Indian football stars Bhaichung Bhutia and Dipendu Biswas have breached defenses of opponent teams with remarkably accuracy. ‘Utility player’ Rahim Nabi has played in all positions. And, midfielder Sashthi Duley has created numerous chances for his teammates to score. But that was on a different playing field where spectators cheered and referees kept close watch.
Today, all four are facing a match where words such as attack and defence have a different connotation and spectators pass the verdict. In this election season, the football stars are facing seasoned politicians with proven track records.
For Bhutia, more popular among fans as ‘Sikkimese Sniper’ because of his exemplary skills, the game seems to be the toughest. When he debuted in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Bhutia could not breach the defence of Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) in the hills. Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee has now fielded him against an even tougher player. Bhutia is facing CPI(M) heavyweight and Siliguri mayor Ashok Battacharya, and that too on the latter’s home turf.
Bhattacharya lost the Siliguri Assembly seat by 5,000 votes in 2011. In the 2014 Darjeeling Lok Sabha election Bhutia got 20,000 votes more than CPI(M)’s Saman Pathak but the GJM-supported BJP candidate, S S Ahluwalia, won the race with 7,000 votes more than Bhutia.
The scenario, however, changed for the Left in 2015 when the Left-Cong alliance won the Siliguri municipal corporation and Siliguri Mahakuma Parishad under Bhattacharya’s leadership.
“The agenda of those elections were different. People have seen what Mamata Banerjee has done for the development of north Bengal. It would only strengthen Mamata Banerjee’s arms if I’m elected,” said Bhutia, who is sweating it out in Siliguri and villages around the city.
Dipendu Biswas, considered one of the best strikers Bengal has ever produced, failed to score for Mamata Banerjee when she fielded him against BJP’s Samik Bhattacharya in the by-elections at Basirhat Dakshin Assembly seat in 2014. Biswas lost by only 1500 votes but did not leave the turf. In 2015, he led Trinamool’s municipal election campaign at Basirhat and Taki and the ruling party passed the test with flying colours. Today, Biswas is confident that BJP will lose its only Assembly seat.
“The Mamata Banerjee government has spent hundreds of crores of rupees for Basirhat. Roadways and water supply has improved. There is a new hospital, polytechnic college, eco-tourism centre, a floating hotel at Taki and a motel at Basirhat. The stadium is being renovated. If I win, this place will witness more development,” Biswas told HT.
Biswas’s one-time teammate, ‘utility player’ Rahim Nabi, used to play in all positions to suit the needs of his team. This time around, Trinamool needs him to utilise cracks in the Left’s armour at the latter’s last fort in Hooghly district- Panduah. The constituency has a sitting CPI(M) MLA. Trinamool had a lead of about 7,000 votes over the CPI(M) in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Nabi is leaving no stone unturned to ensure that he has the last smile.
BJP candidate Sashthi Duley is facing no easy challenge. He has been nominated from Dhanekhali, the Trinamool bastion in Hooghly district. Trinamool won the seat by 16,000 votes in 2011 and had a lead of 49,000 votes over the CPI(M) in 2014 Lok Sabha polls. Duley, however, is confident that people will vote for him as a mark of protest against “the reign of terror unleashed by the ruling party in Dhanekhali.”
For the soccer stars, the match has just begun.