In a country where cricket is a religion and cricketers are treated at par with gods or unfortunately, the devil incarnate (depending on their performance in a few matches), very few other sportspersons manage to carve a niche for them in the national media and minds. One such gem was the maverick of the football field, Bhaichung Bhutia. Bhaichung of Sikkimese-Bhutia descent is widely considered to be a torchbearer of Indian football in the international arena. His play as a striker was unparalleled and he was called the Sikkimese Sniper because of his shooting skills in football.
Bhutia had four spells at I-League football team East Bengal Club and became the first Indian footballer to sign a contract with a European club when he joined English club Bury in 1999. He was only the second Indian footballer to play professionally in Europe. Back home, he played for the JCT Mills which won the league once during his tenure. He is also India’s most capped player, with 104 international caps to his name, and in 2009 Nehru Cup he received his 100th international cap and was honored by the government after winning the Nehru Cup, LG Cup, SAFF Championship three times and the AFC Challenge Cup.
In a testament to his raw talent and skills, a football stadium named after him in honor of his contribution to Indian football making him the first player to have such honor while he is still playing. The government has also heaped many accolades on him like the Arjuna Award and the Padma Shri. To further the cause of football in India, he founded the Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools in Delhi in partnership with football by Carlos Queiroz and Nike In October 2010. After announcing his retirement from international football in August 2011 and playing his last match with the India national team on 10 January 2012 against Bayern Munich at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Delhi, Bhaichung decided to take a plunge in politics. Not one to shy from public appearances and with a genuine desire to do good, politics seemed the logical next step for the behemoth of the Indian sports scene.
However, unlike his past successes as a footballer and celebrity figure, Bhaichung Bhutia is yet to taste any success as a politician. Bhaichung Bhutia joined the Trinamool Congress (TMC) and contested the 2014 General election from the Darjeeling Lok Sabha Constituency. In an election marred by the alleged intimidation tactics of the TMC, the BJP candidate SS Ahluwalia defeated Bhaichung by over 2 lakh votes.
Bhaichung Bhutia was defeated yet again in his next contest, the 2016 West Bengal State Elections when he lost to CPM’s Ashok Bhattacharya even when the rest of the state voted (or allegedly, were forced to vote) overwhelmingly for the TMC. Following his two defeats, Bhaichung had withdrawn himself considerably from the state politics and even when the Gorkha Movement was at its peak last year, he choose to sit it out. According to sources in the Trinamool Congress, there had been a difference of opinion between the party and Bhutiya for long over TMC’s approach towards the Gorkhaland issue and this fissure had widened with the 104-day strike in Darjeeling followed by violence and consequent deaths there.
Contrary to the TMC’s official line, Bhaichung Bhutia had categorically stated that he did not agree with Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee‘s views on Gorkhaland and that he believes that a separate Gorkhaland state is necessary to “permanently” resolve the Hills problem “in an appropriate manner.” While this may have caused a few heartburns in the TMC, he had, back then, denied that he was resigning from the party as it would serve no purpose and that his resignation would not mean that Gorkhaland will happen.
However, putting all prolonged speculations over his approach towards the TMC, Bhaichung Bhutia announced his separation from the ruling party in West Bengal via Twitter. He had tweeted- “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.”
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. #politics pic.twitter.com/2lUxJcbUDT
— Bhaichung Bhutia (@bhaichung15) February 26, 2018
Prima Facie, Bhaichung Bhutia is all done from the dirty politics of loot and violence of West Bengal and is expected to concentrate on his many social outreach attempts. However, if the rumor mills are to be believed, He is all set to either launch his own political party or by a long shot, join the BJP. Many point towards a tweet by union minister Kiren Rijiju which has triggered further speculation over churning of the political equations in the state. The tweet by Rijiju which immediately followed Bhaichung Bhutia’s stated – “Football icon and former Indian captain Baichung Bhutia’s resignation from TMC was expected. He told me he has high regards for Mamata Banerjee but unable to cope with the situation. He desires to do more for Football and Sikkim. My best wishes to Bhaichung for his future endeavor.”
Football icon & former Indian captain Baichung Bhutia's resignation from TMC was expected. He told me he has high regards for Mamata Banerjee but unable to cope with the situation. He desires to do more for Football & Sikkim. My best wishes to Bhaichung for his future endeavour. pic.twitter.com/QJr7TT4Gsr
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) February 26, 2018
If indeed, Bhaichung Bhutia does join the BJP, it will be a mini-coup of sorts for the Saffron Wing. BJP, which is the ruling party at the Centre and in most of India, has never been strong in West Bengal even though one of its most prominent ideologues, Syama Prasad Mukherjee, was from the same state. In a state ripe with plenty of problems, a rudderless administration and an opposition paralyzed in its place, conditions are ripe for the BJP to carve its own space in West Bengal. While its vote share has been rising, evident in the various bypolls across the state, it lacks the necessary push to win the state, primarily a face which is both young and widely accepted. With Bhaichung Bhutia, BJP may have a combination just right for its ascendance as a colossus in the Bengal’s politics.