| Bhaichung Bhutia (left) with Asok Bhattacharya at a rally in Siliguri. A Telegraph picture
Siliguri, April 14: Bhaichung Bhutia has earned his spurs as a striker par excellence in football. Today, however, the Indian soccer skipper was here to enable urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya defend his Siliguri citadel.
Bhaichung, who is from neighbouring Sikkim, went on a whirlwind campaign that took him to three different places of the Siliguri Assembly constituency, hoping to convert his star appeal into votes for Bhattacharya for the May 10 polling.
'I have not joined politics. The only reason I am here is to support Asokda, who is a sincere, dedicated and an honest man,' said Bhaichung.
By his own admission, this is Bhaichung's first foray into election campaigning. 'Let me make it clear that I will campaign for Asokda no matter which party he is in,' said Bhaichung. This prompted a smiling Bhattacharya, who was seated by his side, to interject: 'Don't worry, I will remain in the same party for the next 20 years.'
Dressed in a designer kurta-pyjama, the sunglass-sporting star arrived early in the morning by train from Calcutta and immediately got into the campaigning mode. His first port of call was the Dadabhai Sporting Club at Deshbandhupara, where he pretty much said the same things but in Bengali.
A little later at Sister Nivedita Margaret School in Pradhannagar, the message again was the same, but the medium Nepali.
By then, of course, the sporting icon had a Nepali toupee over his gelled hair, courtesy the residents of the Nepali-dominated locality. 'Siliguri has developed so much in the last five-ten years. All this is because of Asokda. He will develop the town further in the next five years,' Bhaichung told the goodly gathering.
Despite the scorching sun, Bhaichung politely refused the shades of an umbrella at the small dais set up for the occasion. He was willing to sweat it out for a man whose simplicity, he said, was praiseworthy. 'Other sportspersons like Rahul (Dravid), Sourav (Ganguly), Sania (Mirza) and Mahesh (Bhupathi) also hold Asokda in high esteem,' he said.
Later, interacting with the media, the Indian skipper brushed aside playful predictions that his visit could lead to his downfall as a player. A reporter's query to that effect was prompted by the joke doing the rounds that the careers of Sourav and Sania had taken a nosedive ever since they visited Siliguri at the invitation of Bhattacharya.
However, the urban development minister had already clarified that Bhaichung was campaigning for him of his own volition.
'He himself called me up and said he wanted to help me...He has paid from his own pocket to come here... I am very grateful to him for his help,' said Bhattacharya.
From Pradhannagar, Team Asok with Bhaichung at its head left for Kadamtala on the outskirts of the town, where they addressed another rally.
Having done his bit for big brother Bhattacharya, Bhaichung took a flight back to Calcutta in the afternoon en route to Mumbai for East Bengal's next National League game.
Once there, the footballer, who has been at the top of his form just lately, would surely be looking to resume his striking role.