Monday, September 19, 2011

Looking close on North East

With remarkable commitment and idealist standing in public life, the Sikkim Loksabha MP Prem Das Rai is an epitome of purposeful entry in to politics. Though serving first term in Losabha but he exudes all the veteran’s qualities with sound understanding of his own State and the entire north east. Today he is among the few most promising leaders from the north east who has clear roadmap for future…recently, in a rainy morning in New Delhi, we had a long conversation. Excerpts…
Q: - Sikkim is least populated and second smallest after the Goa, how does it feel to represent the State in Central politics?
A: - We have only one Lok Sabha constituency…so, its big honour for me to represent 6.5 lakhs peoples since 2009. Although in various capacities, I have been trying my best to serve the Sikkim and entire north east at large…so far, journey in public life is quite satisfying.

Q: - You hold a unique distinction among the Parliamentarians so far to be alumni of the top prestigious institutions, like IIT/IIM…how idea came for politics, while serving remarkably well in corporate sector?
A: - Idea of politics was always in mind as hailing from a political family background. Father, C.D.Rai was in politics…so leaning for politics grew from table discussion at home. Though later, father moved to government service facing some compelling financial reasons…in those days, politics used to be full with idealism where dividend were restricted to satisfaction of serving peoples. Despite this, my orientation towards politics grew further in School {Masoori} and later in college. During that period, C.K.Lal {then Governor, Sikkim} encouraged and mentored me to join politics, which I did few years later.

Q: - You were at IIT Kanpur when the Sikkim merged with India as its twenty-second State…was the end of Chogyal’s long rule came as shock for the indigenous communities? How different was and still is the perception of elites in this regard?
A: - It was indeed a shock and there was resistance but not something like a real fight. Protesters were out of match with the Indian forces, so transition ended soon with a toll of one life. The elites were supportive to the independence, so strategic move of Indira Gandhi succeeded well.

Q: - Among the States of north-east and even beyond, Sikkim presents a sort of hope for democracy…over the years, stable rule of your party {Sikkim Democratic Front, SDF}has kept enhancing the potential of Sikkim, will be you share with us, how SDF has been prioritizing the local issues?
A: - SDF came into power in 1994. It was a transition period…anti-India campaign and other adverse political issues were haunting this newly formed State. Until 1994, adverseness remained at place but when Pawan Kumar Chamling came in to power as Chief Minister, he articulated new democratic paradigms. Rest is history, today if you see the Sikkim; there nobody has any existential problems. Freedom of Speech is prevailing…peoples are peace loving, so they enjoying their democratic rights in full spirits. Over the seventeen years of our rule, tremendous progresses have been made inside the State. By 2015, we will be the first Indian Organic State, and also a tourist hub…our sophisticated Human Resource, strong grassroot democracy and free press are in full tune and giving Sikkim the bright prospects.

Q: - Before coming into politics, you have worked with Bank of America and BASIX {in eastern zone} and have seen the ground level situation from close, which factors in your views are the impediments for complete exploration of the north east?
A: - I think impediments are essential…if you look on Sikkim; it becomes evident that bottom level democracy has many grave complications. Autonomous aspirations are key…other thing; women’s representation is very feeble in local politics, here needed immediate attention from the government. Most essentially, we need to give better governance by ensuring accountability and people’s participation in the overall governance framework.

Q: - Our north east region gives us an edge over China that leads to irritation of China. China reacts on this time to time by acknowledging Sikkim as an independent territory. Do China has some imperialistic motives or simply it’s hard for them to see Tibet closely connected through an Indian State?
A: - China’s issues are much larger-they want to strategically dominate over our eastern part to western part. They have game plans to secure their frontier to strengthen their stand in Tibet and western China. For China, Sikkim is a small tool to irritate the Indian authorities…Ministry of External Affairs {MEA} needs to think carefully on the whole issue. Dalai Lama has huge following in Sikkim; we want 11th Karmapa {Ugen Trineley} back at the centre of learning which is sheet of governance/Rungtek Monastery. We have been repeatedly telling the government at Centre to help on this issue…till now, no substantial gain has achieved on this but we are trying our level best and hoping positive in future.

