Stressing that it was “committed to find a way forward”, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (I&B) has invited students on strike at the Film & Television Institute of India (FTII) for a fresh round of talks — but without preconditions.
The students, meanwhile, indicated their willingness to resume discussions by calling off their hunger strike, setting the stage for a third meeting between their representatives and the government after two previous rounds on July 3 and July 25.
The students have been on strike for the last 97 days, mainly against the appointment of members linked to Hindutva groups on the FTII society, including actor Gajendra Chauhan as its president.
In a letter addressed to H Nachimuthu, president of the FTII Students’ Association (FSA), on Wednesday, K Sanjay Murthy, Joint Secretary (Films) in the I&B Ministry, wrote: “In case you are keen to end the stalemate and resume the academics, you are welcome to discuss the issues with the Ministry without any preconditions.”
When contacted, Ranjit Nair, an FSA representative, said, “We are hopeful this dialogue starts. We agree to start it on a clean slate without any preconditions.”
The ministry’s letter refers to a communication from the students on the issues for discussion in response to a request for “an immediate dialogue” from FTII director Prashant Pathrabe on September 1. “The students would like to invite the Hon. Minister and other officials to the FTII campus, this would help create a positive environment and fasten the process (sic),” the FSA said on September 7.
On September 8, they listed eight issues: talks on the FTII society and its president; FIRs and court cases against students; impact of the impasse on academic timelines; talks on appointments and process; expert studies on administrative, academic, human resource and infrastructural crises; permanent and contract faculty; deteriorating ties between students and the current director and registrar; and modalities and timeframes to address all these issues.
”We assure you, a cordial atmosphere shall be maintained with all due respect to the Hon. Minister’s visit,” the FSA said.
In Wednesday’s letter, the I&B Ministry said the July 25 engagement with the students was a “leap of faith and a sincere attempt to move forward” — apart from I&B officials, the representatives had met I&B Minister Arun Jaitley at his residence.
Murthy’s letter also said that the September 8 communication by the students was similar in tone and tenor to the July 31 letter in which the FSA set preconditions, such as appointing a co-chairman with powers of the chairman, with Chauhan to function as an interim titular head.
”This. also completely bypassed the paradigms of the possible settlement and understanding reached on July 25,” the letter said, adding it was a disappointment from the government’s point of view.
On July 25, the I&B ministry had “informally” agreed that it would consider replacing three of the five contentious members of the proposed society: Anagha Ghaisas, Narendra Pathak and Rahul Solapurkar. It is also learnt to have agreed to replace three other members who had resigned — Jahnu Baruah, Santosh Sivan and Pallavi Joshi — with three new “mutually agreeable” members.
In his latest letter, Joint Secretary Murthy said, “(The) Ministry has also been given to understand that at least on one occasion the representatives of the students, resiled on the commitments made by them to the interlocutors in Mumbai within less than twelve hours of the dialogue. Instead, pressure has been sought to be built up by an array of tactics.”
Murthy was referring to filmmakers Vidhu Vinod Chopra and Raju Hirani, who accompanied the students to Delhi on July 25 and subsequently acted as interlocutors on behalf of the government, holding at least one official meeting with the students in Mumbai.