Remembering my friend Chandan

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Remembering my friend Chandan

Wednesday, 06 September 2023 | Ashok K Mehta

Remembering my friend Chandan

Chandan Mitra was a sophomore, a dog lover and, yes, a damn good editor: The man I knew before he became the editor of The Pioneer

Chandan, I met when he was Resident Editor, Hindustan Times in the early 1990s when I was full of reporting on Nepal. In those days, I had not graduated to the edit page of HT. Chandan let me into the pages of HT with my news and analysis pieces. One that especially broke news was on Sumdorong Chu with the late Shri Jaswant Singh of BJP asking: “Why are we vacating our territory”. The question is being asked now by Congress on why we have surrendered territory in East Ladakh to China. Chandan’s advice to me then was: “General, look beyond Nepal”.

The most beautiful and scintillating Ritu Beri, then a rising star in the fashion world in its infancy in India at the time, helped to cement our relationship. She became an icon and in many ways, still is. But Chandan is no longer around to admire her talent. Chandan established his mark as a journalist at HT, sharpening his own and other’s political instincts. My association with The Pioneer predated Chandan becoming its editor-in-chief. Vinod Mehta then editor took my first article titled: “Too Early to Blame LTTE” which was patently an inaccurate assessment of Prabhakaran and his warped thinking on Eelam. With a brief break from The Pioneer, I returned to the edit page when Chandan took charge and I am perhaps the longest-lasting contributor to the edit page.

Chandan’s political career in BJP came at a time when my friends and associates in the party included Maj Jaswant Singh who was my batchmate at the National Defence Academy and George Fernandes who invariably rose to support the underdog and tried to rescue me from the shenanigans of the establishment. Chandan chose to part from the BJP when the current dispensation elected to change the rise of India from a liberal democratic framework to the majoritarian Gujarat model. Most of the Vajpayee team was marginalized which included Chandan. But while still there, he followed a middle path. As the convenor of the longest-running India-Pakistan Track II dialogue under the auspices of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Berlin, I got him to join the first ‘breaking the ice’ seminar at Kathmandu in 2003 following the terrorist attack on Parliament in December 2001 and the one-year long Operation Parakram that followed.

Since the Kathmandu seminar, Chandan attended several other India-Pakistan dialogues initially as a journalist and later as BJP Member of Parliament. His understanding of Pakistan was very special as he had friends across the Radcliffe Line. Pakistan was different under President Gen Pervez Musharraf. It was the most eventful period in India-Pakistan relations when LoC was generally violence-free and the Army was able to construct the fencing. Infiltration was reduced by 55 per cent and by April 2007, the backchannel interlocutors had arrived at the four-point Kashmir formula. I recall we were at Bangkok’s Park Hotel for the annual India-Pakistan dialogue when Chandan, having met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s special envoy, Satinder Lambah, spoke about the likely fruition of the back-channel he was engaged in with his Pakistani counterpart. Unfortunately, there were political difficulties for Dr Manmohan Singh and domestic troubles for Musharraf in Pakistan.

Chandan was very suspicious about the Kashmir formula and his hunch proved correct when in 2008, Mumbai happened. The India-Pakistan dialogue was being held in Singapore days after the terrorist attack. If I recall correctly, Chandan refused to participate in the seminar. He later said that Lashkar e Taiba orchestrated by the Pakistan Army killed the four-point Kashmir formula. And the rest, as they say, is history. The last India-Pakistan seminar that Chandan attended was held in Dubai just before COVID-19 when fellow journalist Aroon Purie of India Today was also part of the Indian team of participants. It was here once again on the sidelines of the conference that Chandan’s prolific repertoire of Indian films and music came to the fore. Chandan got on famously with Pakistan’s former Interior Minister and close confidant of Musharraf, Lt Gen Moinuddin Haider. After sunset, a combination of Single Malt, Begun Akhtar and ‘Shayari’ would hold the seminarists and the German organisers spellbound.

COVID interrupted our India-Pakistan peace process. Chandan took ill and one did not realise how unwell he was. When The Pioneer shifted from Patriot House to NOIDA, we had planned to meet. But that never happened. One other passion we shared was our love for dogs. After we lost our greatest friend on the day Prabhakaran was killed in Sri Lanka, The Pioneer carried my column ‘Goodbye Snoopy’. Shobori, Chandan’s wife, also a lifelong journalist, is holding the fort now. The Pioneer has gone through a difficult time after Chandan. But problems are on the mend. So, Chandan, wherever you are, enjoy Patiala, listen to Begum Akhtar and be reassured The Pioneer is in good hands. Chandan, we miss you.

(The writer, a retired Major General, was Commander, IPKF South, Sri Lanka, and founder member of the Defence Planning Staff, currently the Integrated Defence Staff. The views expressed are personal)

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