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Bhaichung Bhutia hints at stowing away his Political Boots

Darjeeling : Addressing his first press conference in Darjeeling following his loss of the Darjeeling seat in the Lok Sabha election, footballer-turned politician Bhaichung Bhutia hinted at quitting politics even as he pledged to continue extending all possible support to ensure the development of the hills. The former national football skipper had contested in the general election as the Trinamool Congress candidate from Darjeeling constituency. By fielding Bhaichung, TMC chief Mamata Banerjee had apparently expected him to garner significant votes not only from the Darjeeling hills, but also from the plains where he is popular for his achievements in the football field. However, Banerjee’s strategy went awry as Bhaichung lost by a margin of nearly 2 lakh votes to rival Surendra Singh Ahluwalia of the BJP-GJM combine. Speaking in the afternoon on the sidelines of the party’s core committee meeting in Darjeeling, Bhaichung answered a number of queries regarding his political prospects. 

He said, “My bread and butter will remain football and I can remain associated with the sport either as a commentator or by playing in exhibition matches. I have to earn my livelihood. However, my presence or absence in politics will not matter as I promise to extend every possible support from all angles to my party and the people of the hills. In fact, even when deeply engrossed as a footballer, I have done a lot of things for the Darjeeling hills.” Even as he congratulated Ahluwalia for winning, the ace footballer on hindsight felt the poll outcome could have been better for him. “Securing more than 91,000 votes on the very first outing is good showing, but we did expect more than that number. However, as I have said earlier, we have to accept the people’s mandate,” said Bhaichung. At the same time, he admitted a lot needs to be done in terms of the TMC’s organisational structure. “We are assessing the election results to identify our weaknesses and drawbacks and to work on addressing them in future. We need to win the hearts of the masses,” he noted. On the TMC’s hill unit and its future role in the region, Bhaichung said it is important to facilitate the smooth functioning of the Gorkhaland Territorial Administration keeping the people’s interests upmost in mind. 

He said, “Of course, we need to be a worthy opposition. We must also extend all possible support to the GTA to ensure it functions well for the welfare of the people. Having said so, I wish to stress our party has always worked for the development of the hills and its residents and will continue doing so.” Commenting on the recent spate of inter-party clashes in the hills, the football star said he strongly condemns such activities and they should be shunned at all costs. “Now that the election is over, I appeal to all the political parties in the hills to maintain peace. If a region is to develop and its people to prosper, efforts must be made to ensure peace and stability are maintained. It won’t be incorrect to state our party has managed to restore peace in the hills after a long period of unrest and instability,” said Bhaichung. The meeting was attended by senior members of the hill TMC unit and discussions held as to where the party erred in the run-up to the election as also the rectifications needed to be done. Senior party members including Bhaichung also thanked voters from both the hills and the plains who had supported the TMC candidate.

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