Dibakar Banerjee on the government’s malicious ways with the FTII

Dibakar Banerjee’s column in the Indian Express on the Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) scandal is a must-read.

The handling of the institute’s chairmanship by the government is a case study, simultaneously in both incompetence and arrogance. And to be clear, this is also not the way to initiate a debate about whether the FTII should continue to receive government funding or not. This attitude of sneaky opportunism is the same as when the government issued advertisements using the wrong version of the Indian constitution and then had their supporters then ask for a debate on whether the words ‘secular’ and ‘socialist’ should continue to appear in the preamble. Dibakar refers to that here:

The real issue (the surreptitious planting of five Hindutva-championing political appointees and under-qualified nominees in a teaching institute’s governing body) was hijacked and muddled with nonsense (shrill TV debates about only the chairman’s appointment; smart-sounding debate on privatisation; cleverly planted data for the data-loving Indian — x lakh rupees spent per student, x number of strikes in the past years).

He lays out the government’s preferred MO in handling these matters, and this is not limited just to the FTII.

Do something blatantly wrong — quietly. Hope no one protests. When someone does, come on heavy with the deliberate gravitas of the venerable state and paint the aggrieved as troublemakers. Then, closing off avenues of discussion, force them to organise civil protest. Citing breach of peace, protocol or law, unleash police, legal and administrative action against them. Further, if it is a small group of protesters and easy targets like filmmakers or artists without political heft, browbeat, intimidate and slander them with threatening calls, physical intimidation and name-calling. 

And concludes with:

Unless we, the free citizens of India, vocally assert now that protesting against the government (of whatever political hue) is not being anti-India but the exercise of a civil right. That being against jingoistic nationalism is not being against the nation. That fighting back against meddling bullies is the patriotism India needs desperately. And that this fight starts in our classrooms. 

The problem here – not unlike other instances of the government meddling with institutions – is that of mass apathy. These debates will continue to be confined to a few. And when I say a few, I do not mean the trolls on twitter. I mean the educated elite that actively plugged through 2013-14 for a government led by Modi. Most among those have gone back to sleep. We need them to rekindle their interest in government and public policy, and do what is right. Is this the government they wanted to see? Does this not leave them ashamed?

This government will ignore its critics. That much is well-known. Is it ready to ignore a section of its supporters as well?


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