Sikkim deserves a cabinet berth: MPJune 2nd, 2009 - 1:28 pm ICT by IANS
By Darshan Desai & Shweta Srinivasan
New Delhi, June 2 (IANS) Sikkim’s sole Lok Sabha MP, P.D. Rai, feels it is “high time” the central government made the strategic border state a part of the government structure with a berth in the union cabinet.
“I feel it is high-time that India gives Sikkim a berth and allows it to be a part of the government structure,” Rai, 54, told IANS in an interview.
A graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) and the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Rai threw up a cushy job in Kolkata with the Bank of America to move to Sikkim in the early 1980s with his Chinese wife Jean, whom he had met in Kolkata.
In Sikkim, he set up Sikkim Computers and is widely credited with ushering in the computer age in the state.
Rai insists that neither he nor his Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) had ever hankered for central ministerial berths. He said rather philosophically, “We are not one of those states who bargain for ministerial berths.”
Asked if given a ministry what would he prefer, he said, “tourism would be good.” Sikkim, an erstwhile protectorate, became part of India in April 1975.
Rai is now putting his efforts towards gathering all northeast MPs together to influence national policy and get the region its due.
“I am hoping to bring together all the northeast MPs to affect policy at the national level. The eastern side of India is neglected.”
He added: “The media talks about us joining the mainstream… we are already part of the mainstream… we are a part of the country.
“The media reports only the violence (in parts of northeast) and this gives a very unfair skewed picture.”
He has a three-point agenda for his state - to make it into a hub for education, horticulture and tourism.
Rai and his SDF have demonstrated how youth-centric and development-oriented governance could change the face of the state. And this gave the party its fourth consecutive victory in the assembly elections.
The state has achieved a literacy rate of 82 percent, its per capita gross state domestic product of Rs.23,786 is above the national average, the infant mortality rate has come down to 30 per 1,000 against India’s average 60.
All in just about a decade.
The government is powering its self-employment schemes by micro-financing and has pumped in a whopping Rs.30,000 crore in tourism, agriculture, horticulture and floriculture.
“The banks were harassing our young beneficiaries and not giving loans. We started financing them to such effect that their projects became bankable later,” said Rai, who also chaired the Sikkim Industrial Development Corporation.
The SDF pocketed all the 32 seats in the state where anti-incumbency seems to be an alien word. “It’s pro-incumbency in Sikkim,” says Rai, who himself won by a margin of 85,000 votes with his share being 64 percent, a tall order in a small state.
Being tech savvy, Rai finds the parliamentary procedures like filling in entry-information at 10 different places as cumbersome and a waste of time.
He joined politics and Chief Minister Pavan Chamling’s SDF in 1994. He graduated from IIT-Kanpur in 1976 and IIM-Ahmedabad 1978 and has worked with various civil society organisations and NGOs.
“It was way back in 1980 that the then governor of Sikkim B.B. Lal told me that Sikkim needs me,” recalls Rai.
On joining politics, he said: “I had it in the back of my head that I wanted to be in politics and governance at some point - even when I was at IIT and IIM. It’s just that a plethora of professional opportunity comes your way. In that sense a lot had to be sacrificed, but I have no regrets as it has always been my dream to serve the people of Sikkim.”
His wife Jean was initially apprehensive about his jumping into the hurly burly of politics.
“I was a bit hesitant, but I gradually adjusted and now I am enjoying it,” Jean said with a grin, looking up from her laptop in their room at the New Sikkim House in Delhi.
(Darshan Desai & Shweta Srinivasan can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com)
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