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Chandan Mitra had the courage to swim against the tide

Chandan Mitra, who passed into the ages on Wednesday night, will be missed for his his courage to go against the grain, mourns Dr Sudhir Bisht.

While I was delivering the 9.30 am lecture today, my wife signalled to me to take a break. This has never happened before, so I had to take a small break during which she informed me of the passing away of Chandan Mitra, the stalwart journalist who took over The Pioneer newspaper from its owners when they had wanted to close down the newspaper.

He was one of my favourite writers at The Pioneer and a person I looked up to for the way he transformed himself from a journalist to a newspaper owner to a parliamentarian. He achieved success in all the fields that he chose — journalism, entrepreneurship and politics.

I met Chandanda at a petrol pump at Bhikaji Cama Place, New Delhi, in the late 1990s when I worked for the Indian Oil Corporation. I was then a deputy manager (sales) and was interacting with customers when Chandan drove into the driveway in his Maruti Esteem.

I recognised him instantly and introduced myself to him and said I would like to refuel his car. He was surprised that an Indian Oil manager had the ability and inclination to carry out a simple refuelling operation.

I not only refuelled his car but also accepted payment using a credit card machine. He was both shocked and delighted at my enthusiasm for and knowledge of small activities at the petrol pump. He then invited me to see him at his office.

I went over to his office and we chatted over a cup of tea and Britannia Marie biscuits. He wanted to know my views on working in the public sector and private sector as I had worked in both by then.

While discussing the negative side of both the sectors I said the public sector was corrupt and inefficient while the private sector was more corrupt but very efficient.

He asked me questions and follow-up questions and even took notes. He thanked me profusely and came out of his office building to see me off. He was a big name in journalism by then and yet he was so enthusiastic about listening to my views. I liked his sincerity.

Chandanda was a great reporter who reported on Punjab when the state was going through the worst phase of terrorism. I think he was working for the Hindustan Times then.

I met Chandan Mitra a couple of times more and when he was working for The Pioneer I contributed many ‘middles’ for the OpEd page. The Pioneer had some great journalists like Kanchan Gupta working for it and was seen as a paper leaning towards the right when everyone was on the left.

He had the courage to go against the tide. When a sizeable section of the media was aligned with the United Progressive Alliance, his support to the National Democratic Alliance was conspicuously visible.

Chandan Mitra was a member of the Rajya Sabha for six years and was a spokesman for the Bharatiya Janata Party for many years. He again surprised us by joining the Trinamool Congress when everyone was exiting from the TMC and joining the BJP.

Chandan Mitra was not able to run The Pioneer profitably but he at least ensured that it continued to exist. He was also able to get some revenue from publishing in-house magazines of a few companies.

He will be missed for his articulate and balanced comments, for his courage to go against the grain.

He was just 65 and had at least one more decade of active life. But are these things ever in our own hands!

Om Shanti!

Dr Sudhir Bisht, author and columnist, writes from New Delhi.

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