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Rivals raise hill pitch
Footballer seeks to shun outsider tag

Darjeeling, March 12: Bhaichung Bhutia today kicked off his election campaign in the hills by offering prayers at the Mahakal temple here and said only some political leaders saw him as an outsider.

“I have been associated with the people of Darjeeling for a long time. There are three players in the United Sikkim Football Club from Darjeeling. One of the coaches is from Kalimpong. We have done social work in the hills and I feel that this issue (of an outsider) is only among the political leaders and not among the people here…. I would love to be the bridge between Sikkim and Darjeeling,” Bhaichung told journalists.

The footballer was alluding to the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha’s barb that he was not a “son of the soil” but was declared the candidate of the Trinamul Congress in Darjeeling.

In the morning, Bhaichung, accompanied by Trinamul leaders, offered prayers at the Mahakal temple. He spent nearly 30 minutes at the temple.

Addressing Trinamul workers, Bhaichung said: “This election for you is the start of a new future. We must work hard to bring back the glory of the place, bring back peace and development.”

Minister Gautam Deb told the workers that Trinamul would lead in the plains by a margin of a lakh votes. “We will lead by 1 lakh votes in the plains and the hills must ensure we have a victor.” He said Mamata Banerjee would come to Gorubathan in Kalimpong to address a public meeting soon. “She might also come to Darjeeling.”

The minister talked about issues specific to the hills to be included in the party’s manifesto.

“We have already requested the Centre to grant Scheduled Tribe status to 10 hill communities. We will also demand a tax holiday for Darjeeling, inclusion of Darjeeling and Cooch Behar in the list of backward region and the establishment of a medical college in Kurseong, Central University in Darjeeling and an engineering college in Kalimpong.”