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‘Visitors’ in the fray

Calcutta, March 5: Soccer star Bhaichung Bhutia and CPM leader Subhashini Ali seemingly face the same hurdle — the tag of “outsider”.

Soon, former Indian cricket skipper Mohammad Azharuddin, too, could be in the “outsider” club if he does contest from Bengal.

Bhaichung, from neighbouring Sikkim, has been fielded by Trinamul from the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat. Ali is a Delhi-based CPM leader and will be the party’s candidate from Barrackpore.

Azhar, from Hyderabad, has expressed keenness to contest from Bengal.

Trinamul sources said that by fielding Bhaichung, who has a sizeable fan-following in the Darjeeling hills as well as a clean, apolitical image, Mamata may have made things difficult for the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha.

“Mamatadi feels that Bhaichung is extremely popular in the hills and the plains and is sure to win the seat. She wanted Bhaichung (to contest),” a senior Trinamul leader said.

“Even if the Morcha does not support him, we are confident the young generation will vote for him,” he added.

Some hill Trinamul leaders are wary that Bhaichung may be seen as an “outsider”, but added that they would campaign whole-heartedly for him.

The soccer star himself appeared wary of the “outsider” tag. “I want to interact with the people of the hills and understand their suffering. I feel that the hills have always been deprived,” he said.

Biman Bose today defended the CPM’s decision to field Ali and cited examples of other “outsiders”. “B.R. Ambedkar and V.K. Krishna Menon have represented Bengal…. Renu Chakraborty (wife of the late communist leader Nikhil Chakraborty) and Indrajit Gupta were Delhi-centric politicians but had contested from Bengal,” he said.

Ali’s rival and current Barrackpore MP Dinesh Trivedi was an “outsider” as he hailed from Gujarat, Bose said.

Alimuddin Street sources said Ali’s name had cropped up as the party could not reach a consensus on the choice of candidate. “Given the strong Hindi-speaking electorate, it was felt that a candidate from outside Bengal could work in the party’s favour,” said a state secretariat member.