Saturday, May 25, 2024

From journalism to politics: A Conversation with Rajya Sabha MP Ajit Kumar Bhuyan | Enigmatic Horizon

Parijat Handique

An uncompromising personality in the Assamese media industry who has been able to gain a special place in the hearts of a huge number of people in the state is Ajit Kumar Bhuyan. He was born in Jorhat in 1952. His father was a tea plantation worker, and he spent his childhood in the beautiful environment of these plantations. He studied along with the children of the tea gardeners and received his primary education along with them. He enrolled in engineering at Kanoi College, Sivasagar, but finished halfway and later graduated from Sivasagar College. He sang and debated while in school and college. He became the Cultural Secretary and General Secretary of the Students’ Union. After the death of his father, he came to Jorhat in search of a livelihood and started working as a journalist for the Assamese daily “Dainik Janambhumi.” Ajit Kumar Bhuyan is currently not just a journalist, writer, and editor but also a member of the Rajya Sabha. Because he often speaks out against the government, he has also been a victim of government wrath. Enigmatic Horizon had a conversation with him that has been presented here…

EH: Tell us about the time before you became today’s popular Ajit Kumar Bhuyan. What was your initial dream?

AKB: There were no people in our day who would determine anything like that. No environment created any situation that I was interested in. Since there were no such things, people expected you to be either a doctor or an engineer. I studied B.Sc. with no specific aim in mind. I thought I had to pass, so I gave it a try. I had never dreamed of becoming a journalist.

EH: So how did things change?

AKB: I met Chandra Prasad Saikia up close. I felt that he was quite an intelligent man. He was also an excellent editor. He was a novelist and also a storyteller. Even after I met him, I never thought I could be a journalist. So it was a dramatic thing for me when I joined ‘Dainik Janambhumi’ as a journalist. They wanted to fire me for joining some organization at that time. Plus, I was a little stubborn.

EH: What did you do next?

AKB: I enrolled in a private college, and within some time, I completed my graduation. Medini Chowdhury’s older brother used to love me very much. We met often. I used to visit their home. He came to Guwahati as Deputy Secretary, and one day he offered me an invitation. And I was also waiting for an opportunity. I needed a wider field. Therefore, I came to Guwahati. At the time, a government newspaper called “Raijor Batori” was being published for the first time. When I was working there, there were many big names like Maheshwar Chutia, Rabindra Bora, and others, who were working there. However, I didn’t get much peace there as it was a government newspaper. Sharat Chandra Singh was the chief minister then. It was a complete government job. However, I was able to gather much experience.

EH: How did you continue your journalism career after that?

AKB: Then I went to another newspaper named “Asom Bani.” Tilak Hazarika conducted the work under the editorship of Satish Kakati. He can be considered my mentor in journalism. I learned many things from Prafulla Baruah as well. I learned to translate from Niran Bhuyan. It was Tilak Hazarika who brought me to the light. I wrote some articles in ‘Axom Bani’ as well as under the pseudonyms ‘Season Chowdhury’ and ‘Amitabh Baruah’. I also reported on various kinds of corruption in the department in which I worked. ‘Axom Bani’ was a very powerful political paper. I did a lot of reporting on the border.

EH: Tell us about some of the extraordinary events in your journalism career.

AKB: When ULFA held its first press conference, represented by Pradeep Gogoi, Anup Chetia, etc., I was selected to attend. There were also 4-5 journalists from outside. They took us blindfolded at night. After this incident was reported, the circulation of the newspaper went from 5,000-6,000 to 75,000, and the owner gave me an increment for that as well. After Tilak Hazarika left, the new editor discontinued publishing my writing. At that time, Jayanta Baruah was planning to publish “Sadin,” of which I became the editor at a young age. The chief editor was Tilak Hazarika. It was the first Assamese newspaper to exceed 1 lakh in circulation. I then went to the streets for our roles in the human rights movement during the Army operation in Assam, etc., Parag Das “Budhbar,” my “Sadin.” Thus, we struggled in the streets a lot. Then, in 1992, I was arrested for the first time. I got out of there and was arrested again as we refused to surrender. Hiteshwar Shaikia expected us to surrender, and eventually we were arrested under the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act (TADA) in 1994 for not surrendering. That was a notorious law. Meanwhile, the Assamese daily “Pratidin” was being published. Parag Das joined “Pratidin.” He was the executive editor, while I was the editor. However, shortly after, Parag Das was murdered. In 1997, the Prafulla Mahanta government arrested us just because we wanted answers to some questions. Thus, I had been arrested four times so far.

EH: What you did was definitely courageous. How did things go after that?  

AKB: They put me in lock-up not because I had committed any crime, but to punish me. I got into a lot of trouble after I got out of jail. I quit my “Pratidin” job eventually. Although I didn’t have much money, by borrowing from people, I started a weekly newspaper called “Natun Somoy” and a daily called “Aji.” Within some time, these newspapers were running quite well. But since I was not good at business, I could not run the newspapers, and was forced to quit.

EH: After so many struggles, you established yourself in the field of journalism or your career as a writer. Then why did you go back to politics?

AKB: I don’t know if I’m established or not. But it does not match much when I am called a litterateur. Although I have written 10-12 books, those are about various kinds of contemporary events. The government hardly lets me do anything. Then came the age of electronic media. I started to do talk shows. I was also in charge of NE TV for a long time. Then I worked for Prag News. A few years earlier, I got involved in the CAA movement again. I had to quit my job because of the involvement. I was eventually forced to resign. I was sitting idle for some time when the proposal came that they want to send a person to the Rajya Sabha who is not from any political party. I would not prefer the word “independent” in this case. I accepted this, as I was bored after 45 years of journalism. There are many things to say about journalism now, and it faces many challenges from the ruling party’s perspective. I wanted a different experience, and I was elected very easily without any contest.

EH: The people of Assam expect something from those who go to Delhi to become part of the central government. They expect this from you as well. Do you feel that you are able to fulfill that expectation?

AKB: Indeed, I have raised burning issues in Assam such as Article 6 of the Assam Accord, tribalization, Brahmaputra dredging, etc. I am also trying to raise awareness about the floods in Assam. These are my experiences. I have not compromised on these things.

EH: Do you think the NRC has been of any use?

AKB: NRC did not work. Politics got involved in the NRC. The BJP did politics with it. And the rest of the parties stuck to the numbers. There is only politics in this- politics of the seizure of power. They brought CAA in while NRC was running. I believe this is a conspiracy against the community, a conspiracy against our language, literature, and culture.

EH: What about the pros and cons of CAA?

AKB: I don’t believe that CAA has any good effect. Some say it is good under the influence of religious opium. Some are talking about the way the government explains it, but they haven’t done enough research. There is a deep conspiracy running against our mother tongue. The existence of our Assamese language is in danger. I feel it is a conspiracy of the ruling party, and it is also our weakness.  

EH:  There are new faces in politics, such as Akhil Gogoi or Lurinjyoti Gogoi, who try to show us the real picture of society or raise several important problems in society. What do you think the future holds for these figures?

AKB: Their future is going to depend on how much they can earn the trust of the people and how much of a role they play in important issues. Several things need to be taken into consideration, such as how much they compromise, how much they do not, and how they conduct their struggle.

EH: Do you think that books on contemporary topics will disappear at some point in the heyday of social media?

AKB: I don’t think it can be wiped out at all. Most of our journalists may not be able to imagine what is happening today. But I believe the value of printed characters will remain forever. There are many people who have a deep relationship with newspapers, as it has lasting value. I think that the importance of print media should never be undermined, as it has its own importance in the world of journalism.

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