Why should taxpayers fund FTII?

Wise governments try to preserve their political capital to invest in policies and programmes that yield a high return. By trying to skirt contentious issues, though not always successfully and often failing for no fault of its own, Modi Sarkar has tried not to squander its huge political capital. Those who know Narendra Modi also know that the prime minister is not prone to converting political capital into bad debts.

It is precisely for this reason that it remains inexplicable as to why Modi Sarkar continues to get sucked into the quicksand of utterly frivolous and distracting issues that have little or nothing to do with revving up the economy and putting India on an irreversible trajectory of growth and development. I am referring to the raging row over the appointment of the chairman of the taxpayer-funded Film and Television Institute of India, popularly known as FTII, in Pune.

I have nothing against actor Gajendra Chauhan, appointed to the chairman’s post by the Information and Broadcasting ministry. I have no idea of his acting skills or administrative acumen. The few occasions I have met him at BJP conclaves, I have found him to be polite and friendly, unlike certain fading stars sucking up to political parties whose fortunes are on the ascendant.

It is unknown to me whether he was associated with the RSS prior to his becoming a household name as Yudhishthir in the blockbuster teleserial Mahabharat. But he has been loyal to the party and grateful to the Sangh for giving him a political profile. Unlike Nitish Bharadwaj, who played the role of Krishna in the same teleserial, he was neither a groupie nor a fortune-seeker.

But political loyalty or ideological fidelity do not necessarily qualify a person for the chief administrator’s role in an institute like the FTII. Such institutions, among them the ICHR, the ICSR, ICCR and other relics of India’s USSR-aping socialist past, have acquired a profile into which only PLUs (People Like Us, the perfumed classes) fit; the PLTs (People Like Them, the unwashed masses) are misfits there. I have deliberately not used terms like Left and Right, Liberal and Conservative, because ultimately these labels are meaningless. They are badges that adorn those who are ignorant of what these terms truly mean, the wannabes and arrivistes desperate to mark their presence felt and their voice heard. The PLUs are more crafty and cunning than that. The PLTs are naive to step into a zone of which they know nothing.

In brief, Modi Sarkar should not have appointed Gajendra Chauhan to the post of FTII chairman. And, perhaps more important, he should have declined the post. Neither looks terribly good and bright after the offer and the acceptance. This is not about the correctness of the decision, nor is it about the merits of the individual. It is about an entrenched system of rewards and entitlements that is so rotten that it is beyond repair and redemption.

That is precisely the reason why it is inexplicable as to why Modi Sarkar continues to squander precious political capital by entangling with this system and seeking to set it right, from its perspective, instead of just dismantling it wholesale and relegating it to the dustbin of history. We often talk of much-needed reforms, but that is entirely focussed on the economy. Systemic reforms, which are more doable than economic reforms, rarely feature in our discourse.

A regime that pegged the hopes of the voting masses on the promise of minimum government, maximum gover- nance appears to have steered off course. Or else it would have shown the same determination and single-mindedness it showed in dismantling the Planning Commission, which was considered a holy cow till the summer of 2014, in doing away with institutions that do not belong in the government’s domain.

For, there is absolutely no reason why the government should be in the business of writing history, conducting social research, promoting culture, censoring films, organising film festivals, handing out film awards... it’s a long list that really does not merit recount, as we all know of it. It is absurd that in this day and age, the government should be running a Film and Television Institute with tax money, lavishing up to Rs 10 lakh per student per year.

Worse, despite funding the FTII with public money, the government, or for that matter the people of India whose money keeps the students in clover, have no say in the affairs of the institute. FTII offers three-year courses. Students who joined in 2008 are yet complete their course. There has been no convocation ceremony for 17 years. ‘Autonomy’ has now come to mean ‘Write me a cheque, never mind what I do with the money’. And if you dare ask, all hell breaks loose.

Let Modi Sarkar pull the plug on FTII. Taxpayers’ money is meant for the benefit of the largest possible number of people, not a minuscule elite. The Indian film and television industry is sufficiently endowed with riches to not need a tax-funded institution. If FTII is so crucial to the industry, let the industry run it with resources raised or mobilised by it. The government should simply cut its losses and run.

The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta

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