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Soccer bug bites statehood defender Gurung

- Morcha chief rails at ‘outsider’ players and questionable ‘refereeing’ by state

Darjeeling, June 25: A local favourite, an “outsider” opponent and rising tempers over questionable refereeing — all this played out today, not at the Maracana in Brazil, but at Darjeeling Chowrasta.

The World Cup bug seems to have bitten Bimal Gurung, the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha chief who is the hill’s biggest political player now.

According to an unnamed aide, the defender of the statehood cause also played as a defender in the soccer field in his youth.

Today, Gurung began by thanking “everyone for the win” of BJP’s S.S. Ahluwalia from the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat — the Morcha supported the BJP. Then, in a single move, he switched gears from politics to sport.

“My gratitude extends even to those who did not vote for us. I had been telling everyone that we have a set team for the election, a team that has been playing together since 2007,” he said, referring to the formation of the Morcha in October 2007.

The winner of the Lok Sabha “match” then took a swipe at the opponent team of Trinamul. “They (the Trinamul) had stitched together a team, borrowing players from Sikkim, Siliguri and Calcutta. Our team is so experienced that we exactly know about the form of the goalkeeper, the defenders, midfielders and strikers. Their team did not know their own members properly.”

Whether the presence of football star Bhaichung Bhutia in Trinamul prompted Gurung to choose the sport’s lingo to aim political darts is not known. Trinamul had fielded Bhutia against “Team” Gurung in the Darjeeling seat. Bhutia lost. In the same football vein, Gurung praised “the stamina that kept us going for seven to eight hours on the match day”. His opponents’ vigour, the Morcha chief said, “did not last for even five minutes”.

“Their players were out of the ground, behind goal posts and in the drains on match day. The day of counting for us was just a day to officially declare how many goals we had scored,” Gurung said. “They used money, administration and every possible means. Even then we won by a margin of almost 2 lakh votes.”

He railed at the state government’s alleged questionable “refereeing”, referring to the arrests of many Morcha leaders and supporters last year for their participation in statehood strikes. “They want to play a match with us, but both the referee and the linesman are their people. Even when we were playing fairly, their referee and linesman would call it a foul and our supporters would be sent to jail,” Gurung said. “We want the state government to stop interfering in the work of the GTA.”

Gurung then turned to Ahluwalia and said: “We want you to be the referee of the match as the Centre is a signatory to the memorandum of agreement of the GTA. We are not telling you to take our side, but you must act in a fair manner and ensure that they (the state government) are not allowed to play foul.”

When Trinamul leader Bini Sharma was told about Gurung’s speech, his reply came in matching soccer terminology. “Gurung was earlier used to playing with no opponents in the field. He had the referees with him then. We have a new team. If we had not been on the field, it would have been a mockery of democracy,” Sharma said.

“He should not brag about winning the match,” the Trinamul leader added. “Compared to the 2009 (general) election, they got over 1 lakh votes less.”

It happens to be so that Gurung’s attack on the government’s unfair “refereeing” has come when soccer fans the world over are spewing rage on the Internet, asking why Uruguay’s Luis Suarez was not sent off the field for biting Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini during the South American nation’s 1-0 victory yesterday.

Fifa has opened disciplinary proceedings against Suarez.

A Morcha aide close to Gurung later said that the Morcha chief did play a bit of soccer earlier. His favoured team is the Albiceleste — the blue-and-white team of Argentina. “His favourite player used to be Maradona. Now, it’s Messi,” the aide said. But unlike midfielder Maradona and forward Messi, Gurung was a defender, like Chiellini.

Fifa’s rules for choosing match referees don’t apply to the state administration, which Gurung knows well.

Under Fifa rules, the on-field referee, the two linesmen and the fourth referee all have to be from neutral countries for international matches.

The Morcha may hope for favourable “refereeing” from the BJP at the Centre. Gurung said he was hopeful that Prime Minister Narendra Modi would stand by his words.

“During his election campaign, he had said the dreams of the Gorkhas are his dream and I am sure that the dream will be fulfilled. Everything (the agitation programme) has to be Delhi-centric and I am confident that Ahluwalia would work towards fulfilling our dreams,” he said.

Ahluwalia alleged that the state government was not allowing the BJP and the Morcha to organise victory celebrations.

“We wanted to organise a victory celebration after the results were announced. But the administration told us it could not held for the next 72 hours. Again on June 18, we wanted to bring out a victory rally in Khaprail (Siliguri subdivision) but the police did not give permission. Though Trinamul won 34 of the 42 Lok Sabha seats from Bengal, the party could not celebrate as they lost the Darjeeling seat and Mamata Banerjee had taken it as a prestige fight,” said Ahluwalia.