NEW DELHI -- The ongoing administrative logjam at the Pune-based Film and Television Institute of India (FTII) took a political turn on Friday after Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi, during an interaction with the striking students, said the far-right Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) was promoting mediocrity. Gandhi was alluding to Gajendra Chauhan, the new Chairman of FTII, who is said to be backed by Hindu rightwing groups.
Chauhan is facing stiff opposition at the institute from students who say the actor lacks the stature and body of work to head the prestigious film institute. Chauhan is best known for his role as the eldest Pandava -- Yudhisthira -- in BR Chopra’s TV series Mahabharata. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has been accused of saffronizing education by instituting its appointees in places of higher learning around the country.
"The RSS promotes mediocrity. I have seen this everywhere. You are taking someone who is mediocre and putting him above people who don't want to be mediocre in life," Gandhi told students at FTII.
"They will say you are anti-national, anti-Hindu. They are scared of you. That is the nature of a bully. Calling you anti-national or anti-Hindu are techniques to shut you up," he said. The FTII students had reportedly written to Gandhi seeking his intervention in the ongoing battle between the administration and the students' body. They wanted him to stop the "assault on institutions of higher learning".
BJP was quick to counter Gandhi's comments.
"If students see a party worker in Gajendra Chauhan, what do they see in Rahul Gandhi? A filmmaker?" said actor-turned-BJP politician Paresh Rawal. "Rahul Gandhi has finally got an issue to talk about, let him be happy," he added. Rawal's work includes a 2012 hit film 'Oh My God - OMG' that made a strong case against blind faith and superstition.
FTII students have been on strike for almost two months now, boycotting classes after their talks with Information and Broadcasting Minister Arun Jaitley broke down in New Delhi on July 3.
In a letter to Gandhi, President of FTII Students Association Harishankar Nachimuthu had said the appointment of Chauhan has raised question over the process of appointments in the institute and sought his intervention to resolve the "crisis" in the FTII, PTI reported.
FTII students' association (FSA) has declared that the strike will continue till their demands for the removal of Chauhan - who they allege lacks the vision and stature to head FTII - and a reconstitution of FTII Society are accepted.
"You will win this fight but there are bigger battles ahead," Gandhi told the students. He also had a message for Chauhan. "If the student body doesn't want you, then you clearly should not be there," he said.
"We want you to take our fight to Parliament," one of the students told Gandhi. "If Narendra Modi has decided on Gajendra Chuhan, no one can change that in BJP," Gandhi said.