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Bhaichung Bhutia launches Hamro Sikkim Party, may not vie for CM’s chair in state polls

Former footballer calls Pawan Chamling ‘corrupt and communal’ at Daramdin event, slams govt move to push organic agriculture without taking ground realities into account.

india Updated: May 31, 2018 18:54 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times, Daramdin (West Sikkim)
Bhaichung Bhutia,Hamro Sikkim Party,Sikkim
Former footballer Bhaichung Bhutia had earlier contested from the Darjeeling and Siliguri seats on a Trinamool Congress ticket.(HT File)

Former India football captain Bhaichung Bhutia launched the Hamro Sikkim Party to take on the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF), led by chief minister Pawan Chamling, on Thursday.

However, Bhutia – who happens to be one of the nine vice-presidents of the party – seems unlikely to be its chief ministerial candidate. The party is still hunting for a suitable face for the post of president.

Addressing a public meeting at Daramdin on the occasion, Bhutia accused Chamling of being the most “corrupt and communal” chief minister the state has ever seen. “When I was a player, I used to urge people to visit Sikkim as it was among the most peaceful states in India. However, when I started spending more time here after my retirement, I realised that the peace we have is the kind found in graveyards,” he said.

Interestingly, Sikkim BJP president DB Chauhan was present at the launch ceremony. Ran Bahadur Subba, a former minister in Chamling’s cabinet, has also joined the new party.

Hamro Sikkim Party leaders said on the condition of anonymity that the party was looking for somebody from the ethnic Nepalese community to be its president and chief ministerial candidate, considering that they dominate the demography of the hill state. Bhutias and Lepchas come next in line in terms of population.

“We are scouting for a man of honesty and integrity for the position of president,” said MN Dahal, a former Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) leader who has joined the former football player in his political journey.

Chamling, who is of Nepalese ethnicity, has been ruling the state since December 1994. He surpassed late CPI(M) leader Jyoti Basu’s record of being the longest-serving chief minister recently.

The tiny Himalayan state will go to the polls next year. While the Chamling-led SDF had bagged all 32 seats in the 2009 assembly elections, it won 31 in 2004. However, it did not perform as well in 2014, when main opposition SKM managed to wrench away as many as 10 seats.

However, SKM president PS Golay was convicted in a corruption case soon afterwards, and was disqualified from the assembly. The subsequent turmoil resulted in seven opposition MLAs joining the ruling party. The SDF currently has 29 MLAs.

Bhutia said anti-incumbency sentiments have become stronger ever since the government tried to turn Sikkim into an “organic-only state” in a faulty manner. “The push for organic farming was good, but the implementation was carried out without taking ground realities into account. This has had a disastrous effect on the residents of the state,” said Bhutia. “There is no democracy. People have no right to speak up.”

Around 5,000 people attended the event, although organisers had expected a larger gathering.

The former football star, who earlier unsuccessfully contested the 2014 and 2016 West Bengal assembly polls from Darjeeling and Siliguri respectively on a Trinamool Congress ticket, had announced in April that he would launch his own party.

The SDF, however, did not seem troubled by Bhutia’s posturing. “We will sweep the 2019 election for the sixth consecutive term as we have worked for the people’s development,” said SDF spokesperson Bhim Dahal.

First Published: May 31, 2018 18:52 IST