Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, the ruling party in the hills, Thursday said it will not support former football star and Trinamool Congress candidate Baichung Bhutia from Darjeeling and instead field its own candidate while seeking support of “one of the two national parties”.
“We will not support Bhutia. We will field our own candidate. We will decide our candidate in a couple of days,” said Roshan Giri, the GJM general secretary.
The first, and a major, setback to the ruling party in Bengal came a day after it declared the names of its candidates for 42 seats. Sources said, the Trinamool Congress’s unit in the hills is also not happy with party chief Mamata Banerjee’s decision to field Bhutia from Darjeeling by rejecting the names of five probable candidates it had forwarded.
“We had been called to Kolkata Wednesday. A seven-member delegation, including senior leaders of the hill unit of TMC, met party general secretary Mukul Roy. He asked for our suggestions and we named five probable candidates. Mukul da assured that one of them will be fielded as the TMC candidate from Darjeeling. But after half-an-hour, they unilaterally announced Bhutia’s name,” said Chawng Bhutiya, president of Darjeeling Yuva TMC.
He said the hills unit of the TMC was “taken aback by the sudden decision”, but now will have to support Bhutia “as he is our party candidate”.
The GJM leaders, meanwhile, said, they are shocked as TMC named Bhutia without consulting them.
“There is no point in supporting Bhutia. He is from Sikkim. We support him as a footballer, but not as a politician. We were not consulted even once before the candidate was announced,” Giri said.
Significantly, GJM chief Bimal Gurung, along with three party MLAs, had attended the Brigade Ground rally of Mamata Banerjee to express solidarity and support to the ruling party. Sources said, it was decided that a GJM candidate will b fielded in Darjeeling and TMC will extend support.
Pradeep Pradhan, chairman of GTA, the hill council, and a senior GJM leader said, “We want a leader who could represent Darjeeling in the parliament. Baichung is from Sikkim. If TMC wanted him to go to parliament, then he could have been nominated and sent to Rajya Sabha the way the Congress sent Sachin Tendulkar.
Baichung does not belong to this place. We wanted a leader, not a footballer. And Baichung can never be a leader.”
However, Bhutia, said that his birthplace shouldn’t be a roadblock in his way to parliament. “Being from Sikkim, I am also from the hills just like those from Darjeeling. So we are all brothers. I promise to work for the area with as much sincerity and honesty as I played football,” Bhutia, who retired from the national team in 2012, said.
Hoping to get support from the GJM, Bhutia said, “Their aim is the same as ours —- to bring peace and development in the hills.”
However, according to sources, the GJM is now looking for an equation with a national party. “There are limited options. We either have to go with BJP or with Congress. Since BJP is in favour of smaller states, the party is likely to seek support from them. However, Gurung will take the final call,” said a senior central committee leader of GJM.
He said, the stakes may be raised. “It is not about Darjeeling only. There are three Parliamentary seats including Darjeeling, Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar where GJM has got a strong support base. Now the party might field candidates in all these three seats,” he added.
TMC leader and North Bengal Development minister Gautam Deb said “Our party chief wanted to give representation to people from all fields and Bhutia is one of them. We hope the GJM supports him.We are confident of winning the seat.”