Q: - During the Chogyal’s rule, Sikkim shared a mix relationship with Nepal but on most of time in hostility…Gurkha war {1814, Nepal vs Sikkim/British Esat India Company} fought and joint forces were defeated by Nepales, tension finally ended with the return of land by Nepal to Sikkim through Titalia Treaty {1817}, how historical factors are influencing India-Nepal co-operation in Sikkim?
A: - There is no real issue with the historical ties. More or less, it was balanced post Indian independence in 1947 with the Delhi treaty signed between Prime Minister Nehru and Nepal’s King Tribhuvan . Though many issues need relooking, henceforth India must rethink its policies on Nepal if not wanted to backyarded by the China. As far the Titalia Treaty is concerned, it has nothing to do with the present India-Nepal relations. Legislatures of the both sides can work in streamlining the ties and taking forward the bilateral relations. Recently, a Nepali Parliamentary delegation has visited Delhi, we were happy to share our thought on the various issues. We warmly appreciate our historical relations with Nepal.

Q: - What’s the current state of Kalapani dispute over the Mahkali River water {Sarda River in India}? How Sikkim government, along with the co-operation of Bihar government can think for reasserting the revision in contentious treaty of Sugauli {1819}?
A: - I think boundary issues are very contentious…it need a thorough check up of the concerned matters. However, we should help Nepal in this phase of political transition…further; we are always ready for inter-state co-operation.

Q: - Do the current developments on ULFA give some long-lasting positive indications? Are you satisfied with the recent co-operation of Bangladesh?
A: - I think Bangladesh government is very co-operative at this time, besides we can think on western powers but we need a diligent outlook in neighbouring nations. We have to be in comfortable relations with our principal neighbours …whatever we have gained from Bangladesh or Bhutan is an outcome of similar practices.

Q: - What’s the major boost up, Sikkim and entire north east is needed from Delhi? Despite have very reach human/natural resources, what keeping isolationism high in north east?
A: - I am looking at the developments happening in western/northern/southern part of India…only eastern parts are lagging behind. North east has huge population facing international boundaries…our stake is substantially high in sharing international border as mainland part of India. It means, to reach out to these countries and make the economies stronger. We need to have better facilities for trade, but first we needed better connectivity with the mainland.

Q: - Are you satisfied with the implementation of Centre’s development programmes in north east? Why the penetration of formal banking is so low in these terrains, isn’t the goal of financial inclusion seems a pipe dream?
A: - See, Centre sponsored schemes topped down without looking on the ground realities. We need to rethink on mechanism…NRHM/NREGA etc requires another policy intervention for their functional implementation! 12th Plan offers great opportunity on these issues…next five years will be very crucial for development. MFI’s are grappling with regulatory issues…massive problems happenings needs to be recouped, real losses must be stopped. Regulations need to be put up in place. MFI bill needs to be rational, in the winter session of Parliament; MFI’s Act may come into existence. Andhra Pradesh has created all mess, rest inner issues have to be solved by the MFI’s themselves. Yes, banking needs more penetration in north eastern States, current state of affairs is not satisfactory at all.

Q: - How the indigenous tribes of Sikkim respond on the matter of national importance? Do modernism catching up these segments?
A: - Sikkim has high literacy rate, so modernism is the way for majority of its population. Except the few places, they are participating in the developmental programmes. Tourism is the big factor for this new resilience in the state.

Q: - What’s your view on Armed Force Special Power Act {AFSPA}?
A: - This is a draconian act and should be dropped immediately.

Q: - Will north east be a stronger hub of international trade?
A: - Certainly, but we have to adopt a flexible stand on the open border trade. Through better co-operation with Myanmar, India can smoothly carry forward its “Look east policy” in South East Asia.

Atul Kumar Thakur
September 9, 2011, Friday, New Delhi

1 comment:

  1. smooth one...must say, really good effort in gazing the north east through this conversation..Varsha Singh