all one need to do is be immersed in these scriptures. PM Modi while inaugurating science exhibition in Mumbai University said that ancient India already knew how to make aircrafts as evident from the pushpak viman. Likewise Ramanand Sagar’s depiction of Mahabharat on TV screen is evidence that India knew how to make nuclear missiles. Hindu nationalist would want to mythologize history and historicize mythology. Even when the BJP was not in power, the Hindu nationalists were in conflict with the academic freedom and autonomy of academic institutions. ABVP demanded that A K Ramanja’s 300 Ramayans be removed, Aditya Thackeray pressurized the Mumbai University V.C. to remove Rohinton Mistry’s award winning book Such A Long Journey from syllabus.

In order to accelerate the trend of mythologizing history and historicizing mythology, the NDA Govt. appointed Y. Sudershan Rao as chair of the ICHR, a premier body to encourage research in History. Just like the rest of the appointees, Prof. Rao is little known in history circles and was Head of Dept. of History and Tourism Management in Kakatiya University. In Prof. Rao’s opinion, caste system was not such a social evil, and that rigidity and distortions had crept in after Muslim Invasion and as a result of it. This position is close to the Hindu Nationalist position.

The NDA Govt. created a situation wherein Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen had to resign from the Chancellorship of Nalanda University only because he was critical of the policies of Modi Govt. Anil Kakodkar, former chairperson of Atomic Energy Commission of India and Chairperson of Board of Governor of IIT also wanted to resign on differences regarding selection of IIT Directors, but later withdrew his resignation. Earlier the HRD Ministry caused IIT Delhi Director Raghunath Sheogaonkar to resign on dubious grounds.

The other posts on which less eligible persons who were appointed mainly on their being camp followers of Hindu nationalist ideology are – Prof. Inder Mohan Kapahy as a member of the University Grants Commission (UGC); Vishram Ramchandra Jamdar as the head of Visvesvaraya National Institute of Technology, Nagpur; Baldev Sharma, former editor of RSS mouthpiece Panchajanya, as chairman of National Book Trust.

Academic freedom for students activities, an important part of academics. Under NDA Govt. even that space has been threatened. Human Resource Development Ministry made an ‘inquiry’ into the activities of a students’ group – Ambedkar Periyar Study Circle in IIT Madras and caused to withdraw its recognition merely over comments being made against the Prime Minister. School Students were forced to hear PM Modi’s radio talk –Mann Ki Baat. Hindu religion inspired culture is being forced down the throat of citizens with a circular that was issued to central schools saying that December 25 would be observed as “Good Governance Day” to mark the birthday of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the birth anniversary of Madan Mohan Malaviya. The circular asked the schools to “ensure active participation of your students”. Similarly, Yoga Day is being forced even on unwilling citizens and students with Govt. involvement.

The NDA Govt. is homogenizing culture and aggressively promoting Vedic and Hindu Epics based, mythologized culture of a small section of Hindu upper-caste on the entire people of India. Hindu culture is rich and diverse reflecting democratic aspirations of the people if we draw from great saints like Narsi Mehta, Tukaram, Mira, Ravidas, Gyaneshwar, Chokha Mela, Kabir, Bahinabai and many others from all regions, castes and from both genders. The great Hindu saints, particularly from the oppressed castes sang love, equality and opposed hierarchies and authorities of all kinds. Why doesn’t the NDA Govt. not draw from these traditions? Are these not, according to them, Hindu traditions? Why the NDA partners like Lok Janshakti Party holding on to apron tail of the NDA Govt.? Is it only for power?

In the process of aggressively promoting Vedic-Vedanta-Hindu Epic based mythologized culture as national culture, the NDA Govt. is not only undermining autonomy of our institutions, but democracy itself. Democracy and fundamental rights of the citizens gives power in the hands of the organized citizens to check naked crony capitalism seeking to grab land, natural resources, cheap labour, and large chunk of Govt. budget spending. The NDA aggressively promotes Vedic-Vedanta-Hindu Epic based mythologized culture as it creates submissive followers accepting hierarchies and hierarchical authoritarian structures that does not question why social and economic inequalities are growing, but accepts with pride that ‘nation is developing’ just because a few industrialists are making super profit from exploitation of land, natural resources, cheap labour and with huge budgetary support of the Govt. Regimented, mesmerized blind followers only hero worship – they do not question. Hindu nationalists want national institutions to help create regimented minds.

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