The passing away of veteran journalist Asim Kumar Mitra on January 12 is a big loss to the Bengali media. Asim Da, as he was popularly known, was an institution by himself and few such persons live around us as yet, if at all. Some say his demise is the end of an era as it perhaps concludes the value system. A journalist who is supposed to be politically neutral by default and a dedicated swayamsevak—he was both. Asim Da simultaneously carried both identities throughout his life, doing justice to both. His nationalist ideology and the journalist’s neutrality didn’t cross each other at any point. At a time that demonstrates crying scarcity of internal values almost in all spheres of life and profession, more so, in journalism, Asim Da was a phenomenon we need to know. When nothing left other than yellow journalism in Bengal, when journalists turned into mere spokespersons of political parties and the fourth pillar of democracy ceased to exist, the demise of Asim Da may be perceived a symbolic event.
Asim Mitra passed away at SSKM Hospital, Kolkata. He was 83. Few days before this, he got admitted to the hospital after he met a brain injury at home. As a dedicated RSS swayamsevak since childhood, he played significant roles and responsibilities in the Sangh including that of the Kshetra Bauddhik Pramukh. He regularly depicted Kolkata and the whole of West Bengal in ‘Organiser’ and ‘Panchajanya’ for more than five decades. He was a keen assistant of Shri Eknath Ranade in the foundation of Swami Vivekananda Rock Memorial in Kanyakumari.
Asim Da, son of the late Amiya Kanti Mitra, was born in Kolkata on November 13, 1938. In 1955, when Shubhendu Bhattacharyya was the key person of Bengali Weekly ‘Swastika’, Asim Kumar Mitra worked there at a salary of Rs 15 per month. In 1962, he joined ‘Hindusthan Samachar’, a multilingual news agency, as sub-editor and worked there till 1966. Subsequently, he joined ‘Jugantar’, a distinct Bengali daily, in 1969 as sub-editor again. Asim Mitra joined Bengali daily ‘Aajkaal’ in around 1981 and retired from there as senior Assistant Editor in 1999. After his retirement as a professional journalist, he worked as editor of ‘Swastika’ for about two and a half years and also worked in ‘Jugashankha’ for a period of time. As an editor, he upheld high moral values and stuck to the ethics of journalism. Asim Mitra also worked as Director of Vishwa Samvad Kendra, Kolkata, for a few years.
Apart from working as a professional journalist, he was a teaching faculty of journalism in various institutions. Asim Da worked as Visiting Professor in the Department of Journalism, Calcutta University, for over two decades. Apart from Calcutta University, he was visiting Professor to several other institutions such as the Department of Mass Communication, Techno India, Central University of Jharkhand, West Bengal State University, Benaras Hindu University, Makhanlal Chaturvedi University of Journalism and Pune University. He also worked as one of the director cum gate faculty in a Media University of Gujarat for a few years. As a teacher, Asim Da was passionate to the extent that he taught journalism to his students referring to various stories of his life. His vast experience as professional and profound knowledge of literature, culture and religion added to his collection of stories that he transformed into lessons for his students. Those who learnt from him fondly appreciated his style of teaching full of humorous presentations. Beloved to the unique humorist writer in Bengali, Shibram Chakraborty, Asim Mitra too was very witty. Asim Da, passionate about journalism, tried to transmit that passion to his students by his mode of teaching through wit and stories instead of imparting theories. Even at Sangh Shiksha Varga, his classes as ‘Bauddhik Pramukh’ marked distinction due to his innovative style of presentation through story-telling. His lessons penetrated the minds of listeners. An eloquent speaker, Asim Da delivered innumerable speeches in different places on a wide variety of subject matters. His fluency and expertise were remarkable.
Reading up to this, one can perhaps make out the unanimous acceptability of Asim Da in every sphere he worked. This is possible when a person can connect to his works through spiritual realisation. So, is the trait of a true Indian nationalist that Asim Da was. Asim Mitra authored a few books in Bengali and received ‘Nachiketa Samman' for excellence in Journalism in 2001 from the then Prime Minister Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee and received 'Bapurao Lele Award’ for Journalism in 2005 from Shri Ashok Singhal.
Asim Mitra was involved in the media trade Union movement since 1972 when the National Union of Journalists (India), an organisation of nationalist journalists, was formed. He was a founder member and had been the national general secretary of NUJ (I). Asim Mitra tirelessly worked to build NUJ(I) brick by brick since the beginning. He also became president of the West Bengal Union of Journalists (WBUJ) and represented the Union in various prestigious government committees. Besides, he was a member of the Press Council, Film Censor Board and the Central Press Accreditation Committee (CPAC). He was the President of Nivedita Mission Trust too. As a trade unionist, Asim Mitra stood stout for freedom of the press. During Emergency in 1975, he spoke for journalists’ freedom and went to jail for three months for protesting against media censorship.
Being part of high powered Government Committees, Asim Da didn’t make unethical use of his capacity. This invariably kept his own lifestyle compromised in terms of financial affluence. Upholding ethics of Journalism and duties of a swayamsevak, Asim Da unhesitatingly embraced austerities in personal life. This value system of Asim Da, against the go of the present society, is an exhibition for learning. Asim Da's life was thus an institution indeed.
Practising journalism upholding nationalist ideologies and being a swayamsevak with pride is a deadly combination in Bengal and looked upon as no less than a ‘crime’. Vicious hatred for Sangh and is ‘normal’ in Bengal’s ecosystem. The same hatred is being seen in the name of political protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019 too. Living in such an atmosphere of adversities, Asim Da ceaselessly upheld both his identities with equal sincerity and no hesitation. He proved through his performance that his nationalist ideology didn’t damage his journalistic neutrality, rather, his outlook of spiritual nationalism facilitated unbiasedness and brought in better professional output. Journalists of contrarian political views like Ashoke Dasgupta or Gour Kishore Ghosh always looked up at him with respect. Asim Da was a tested and trusted colleague of them. He was an uncompromising professional as a journalist a and an uncompromising swayamsevak too. Those who're aware of Bengal’s atmosphere of journalism know its heart and soul how difficult it is to exist as an RSS person in this ecosystem. Many of them try to swim across the tide hiding their Sangh identity. But Asim Da never cared to hide, rather expressed it with pride that ushered him into adversities. He, thus, fought the battle of perception about Sangh and swayamsevaks throughout his life. It is people like Asim Da, who have dedicated and sacrificed their lives to project the true image of a swayamsevak against the huge tidal waves of vicious mal-propaganda. He had courage, moral strength and spirit of nationalism to fight this tremendous battle. Thus, Asim Da is an era, an exhibition, an institution by himself whom we must know. How human ambitions may be achieved extending the aspiration level to divinity needs to be taught to the present generation for successful nation building. n