On June 9, the I&B ministry reconstituted the FTII Society. Gajendra Chauhan, best known for playing Yudhisther on the popular series Mahabharat and for starring in the 1989 titillating flick Khuli Khidki (IMDB rating 2.5/10), was nominated as the President of the FTII Society and Chairman of the Governing Council. Narendra Pathak, Anagha Ghaisas and Rahul Solapurkar were among the appointments made under the ‘Persons of Eminence’ category. Pathak, a former ABVP president, was at the helm of the BJP’s student wing in August 2013, when his activists thrashed FTII pupils at a cultural event. Ghaisas is known for making pro-RSS and pro-Ram Mandir documentaries, apart from Shri Narendra Modi — Gatha Asamanya Netrutva (Tale of Extraordinary Leadership). Her credibility was once tainted, when she was involved in a civil suit, by a court which said she does not seem to know the difference between a documentary and fiction. Solapurkar was offered (and later denied) a BJP ticket last year.

The motive was evident, and immediately the students of FTII and youth across India erupted in protest and are still at it. Here is the NDA’s truth being played out like a predictable movie: the weeding out of unfavourable thought, intent to saffronise and a sense of righteousness based solely on power. The institute is being targeted for being a liberal bastion. The Ambedkar-Periyar Study Circle in IIT-Madras recently had a similar experience. The NDA believes the best way to curb an institution’s autonomy is to put its own people there and neutralize it from within. It cares little about ruining the fabric of an important, enduring centre of learning. Nearly all the controversial appointments have an RSS affiliation and a self-admitted need to uphold ‘nationalism’. And a very frightening definition of nationalism it will turn out to be. Worst of all, it is realizing its toxic nature at an institute where great minds have resided.

FTII was set up in 1961. The work of its students has been showcased at nearly every important platform. Festivals at Cannes, Berlin and Venice to name a few. The institute is alive with a great work ethic and pupils who push themselves, watch everything they can get their hands on and everyday try to become to best artistic versions of themselves. For a place which has churned out actors like Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah, and has been administered by the likes of Ritwik Ghatak and Mrinal Sen, to have Gajendra Singh in-charge is akin to Yo Yo Honey Singh being nominated as chief of Berklee College of Music. The Centre’s actions would be humorous if they were not so disconcerting. They represent a systematic spread of influence at the expense of a generation.

On June 3, this writer along with around 150 others was detained at Shastri Bhawan by the Delhi police and CRPF personnel for protesting against the Centre’s move. We were taken to Parliament Street Police Station and confined there for four hours.

The protest, at the time when the police swooped in, was 20 minutes old. There wasn’t a hint of civilian violence, either real or perceived. Nor were the protesters’ numbers strong enough to be considered threatening by any parameter. There is an official paranoia brewing, stabbing at the very culture of dissent we celebrate as part of our democratic identity. Our failed attempt at a peaceful protest indicated that.

While we sat in the courtyard of the police station, news reached us that I&B minister Arun Jaitley, in a meeting on the same day, had told representatives of FTII that there would be no going back on the appointments.

Following this, the FTII Students’ Association stated in a press release that the minister “indicated that if students persisted in their demand for reconstitution of the (FTII) society, they might have to face the bleak prospect of shutdown and eventual privatization.”

Weeks of protest have made a dent on the will of the government no bigger than the dent made by Gajendra Chauhan on the world of art. However, this is no reason to relent, but rather to reject high-handedness with even more vigour. Veteran actress Pallavi Joshi has already walked out of the FTII society over the matter. Nobody, in high offices or out, is blinder for the official rhetoric.

If the NDA government does not manage to retain power after the next general elections, this attempted hostile takeover of a higher education institute may then, in review sheets, be recognized as a small but significant factor in the saffron machinery’s collapse.