The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Hills plan avalanche of Idol votes

Darjeeling, June 26: If you cannot send text messages to support your favourite contestant in a nationally televised singing competition, you can simply sign a cheque, or pay in cash, and let a group of dedicated volunteers cast your votes.

People who hail from Darjeeling, but are currently scattered across the globe are doing exactly that to ensure that Prashant Tamang is crowned the next Indian Idol. Tamang, a resident of Toongsoong here, has fought his way to the Top 13 (the judges have added three singers to the Top 10 contestants chosen by the audience) and his fate now depends solely on the number of text messages he gets following his performances this Friday and Saturday.

But as Pranay Rai, the MLA from Darjeeling, put it, “how many text messages can one send'” So, the residents of the hill town have followed in the footsteps of their friends and relatives abroad and last evening donated Rs 31,000 to “buy prepaid mobile vouchers that will be distributed among volunteers”.

The volunteers are expected to work overtime to send an avalanche of SMS votes in favour of Tamang as well as Karma Sherpa, another singing sensation from the hills who has reached the Top 5 of a different contest telecast on a Bengali TV channel.

“We have decided to utilise the money in a very transparent way,” said Tenzing Khambachay, who heads an informal committee set up to garner support for Tamang. “Once we give the recharge vouchers to the volunteers, we will check their outboxes to see if they have really sent the messages.”

Two SMS committees were formed last evening itself to monitor the whole process. They include friends and relatives of Tamang and Sherpa as well as residents of the hill town.

While the Rs 31,000 collected yesterday, including Rs 10,000 from Rai, will be split equally between the two singers, Tamang’s fund will be boosted by contributions from abroad.

“Our people working in Hong Kong have sent us Rs 17,600 and I have been told that those who are in Brunei have given Rs 8,000,” said Khambachay.

People living in other countries, except the UAE and the UK, cannot vote for Indian Idol contestants. The rule has already provoked anger among people in Nepal, who as of now can only voice their support by leaving messages on the website set up in support of Tamang. Such is the craze in Nepal over Tamang, that reporters of a leading TV channel there actually came down to Darjeeling recently to cover his story.

Yesterday’s donation spree was preceded by a unique show of solidarity by Karma, who led a colourful rally out on the streets of Darjeeling to campaign for both Tamang and himself. With the Darjeeling Police band in tow, the rally started from the railway station and ended at Chowrastha.

There, in an impassioned speech, Karma thanked the people for their support and asked them to vote for him before the new round of the contest. Karma, too, needs enough SMS votes in his favour before July 2.

The programme was organised by the Darjeeling Gorkha Hill Transport Joint Action Committee, an umbrella organisation of taxi syndicates in town. After the Darjeeling MLA came forward to donate Rs 10,000, more than a dozen syndicates dropped not less that Rs 1,000 each in the hastily-built donation box.

Residents, too, joined in and contributed anything between Rs 10 and Rs 100 and within half an hour Rs 31,000 had been collected.

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