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IIT, IIM MP faces challenge on Sikkim seat
Friday April 11, 2014 2:53 PM, IANS

Prem Das Rai, the only parliamentarian with IIT and IIM degrees, is facing a challenge from a newly formed outfit in Sikkim's sole Lok Sabha seat. But, he says, "anti-incumbency is not a factor here".

"We will win. We have no doubts. It's good to have a challenge.

"Anti-incumbency is not a factor here. Our campaign plank of development and prosperity has found wide acceptance among the electorate. We are also highlighting the need for peace in view of the violence unleashed by the SKM," Rai told IANS.

Amid a six-cornered contest, sitting Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) MP P.D. Rai seems confident despite a challenge from the newly formed Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM). The two national parties, Congress and the BJP, are not major players in this pretty and sparsely populated border state, flanked on three sides by China (Tibet), Nepal and Bhutan, that goes to the hustings Saturday.

Rai, the only member of parliament with degrees from both the Indian Institute of Technology (Kanpur) as also the Indian Institute of Management (Ahmedabad), had bagged the seat in 2009 by humbling Kharananda Upreti of the Congress with a margin of almost 85,000 votes. He had secured a staggering 63 percent of the votes polled in the last election.

The landlocked state - country's least populated and the second smallest in area after Goa - has elected SDF nominees in all the five general elections since 1996, but the SKM candidate Tek Nath Dhakal is hoping to halt the ruling party's juggernaut this time around.

The SKM, which came into existence only last year, has got the backing of former chief minister Nar Bahadur Bhandari's Sikkim Sangram Parishad, and is hoping to cash in on an anti-incumbency factor building up against chief minister Pawan Chamling's SDF, in power without any break in the state since 1994.

The state is holding the polls for the 32-seat assembly simultaneously with the general elections.

Only the SDF, SKM and the Congress have put up candidates in all the assembly seats, the BJP in 13 and the Trinamool Congress in seven. The SDF had made a clean sweep of all the seats in 2009.

Rai feels Bhandari's backing would have no effect in the elections, as the 73-year old leader has lost touch with the masses.

The Congress has fielded Akar Dhoj Limbu, a medical practitioner, as the party strives to record its second victory from the Lok Sabha seat after winning the inaugural polls in 1977, two years after Sikkim formally joined the Indian union.

Nakul Das Rai, who won the Lok Sabha seat in 2004 on an SDF ticket, is in fray as a candidate of the Trinamool Congress, while the Bharatiya Janata Party has named Nar Bahadur Khatiwara. Kaushal Rai - joining the action on the broom symbol of the fledgling Aam Admi Party - completes the all-male club.

The total number of electors is 362,326 - 186,826 male, and 175,500 female.

A major issue has been the grant of tribal status - that will ensure special concessions and affirmative action - to the majority Nepali community which forms about 50 percent of the population.

Rai has been promising that the SDF government would declare Sikkim a tribal state, on the lines of the recommendations of the B.K. Roy Burman commission's report entitled "Human Ecology and Statutory Status of Ethnic Entities in Sikkim" that was published in 2008.

"A new government is set to come to power in Delhi after the polls. We will do whatever needs to be done,' he said.

On the other hand the Buddhists - the largest minority group constituting about 30 percent of the population - have been demanding installation of the spiritual leader Karmapa - of the Kagyu tribe of Tibetan Buddhism - to his seat in the famed Rumtek Monastery close to the state capital. All six contestants have promised to fulfil the demand.

Polling would take place in 538 booths with the Election Commission pressing into service over 3,200 polling personnel.

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