Darjeeling: Bhaichung Bhutia, India’s football icon even though he retired from the game some years ago, is now aiming to score a “goal” in his maiden appearance on the tricky political turf as he battles the outsider tag and faces a formidable opponent which rebuffed his appeal for support.
Bred in the sleepy Tinkitam village of mountainous Sikkim, Bhutia has traversed many an uncharted territory in Indian soccer.
Always prepared to go all out for a goal during his long playing career, the former Indian striker captain, who has been known for his stylish game on the field and role model for the youth, is hoping to do an encore as he goes from door-to-door seeking votes as a Trinamool Congress candidate for the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat.
“Just as everyone goes all out to win and score goals in soccer, I want to do the same to win the poll battle and work for the people of Darjeeling,” Bhutia told IANS while campaigning in Siliguri in West Bengal’s Darjeeling district.
But the going could be anything but smooth, just like the un-uniform topography of the constituency that comprises mountainous terrains and picturesque tea gardens on the foothills and vast plains.
Despite Bhutia’s repeated bid to reach out, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) – which commands a strong following in the constituency – refused to extend support and backed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s Surinder Singh Ahluwalia.
GJM supremo Bimal Gurung even went to the extent of dubbing Bhutia as an “outsider and a non-politician”.
“Yes, I am not a politician. I am not here to play politics or make false or tall promises,” counters the 37-year old, much in the same manner he once used to pounce on even half-chances inside the opponent penalty box.
“I am here to work for the development and welfare of the region and its people. My aim is to ensure Darjeeling is once again hailed as the queen of the hills.”
He rates honesty and sincerity as his main strength.
“I may be inexperienced when it comes to politics, but honesty and sincerity are my USP and much like football I will deal with politics with the same honest approach,” said the man adored as the “Sikkimese sniper” for his uncanny ability to score goals.
As Bhutia criss-crosses the constituency, holding meetings and greeting people, soccer also forms a part of his campaign. He is always game showing off his football skills as children and youngsters watch awestruck.
However, much like a seasoned politico, the redoubtable forward is not shy of taking the attack to his political rivals when it comes to the contentious issue of Gorkhaland, which the GJM has been spearheading over the past few years.
“The BJP will not come to power at the centre, so the elections here are all that important. If the BJP wins here again it will again go into hiding, much like it did after 2009,” said the 5′ 8″ candidate, whose small frame camouflages a physical and mental toughness that saw him turn out in the English professional league for Bury FC.
“Moreover, the previous MP not only disappeared but also failed to utilise a single rupee from his fund. So it is important for the sake of Darjeeling that the Trinamool wins,” he said, continuing his attack.
BJP’s Jaswant Singh had bagged the seat five years ago following an endorsement by the GJM. But later, the Gorkha outfit had mocked Singh for not lending his support when it intensified the movement last year in the wake of the chain of events that saw the formation of Telangana.
Bhutia also highlighted the need for the Trinamool to emerge electorally strong in the polls to bargain for central funds for West Bengal.
“If we emerge stronger, then we can get central funds for Bengal which is essential for its development,” he said.
A quintessential team-man, Bhutia wants to be a part of “Trinamool ushered development in the region”.
“In football, all the players work together to score goals and win the match. I too want to contribute to Trinamool’s efforts to usher in all-round development. The region has remained traditionally neglected,” said Bhutia.
Refusing to comment about his rivals in the constituency, Bhutia exuded confidence about his electoral victory and claimed that there was no “Modi wave”, despite such assertions by the BJP about its prime ministerial nominee Narendra Modi.
When Bhutia hung up his boots two and a half years back, he left behind a trail of outstanding goals – 43 in 109 appearances for the country spread over 16 years. Only time will say whether he will find the target in his new offensive.