Bhaichung Bhutia questions minister’s presence on eve of AIFF elections
All but one of the 34 voters were inaccessible on the evening before Friday’s election, says the former India captain
Bhaichung Bhutia was in Siliguri well before the first executive committee meeting of the All India Football Federation (AIFF) took place in New Delhi under new president Kalyan Chaubey on Saturday.
Bhutia had told HT on Friday that he was undecided whether to join the AIFF body—he is an automatic choice by virtue of being India's most capped retired footballer—but by leaving town, he has possibly given the biggest indication that he wouldn’t.
Chaubey said AIFF would wait to hear from Bhutia before deciding if a replacement was needed.
Bhutia said the presence of a Union minister till early Friday at the hotel in New Delhi’s Dwarka where voters were put up by AIFF underscores the point that it wouldn’t have been easy for Chaubey otherwise.
In a fight between politicians who were former footballers and teammates at East Bengal, Bhutia lost 33-1 to Chaubey. Founder of the Hamro Sikkim Party, Bhutia has contested state and general elections on Trinamool Congress tickets. Chaubey is a Bharatiya Janata Party member who is president of the party’s North Kolkata unit and had unsuccessfully contested the 2019 general elections.
“If they were so confident, why did they have to get a minister,” said Bhutia over the phone on Saturday. “Why would a minister come to the hotel at 9pm and stay till almost 2am? Why would all but one delegate be taken to a separate floor where they could not be reached,” he said.
Gopalkrishna Kosaraju, who heads the Andhra Pradesh unit, was the only one not contacted, said Bhutia. Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan had backed Bhutia’s nomination.
“I couldn’t reach many of the officials of states who had spoken to me a little earlier. Till Thursday night, we were sure that a number of states would back us. And then we just couldn't access them even on their phones. At around 8:30pm or 9, everybody had vanished.
“Not just I, Manvendra (Singh) couldn't access his secretary,” Bhutia said. Singh is the president of Rajasthan Football Association.
“I knew there would be political interference but I didn’t know it would be to this extent,” he said.
Bhutia did not name the minister but on Friday, Singh said Union law minister Kiren Rijiju had met states’ representatives and asked them to vote against Bhutia, a former India captain and one of the country’s most decorated footballers. At his first media conference on Friday, Chaubey had said Rijiju was present but denied Singh’s charge.
Asked for a reaction to Bhutia’s charge, Chaubey said he did not wish to comment.