Prem Das Rai : Manager Engineer Turned Politician
Prem Das Rai has the distinction of being the first Member of Parliament with the dual and prestigious IIT and IIM degrees. He is also a former Eisenhower Fellow (2002) from India.
Prem Das Rai was recognized early for being a quick learner and a brilliant student. Growing up in the sovereign kingdom of Sikkim, he was sent to an elite school in Mussoorie by the king as a part of the royal policy of promoting bright kids.
After school he cracked JEE and got a B.Tech in Chemical Engineering from IIT Kanpur in 1976 and straight away he went to IIM Ahmadabad and got a degree in management in 1978. In the midst of his B.Tech course, Sikkim merged with India and Rai become an Indian.
Moving to Sikkim
After IIM, he joined Bank of America in Kolkata. While working there he met with B.B. Lal, the then Governor of Sikkim and it changed the course of his life and career.
Lall saw the potential in Rai and wondered why he could not work for the State. Lall mentored Roy and even spoke to L.D. Kazi, Sikkim’s first Chief Minister that he needed to be given a proper job in the State. Soon he was assigned as Project Manager in the Sikkim Flour Mills that was being set up at that time. Many of the local senior officials were of the opinion that ‘PD’ was over-qualified for the State, which had then recently merged with India.
He worked for the Sikkim government for six years from 1979 in different capacities as Managing Director of Sikkim Milk Union, establishing Sikkim Flour Mills, Chairman of Sikkim Industrial Development and Investment Corporation (SIDICO) and Sikkim Scheduled Tribes and All Other Backward Classes Financial Development Corporation (SABCO), founding Chairman of the Ecotourism and Conservation Society of Sikkim (ECOSS), and CEO (Northeast) of BASIX. At BASIX, one of India’s largest microfinance and livelihood promotion institutions, he implemented microfinance initiatives for Sikkim and other NE states by working with farmers, villagers, and non-governmental organizations.
Entering into Politics
After six years of working for the State, Rai realized that he cannot sustain his and family’s life on a government job and moved to US, only to return to Sikkim but now to enter into politics. Doing business was never his passion but it was something he needed to do for the family.
Politics was not new in Prem Das Rai’s family. His father, C.D.Rai was in politics and so he grew up learning politics from the “table discussions” at home. Though later, father moved to government service facing some compelling financial reasons.
Mr. P. D. Rai joined politics in 1994 and became M.P. in 2009 from Sikkim Democratic Front Party, elected to the 15th Lok Sabha as the lone member from Sikkim. He is widely recognized as the man to have introduced Information Technology (IT) and sustainable ecotourism to Sikkim. He accepts that politics is a difficult ground field for a business oriented mind. There are a lot of uncertainties due to numerous variables that are present while dealing with people. For the same reasons he accepts interns under him so that they can see what makes a politician tick.
PD Rai believes that now there is a greater need for highly qualified professionals to be in politics. And even five of such professionals like him in Parliament with similar views could make a lot more difference.
Asked why most IIT-ians and IIM-ites do not take up politics, he says “Probably, they didn’t have the luxury of making a second decision. At least I had the choice.”