चंदन मित्रा। लेफ्टिस्टि से राइटिस्ट बने। पत्रकार से नेता बने। इस वक्त संपादक और सांसद, दोनों हैं। पिछले दिनों भाजपा ने मध्य प्रदेश से उन्हें राज्यसभा प्रत्याशी घोषित किया और चंदन मित्रा निर्विरोध निर्वाचित घोषित किए गए। इस तरह चंदन दूसरी बार रास पहुंचने में कामयाब हो गए। पर चंदन मित्रा को लेकर जो सबसे बड़ा सवाल उठता रहा है कि वे एक पार्टी की तरफ से सांसद होने के साथ साथ एक ऐतिहासिक अंग्रेजी अखबार द पायनियर के एडिटर इन चीफ भी हैं। कैसे यह उम्मीद हम कर सकते हैं कि भाजपा के सांसद चंदन मित्रा का असर संपादक चंदन मित्रा पर नहीं पड़ेगा? यह सवाल चंदन मित्रा के पीछे तबसे पड़ा है, जबसे वे यह दोहरी जिम्मेदारी निभा रहे हैं।
यह सवाल फिर उठे, उससे पहले ही चंदन मित्रा ने द पायनियर में लंबा-चौड़ा आलेख लिखकर अपनी सफाई पेश की है। संपादक और सांसद की दोहरी जिम्मेदारी को निभाने के तरीके के बारे में बयान किया है। चंदन मित्रा किन-किन तर्कों-कुतर्कों से अपने अपराधबोध से मुक्त होने की कोशिश कर रहे हैं, आप भी जानिए-पढ़िए। -एडिटर
A confessional tale of elusive elections
Ironically, despite my immense interest in elections an opportunity to actually contest one has not come my way I have been elected as Member of Parliament once more, this time representing Madhya Pradesh in the Rajya Sabha. It is a happy denouement and I thought of sharing some related anecdotes with readers. This time I will be an MP from the Bharatiya Janata Party, the political organisation that I have been proudly associated with for many years. Often I have been questioned about the apparent conflict of interest in being simultaneously editor of a national daily and an active political person. Once at a Press conference in Dehradun, I bluntly told my questioner that I wore two hats, but always took off one before donning the other. So, I try my best to retain distance from my political affiliation when I function as newspaper editor.
While it is true that strict separation of news and views is a tall order, in recent years I have confined myself to giving broad directions to my editorial colleagues rather than working on reports hands-on. I love journalism, my profession for over 26 years and it still remains my first instinct. But politics has driven me throughout; it holds a charm that I find irresistible. After my election as MP this time, I don’t know if time will permit me to keep wearing two hats both of which I love, but I hope to continue doing so as long as I can.
My existential dilemmas are, undoubtedly, of no concern to readers and it is not my intention to unburden myself in this column. However, in a nostalgic vein I felt like recalling a string of failed trysts with contesting elections. This is ironic because elections excite me as nothing else. Having been an ardent follower of the poll process for as far as conscious memory goes, the sights, sounds and thrills of campaigns, the anxious wait for results, victory processions and sloganeering, have been some of my favourite things.
I distinctly remember standing outside our ancestral house in Hooghly near Kolkata while the thanksgiving procession of the victorious Forward Bloc candidate passed through, way back in 1962 when I was barely seven years old. Our family, like most middle class families that time, supported the Congress. I often moved around sporting a paper badge depicting the Congress’s original symbol, a pair of yoked bullocks, pinned to my shirt.
The Leftist winner from the seat was Prof Shambhu Ghosh, later West Bengal’s Education Minister, a friend of my uncle. I remember the cycle-rickshaw on which he sat with folded hands at the head of the victory procession, being instructed by him to stop outside our gate. The avuncular leader descended, walked up to me, reversed the badge that hung by a safety pin to reveal its blank side, and pinned a red pennant next to it. Too dumbfounded to react, I found his supporters cheering this act. He smiled at me, patted my head and resumed his journey. Later he told my uncle that he was struck by my defiance in sporting a Congress badge (probably the only time in life that I have exhibited support for that party) in the face of a swarm of jubilant Leftists.
Over the years my fascination with elections grew. I would pore over newspapers to find out who was contesting from where and sat glued to a transistor radio to catch election results broadcast fitfully by All India Radio over three days! Newspapers usually published detailed results a few days later and I would store clippings for ready reference, just as cricket buffs accumulate data and trivia on the game. But my interest in elections was largely academic. As a schoolboy in Kolkata at the height of the first phase of Naxalite violence, my participation in the political process was confined to attending public meetings by big leaders from time to time.
But once ensconced in the secluded confines of St Stephen’s College in Delhi in 1972, I got involved with students’ union politics. In the third year of my bachelor’s degree course, I became campaign manager to the now famous but controversial Shashi Tharoor for his bid to be chosen union President. We won a thumping victory and I became Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer.
It was obvious to my friends that I would myself contest the union President’s election next year (1975) and so I did. Mid-way through the campaign whose outcome seemed a foregone conclusion to most, we were stopped in our tracks. The university issued an order prohibiting all students’ body elections as Mrs Indira Gandhi had promulgated the Emergency a few weeks ago. But since the union’s work had to go on, our principal constituted a committee of 32 students drawn from various streams to ‘select’ a union President. I was chosen unanimously with even my opponent endorsing my candidature.
Next year, I was approached by some out-of-work student leaders and university officials saying that the post of student member of the Academic Council had to be filled. Since elections were banned, they suggested I could informally canvass my candidature with the electoral college comprising the top two performers of MA/MSc (Previous) examinations from all disciplines. I had hardly spoken to a few when the Vice-Chancellor issued a notice selecting me to the Council.
Similarly, two years later when I was a teacher activist in the university, the executive committee of the Delhi University Teachers’ Association named me among the five teachers co-opted to serve as committee members in recognition of the successful agitation some of us led to regularise the services of 172 temporary teachers scattered across many colleges. Once more, the chance to actually fight an election slipped away.
In 1980 I went to Oxford University to pursue a doctoral degree in history, returning in 1984 to join The Statesman and embark on a career in journalism. Taking a break from political involvement, I delved deep into my new profession resuming my interest in current affairs and amateur psephology. Although I got drawn towards the BJP, away from my earlier Leftist beliefs, in the early-1990s, I never thought of plunging into active politics for many years. Probably my ability to save The Pioneer from certain closure in 1998 and the robust nationalist tinge I lent to the paper’s editorial policy impressed then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Mr LK Advani sufficiently to recommend my name to the President of India for nomination to the Rajya Sabha in 2003. Thus I became an MP without contesting an election.
Last week, the BJP fielded me as its candidate for the Rajya Sabha from Madhya Pradesh. I filed my nomination on June 7 in Bhopal. After scrutiny of papers next day, only three candidates — Mr Anil Madhav Dave (BJP), Ms Vijaylakshmi Sadho (Congress) and I — were left in the fray to fill the three vacant seats from the State. So, we have been declared elected unopposed; no voting will happen in Madhya Pradesh. And I am still waiting to actually contest an election!