Bhaichung at Bagdogra airport on Thursday and Gurung in Darjeeling. Pictures by Kundan Yolmo and Suman Tamang
March 6: Bimal Gurung today said the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha would not support Trinamul’s Darjeeling candidate Bhaichung Bhutia, who had been made to look like a “joker” by Mamata Banerjee’s party.
He suggested that by naming the soccer star for the Darjeeling seat, Trinamul had lost not only the hill constituency but also the support of Gorkhas in two other seats in the plains.
“By fielding Bhaichung, Trinamul has lost two more seats — Jalpaiguri and Alipurduar — as our support is going to be decisive in these seats,” the Morcha chief said in Darjeeling. The constituencies have a sizeable chunk of Gorkha voters.
When his reaction was sought on Gurung’s refusal of support, Bhaichung, who landed in Bagdogra from Delhi, said he would work for development and peace and stressed that the hills and the plains needed each other for business and pleasure. He also gave credit for Trinamul’s hard work to party activists in the hills, many of whom were miffed yesterday after realising that no local face had been nominated.
Gurung today tried to tap into the discontent.
That the Morcha would use the “outsider” tag to corner Bhaichung seemed clear because Gurung kept coming back to the soccer player’s Sikkim roots.
Gurung said he had been told by Mamata “categorically” that if Bhaichung was to be fielded, “it would be from Sikkim”.
He said: “It was the chief minister who told me that bringing someone from outside would mean hurting the hill people’s sentiments. She went back on her word and it seems she is not interested in building relations with us. Our relations are good and she should have at least spoken to me.”
The Morcha “will not support Bhaichung Bhutia. He has been made a joker by Mamata Banerjee’s party. I share a good rapport with Bhaichung, and he should have also given a thought before accepting the ticket,” he said. “He should have contested from Sikkim. We have never interfered in Sikkim politics. Similarly, Bhaichung will never be able to understand the sentiments of our people,” he said.
At Bagdogra, Bhaichung said: “The chief minister, during her visit to the hills, has always insisted on development. But for development we need peace. My aim is to maintain brotherhood and amity in the hills and plains as people of both areas are dependent on each other for business and livelihood. While the hill people need to depend on the plains for business, those in the plains go up to the hills for holidays.”
The Morcha has not announced any name for Darjeeling. When Gurung was asked about it today, he said he would “consult party leaders”. “We will also have to keep an eye at the way national politics is shaping up.” He did not mention the party’s longstanding demand for a separate state of Gorkhaland. In 2009, the Morcha had supported the BJP’s Jaswant Singh in the hope that the party would heed its call for statehood. Singh won Darjeeling but the BJP did not come to power in Delhi.
Bhaichung is scheduled to meet hill Trinamul activists tomorrow in Darjeeling. He said it was the party activists who did the real work and he was “just a face” for the outfit. Yesterday, hill Trinamul activists had expressed disappointment that an “outsider” had been fielded but had said they would work whole-heartedly for Bhaichung.
Gurung today said he would like to “congratulate” the hill Trinamul leaders who were paid for their hard work “by being forced to accept someone from outside”. “Even if a local TMC leader had been given the ticket, maybe he would have got some sympathy from the local people.” he said. If the Trinamul leaders continued to support Bhaichung, it would be akin to “selling one’s mother”, he added.
Bhaichung, asked if he would approach other hill parties such as the ABGL, CPRM and GNLF for support, said: “I will surely appeal to all political parties to support Trinamul. We need to send more MPs to the Parliament to raise our voices.”
The Left has announced that Saman Pathak of the CPM would contest from Darjeeling. Mahendra P. Lama, an academic, has decided to contest as an Independent, but the Morcha does not support his candidature. The Congress has not announced any names, nor has the BJP declared a candidate for Darjeeling.
“If the Morcha supports the BJP candidate like it did in 2009, there would be three anti-Left candidates then. On the other hand, if Morcha fields its own candidate, and BJP also names somebody, there would be four anti-Left candidates altogether. This would surely mean a tough contest for Bhaichung as the anti-Left votes would divide and may provide an advantage to the CPM candidate,” a source said.