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People’s choice

Manas Chaudhuri breaks through ethnic barriers to become Northeast’s first non-tribal minister, writes Rahul Karmakar.

india Updated: Apr 05, 2008 01:38 IST
Rahul Karmakar

Deaths have invariably dictated his career. That's precisely why Manas Chaudhuri believes in infusing life into “whatever I do”.

It's hard for a Bengali — not a popular settler community — to become a minister anywhere in the Northeast. It’s harder to run a newspaper, a slip here and there likely to be magnified and an editorial comment contrary to ethnic sentiments vulnerable to vandalism. For exactly 30 years, Chaudhuri handled the harder job.

Last month, he accepted the relatively easier assignment — as a Cabinet minister in the Meghalaya Progressive Alliance government.

“It’s a huge responsibility, almost like running a newspaper, which entailed keeping the mind on editorial content, the nose for news, the eyes on revenue and man management, the ears for views, and everything else for expectations,” says Chaudhuri. “I have tried to live up to expectations as an editor-proprietor, I shall certainly try to be better now.”

For many, Chaudhuri is a “natural” politician with the genes flowing in his blood. But he maintains he was not cut out to be one. “I took three months to give in to the demands of people in Mawprem (the unreserved Assembly constituency in Shillong he represents) after the death of my elder brother Ardhendu in a copter crash on September 22, 2004,” he says. He admits to reaping the goodwill of his brother, who in 18 months did what his predecessor could not in the past 30 years.

Likewise, Chaudhuri had The Shillong Times — it was then a weekly — thrust on him in April 1978 after the death of his father Parshvanath Chaudhuri, who was also a legislator since 1972, the year Meghalaya attained statehood.

“The first thing I did as editor was write an obit on my father while still in mourning,” he says. A decade later, Chaudhuri turned the weekly into a daily. It was a watershed year with anti-Bengali sentiments running high.

“For the first time in Shillong’s civilised history, we offered free flow of views and killed rumour-mongering,” he says. Later, Chaudhuri made it a point not to use his daily as his campaign vehicle. In the last Assembly election, his rivals got more space than he did. “It’s ultimately what you do for your constituency that counts,” he says, hoping that he would do justice to his re-election as an Independent candidate. Independent, because it gives him the “freedom of not having to bend before any High Command”.

And if he has aligned with the NCP and regional parties, it's “because Meghalaya needed a break from the same party”.

After being named a Cabinet minister, Chaudhuri quit the newspaper he had nurtured to focus on the new job. With Information and Public Relations under his belt, he wants to use his experience as a newspaperman to good effect. And as Higher and Technical Education minister he wants Shillong to regain its education hub tag.