For nearly two-and-half decades, Dr Chandan Mitra’s name was synonymous with The Pioneer. On Wednesday night, the organisation’s helmsman left — left forever — leaving behind his devastated wife, Shobori Ganguli, two sons --- Kushan Mitra and Shakya Mitra ---- and an extended family of colleagues and loved ones.
Dr Mitra, 66, passed away late on Wednesday. He has been keeping unwell for the last one year.
Dr Mitra was a man of many seasons. A two-time member of the Rajya Sabha, an avid reader, a movie buff, a passionate traveller, and, above all, an editor with a sharp political mind and ear to the ground.
Dr Mitra was an alumnus of La Martiniere Calcutta. From there, he went to St. Stephen's College, Delhi, where he was highly active in Left-wing students’ politics. Mitra received an MA and MPhil in History from Delhi University and briefly taught at Hansraj College.
In 1984, Mitra received a doctorate at Oxford University, where he was a member of Magdalen College. The subject of the thesis was "Political mobilisation and the nationalism movement in India – a study of eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, 1936-1942".
Mitra’s baptism in journalism started as an Assistant Editor with The Statesman in Kolkata. Then he shifted to the Times of India in Delhi and then to Sunday Observer. He was the Executive Editor of Hindustan Times before he joined The Pioneer in 1997.
Dr Mitra is one of the few journalists who accepted the challenges of running a newspaper as owners, too. When Thapars handed him over The Pioneer in 1998, there was all-around skepticism about Dr Mitra’s ability to save the newspaper from going bust. The Thapars had sunk in a fortune in the newspaper and left behind a rudderless organisation. Dr Mitra understood the enormity of his challenge and convened a meeting of the staff where he told them that the future looked uncertain and people were free to stay on if they were ready to go without salary for months. It was a frank admission by a man who had little knowledge of managing a business enterprise.
In the years to come, Dr Mitra presided over the turn-around of The Pioneer and transformed it into a newspaper which grew leaps and bounds, from two editions in 1995 to eight editions now. He also introduced the Hindi Pioneer five years back despite the emergence of new challenges for the print media.
Dr Mitra was gifted with a sharp political mind. He had his pulse on Indian politics. In the 1995 Bihar Assembly polls, when everyone was busy writing off Lalu Prasad, Dr Mitra predicted a landslide for him. The poll outcome and his projections matched nearly seat to seat. Even now, journalists and politicians in Bihar remember Dr Mitra for that bold “against-the-current swim.”
His passion for politics and his affable ways won him many friends and admirers across party lines. In the BJP, both former Prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and veteran LK Advani were very fond of him. That proximity saw him being drawn to active politics. He was nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha in August 2003 when Vajpayee was the PM. He was elected to another term in the Rajya Sabha as a BJP MP from Madhya Pradesh in June 2010. He did join the Trinamool Congress in 2018, but that association never went beyond a mere formality.
Despite the enormous challenges of running an organisation with falling revenue, and keeping himself afloat in the cut-throat world of politics, Dr Mitra remained a “soft and sensitive” gentleman, who would never give the impression that he was “your boss.” In fact, to many of us, who shared with him a long association going into the late 1990s, he was a friend, a mentor, and someone you could sit down with and share your most personal thoughts and dilemma.
Dr Mitra loved driving. Once in a while when after he had enough of politics and the newspaper, he would take to driving. For him, it was not like driving to Murthal and enjoying paratahs there before returning to Delhi, but it would be weeks of adventure for him. From north to south, and east to west, he would drive for months together to discover himself, and the soul of India that always mesmerised him.
The Pioneer office was the second home to Dr Mitra, who would always be there if he was in Delhi. Over cups of coffee and cigarettes, he would have engrossing discussions and debates with colleagues during the evening meetings. Even when he went home, the newspaper and day headlines occupied his mind. Whether in India or abroad, he would inevitably call the News Editor late at night and suggest or keep track of the headlines for the page one stories. When his illness confined him to his home, the office never remained the same.
Someone with an enormous lust for life, Dr Mitra will be remembered as a man with an incisive mind, a loving soul, and someone who never gave up dreaming.