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Monday, Sep 16, 2019

Bhaichung Bhutia quits Trinamool Congress; Sikkim parties race to woo him

Bhaichung Bhutia, who contested elections twice as a Trinamool Congress candidate and lost both times, took to social media to announce his resignation.

india Updated: Feb 26, 2018 23:14 IST
Pramod Giri
Pramod Giri
Hindustan Times, Siliguri
Bhaichung Bhutia had unsuccessfully contested the 2016 West Bengal Assembly elections from Siliguri.
Bhaichung Bhutia had unsuccessfully contested the 2016 West Bengal Assembly elections from Siliguri.(HT File Photo)

Handpicked by West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee to represent Trinamool Congress in Darjeeling, former Indian football captain, Bhaichung Bhutia quit Bengal’s ruling party, shaking the political scenario in the region.

In a social media post on Monday morning, the former Sikkim footballer announced that he was stepping down from all positions and membership of the party.

“As of today, I have officially resigned from the membership and all the official and political posts of All India Trinamool Congress party. I am no longer a member or associated with any political party in India,” wrote Bhutia on Facebook and Twitter.

Right now, Bhutia has three options in politics in his state — join either BJP or Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM), or float a new outfit.

Though he is keeping everybody guessing on his next move, BJP was seen leading the race in trying to woo the wily former striker.

Union minister and BJP leader, Kiren Rijiju tweeted, “Football icon & former Indian captain Baichung Bhutia’s resignation from TMC was expected. He told me he has high regards for Mamata Banerjee but (was) unable to cope with the situation. He desires to do more for football & Sikkim. My best wishes to Bhaichung for his future endeavour.”

The message was accompanied by a photo of him with Bhutia.

“If Bhaichung Bhutia wants to join us, he is welcome,” Bengal BJP president Dilip Ghosh said after a meeting in West Midnapore district.

Bhutia is currently holidaying in Philippines and Thailand with his family. He contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Darjeeling and the 2016 Assembly polls from Siliguri on Trinamool tickets, but lost on both occasions.

D B Chauhan, BJP’s Sikkim state committee president, said, “I am in touch with Bhutia. As we are nationalists, we too want him to be a part of the BJP in Sikkim.”

Sikkim’s main opposition party, SKM’s Bikash Basnet said the party is in touch with Bhutia. “If he wants to join the party, we would all be very happy. It would be a proud moment for us. He is an asset of Sikkim and we will give him due respect.”

SKM won 10 out of 32 assembly seats in the Himalayan state in 2014 polls.

The state’s ruling party Sikkim Democratic Front, SDF, too, wanted him in politics.

“I would just like to welcome Baichung in the political scenario of Sikkim if he wishes to join it. I would just say that fame doesn’t win elections, commitment does. People are the best judges and I’m sure they’ll take a right call,” said Tshering Wangdi Lepcha, Sikkim’s forest minister.

Trinamool leaders, however, did not comment on Bhutia’s exit.

Bhutia’s exit from Trinamool comes just about a month after speculation in Sikkim media that the 43-year-old former striker would enter politics in his home state and challenge the might of five-term chief minister Pawan Chamling. The Assembly polls are due in Sikkim in 2019.

Bhutia is an icon in Sikkim, where a stadium is named after him. Over the past few months, he had expressed his unhappiness in close circles over the way Bengal’s ruling party handled the agitation for Gorkhaland in adjoining Darjeeling hills.

After 12 lives were lost during the agitation June – September last year, Bhaichung had publicly expressed his unhappiness. Trinamool leaders in north Bengal also said that Bhutia was expecting a nomination to Rajya Sabha that did not happen.

Though Bhutia was appointed Trinamool’s working president in Darjeeling district and chairman of North Bengal Board for Development of Games and Sports, he went into political hibernation and was not seen in political programmes since the loss to CPI(M)’s Asok Bhattacharya in 2016.

First Published: Feb 26, 2018 13:05 IST