While protests continue over the appointment of Gajendra Chauhan as president of the FTII Society, four of the eight members nominated under ‘Persons of Eminence’ category to the society have saffron connections as well.
Anagha Ghaisas, who has a strong RSS background and whose husband was a long-serving Sangh pracharak, has made documentary films supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and about Ayodhya. Narendra Pathak had been the Maharashtra president of the ABVP for four years, Pranjal Saikia is an office-bearer of the RSS-linked Sanskar Bharati, while Rahul Solapurkar admitted he was in contention for a BJP ticket in last year’s state Assembly elections.
All four told The Indian Express that their vision was to make sure that students passing out of the Film and Television Institute of India have nationalistic feelings along with filmmaking skills.
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While Chauhan acted as Yudhishthir in the TV series Mahabharata and Ghaisas has made a few films, Pathak is a writer. Saikia is an NSD alumnus and an actor and Solapurkar has acted in Marathi and Hindi films.
On Ghaisas’s desk at her office on Laxmi Road — where she trains poor students from Yeola district in handloom sari weaving — sits a photograph of RSS founder Keshav Baliram Hedgewar. “I am 100 per cent RSS and I am proud of it,” she says.
Her husband Vinay Patrale, Ghaisas adds, had been a Sangh pracharak for 21 years, 17 of them spent in Gujarat.
Ghaisas started her career in films by making a documentary on Nanaji Deshmukh, a social activist and RSS veteran. Other than that, she has made films on the National Defence Academy called My Flag My Life, on the Ayodhya temple called Ram Mandir — Adaalat aur Aastha, and on Modi that she named Shri Narendra Modi — Gatha Asamanya Netrutva Ki (A Tale of Extraordinary Leadership).
She says she is in the process of making 26 films on the Northeast.
While Ghaisas admits meeting Modi “four years ago” before he became the PM, she adds, “This point of me being close to Modi and hence being chosen for this post is entirely baseless.
Modiji won’t even know I have been chosen. Every government chooses people they believe will do the best work.”
According to her, “Films are not just entertainment. A new thought process should start at FTII. Students should have nationalistic feelings.”
Pathak, who has been the editor of a Marathi magazine for 14 years, told The Indian Express he had got to know of the appointment only two hours earlier via mail. Dismissing the protests, he says, “Whenever new people come with new vision, there is unrest. I want to address student protests and problems in the day-to-day functioning.”
The ex-ABVP chief too talks of building nationalistic spirit. “We are Indians and work for the nation. There shouldn’t be any anti-national activity at the institute. If there are mischief makers who work against the government, to unko sabak sikhana zaroori he (they should be taught a lesson).”
While the ABVP had clashed with FTII students in 2013 over a performance on the campus by the Kabir Kala Manch, which is accused of Maoist links, Pathak stressed his closeness to the RSS was of no consequence.
Solapurkar, who says he was offered and then denied a Vidhan Sabha ticket last year by the BJP, makes the point that he never formally joined the party. “I have been an RSS member since childhood. But I did not join the party. Last year, they asked me if I was interested in a party ticket and I said yes. Later they decided to choose someone with a political background,” he says.
Denying his saffron connections were behind his appointment to the FTII Society, Solapurkar says it is his work in films that counted. “I have acted in 90 Marathi films and six Hindi films. I am one of the trustees at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. Hence I have done enough on the cultural front to merit the selection.”
Solapurkar backs the concept of supporting nationalism too. “There is nothing wrong in introducing a new line of thought that is beneficial for the nation and students,” he says.
Saikia, who is an NSD alumnus, denies being involved with either the RSS or BJP, though he is the president of Sanskar Bharati, which has links with the Sangh.
Saikia says he fully supports upholding traditional, moral and ethical values in today’s children. “Sanskar Bharati teaches students their culture and tradition. It is not just about songs and dance but also traditional art forms. We teach students moral and ethical values that every Indian should have. We try to inculcate this in children so that they grow up to be useful to the society and nation.”
As protests continued at FTII for the third day over Chauhan’s selection as the president of the FTII Society and the chairman of its governing council, students’ association president Harishankar Nachiputhu said it was “extremely sad” that “rather than enhancing stature of the institution, the government is trying to undermine its autonomy by partisan appointments of people with no merit”.
He urged the I&B Ministry to “reconsider the appointment of Chauhan and also relook at the process of constituting the FTII Society and its members”.