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Chandra Das Rai: The Man of the Millennium

(13 April 1925-8 August 2020)

Born on 13 April 1925 to late Ranji Das Rai and Kazi Maya Rai at a remote village in South Sikkim called Mikkhola, Chandra Das Rai’s success story is a testimony of the hard work, dedication, perseverance and commitment. Chandra Das Rai, (popularly known as CD Babu) was a living encyclopedia as for as the political, social and literary aspects are concerned. Nobody could ignore his formidable presence in any function- political, social and literary. He could vividly narrate almost seven decades of Sikkim’s history.
Rai completed his matriculation from St. Robert’s High School, Darjeeling in 1945, B.A. from Darjeeling Government College in 1953 and M.A. in political science from B.H.U. in 1956. During his school days in Darjeeling he developed the interest of participating in social activities with the aim to relieve the distress of the poor and needy people. When the people lost their lives and property being the victims of natural calamities like fire or landslides, he along with his friends volunteered to carry out rescue works and help the victims.
In 1946 following the call given by the Muslim League in West Bengal, a serious communal clash broke out in and around Calcutta between the Muslims and Hindus, where many innocent people lost their lives and properties worth several crores of rupees were destroyed. As a direct result of this clash in Calcutta, bitter communal clashes between the Hindus and Muslims broke out in Saidpur near Jalpaiguri. He as Darjeeling district secretary of Socialist party, led by Lok Nayak Jaya Prakash Narayan, immediately organised a Saidpur Relief Committee in Darjeeling, collected money and material including blankets and went to Saidpur and personally distributed relief material and money amongst the victims of the communal clashes. In 1950 when he was a student of St. Joseph’s College, sudden cloud burst caused unprecedented landslides and damaged roads and swept away several houses and standing crops in Singhamari, Darjeeling town, Toongsoong, Ghum, Jorebunglow, Mary Villa, Kagjhora and Rajbari, he cleared the roads between St. Joseph’s College and Darjeeling town, rescued trapped people and distributed relief material to the victims of disaster.
Since Sikkim had not produced many Law graduates in the 1950s, he was appointed as Assistant Magistrate by the Government of Sikkim in 1956. After undergoing 6-month practical training in the law court under the Chief Magistrate, late Motichand Pradhan, he began to administer justice in both criminal and civil suits. After serving for about four years he resigned the post at the fag end of 1959 and joined Sikkim State Congress, fought the bye-election and became Councillor of the Sikkim Council in 1960. As Councillor and opposition leader in the Council, his noteworthy contribution was the demand to discuss the Sikkim Subjects’ Regulation 1961 in the Council. The late His Highness the Maharaja of Sikkim, Sir Tashi Namgyal, conceded to this demand with the result the Sikkim Subjects’ Regulation 1961 was thoroughly discussed in one day special session of the Council before it was enacted. The Sikkim Subjects’ Regulation 1961 has now become the basis for identifying the Sikkimese people as Citizens of India, when Sikkim joined the mainstream of India in 1975. It may be worthwhile to recall his meeting with the Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1948, when his Congress President, Mr. Tashi Tsering and he submitted a memorandum with three-fold demands, namely abolition of landlordism, establishment of democratic government and accession to India. Panditji accepted our first two demands and assured us of his full support. But he advised them not to agitate for the accession of Sikkim to India. In fact, he wanted to see three Himalayan Kingdoms of Sikkim, Bhutan and Nepal to grow as friendly buffer states remaining within the sphere of influence of India. This generosity of Nehru shown to Sikkim was called by many top Indian leaders as a historical mistake which was corrected by his daughter Indira Gandhi in 1975.
From early childhood CD Babu had realised that education is the key to any progress in society. Whatever he learnt, it was from a wanderer, named Meda Sahib, who opened a private school in his village, Mickkhola and taught the three Rs. Meda Sahib used to teach his village boys at night holding class in a thatched hut, with the firm belief that that education will open their eyes of the youngsters and guide them towards a better future.
CD Babu joined St. Robert’s High School, Darjeeling in 1940 and passed matriculation examination in 1945. During his school career, he used to take night classes at Young Men’s Buddhist Association at Bhutia Busty, which was incidentally founded by the Monk Phak Tsering Kazi, the elder brother lf Kazi Lhendup Dorji, the former first Chief Minister of Sikkim. Unlike the Kazi landlords of Gangtok, the Monk Phak Tsering established the YMBA in Bhutia Busty with the main objective to educate the poor students of West Sikkim, especially students from Chakung and Soreng. Besides facilities for study, many students from West Sikkim used to reside at YMBA, enjoying free accommodation. The YMBA still stands as a living testimony to the memory of the great man, the Monk Phak Tsering.
Mr Rai started his career in journalism in 1960, when he was appointed as the Special Correspondent of the famous English daily of Calcutta, Amrita Bazar Patrika. He learnt the simple methods of collecting information, digging out details from persons who knew their subjects, interviewing personalities and filing dispatches to the News Editor, Amrita Bazar Patrika. He served the paper till 1963 to the best of his ability and the Chief Editor, late Tushar Kanti Ghose had all praise for his dispatches. He rejoined the service of Sikkim government in 1963, at the instance of Maharajkumar Palden Thondup Namgyal, and his was given the charge of publicity and publication Department. After his retirement from Government service in 1983, Mr. Rai again picked up the thread of his journalistic career, began to help late Mr. Ram Patro to bring out English weekly- Sikkim Express. Mr. Patro gave him the charge of running Nepali weekly, Himali Bela, which he edited successfully from 1990 to 1994. With the sudden demise of Mr. Ram Patro in 1994, Mr. Rai served his connection with Sikkim Express and Himali Bela, and began to edit his own English Weekly- Gangtok Times from May, 1994.
He was a pioneer and played a leading role in the struggle of the Constitutional recognition of Nepali Language which ultimately led to the inclusion of the Nepali Language in the 8th Schedule of the Constitutional of India in August 1992.
He is one among the poets whose poems were included in INDRAKEEL PUSHPANJALI (An anthology of poem- 1951). His poem ‘BAPU PRATI’ (to Bapu) is dedicated to the memory of Mahatma Gandhi.
Apart from several awards and felicitations, Mr. Rai was felicitated by Nepali Sahitya Parishad and honoured him as the ‘Man of the Millennium’. He was also the founder member of the Press Club of Sikkim. As a successful politician, bureaucrat and a dedicated journalist, Mr. C. D. Rai greatly contributed to the growth of the Sikkimese society. A legend, who represented the past, present and future of Sikkim and her people.
With his passing away, a glorious era has come to an end in Sikkim.
(The writer is senior journalist, writer and translator from Sikkim)

Sikkim at a Glance

  • Area: 7096 Sq Kms
  • Capital: Gangtok
  • Altitude: 5,840 ft
  • Population: 6.10 Lakhs
  • Topography: Hilly terrain elevation from 600 to over 28,509 ft above sea level
  • Climate:
  • Summer: Min- 13°C - Max 21°C
  • Winter: Min- 0.48°C - Max 13°C
  • Rainfall: 325 cms per annum
  • Language Spoken: Nepali, Bhutia, Lepcha, Tibetan, English, Hindi