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With renewed vigour, Bhaichung Bhutia is ready to set a benchmark in Sikkim's politics

With renewed vigour, Bhaichung Bhutia is ready to set a benchmark in Sikkims politics

Imtiaz Azad

Published: 29 March 2019 4:01 AM GMT
Indian football legend Bhaichung Bhutia is no more a new face in politics. Starting his political career with the Trinamool Congress in 2014, he contested the general elections that year followed by the assembly elections in 2016 from West Bengal. He quit the party in February last year and said he “felt like an outsider" in the Trinamool Congress. Bhutia rued that after being part of Bengal politics and playing for top Bengal football clubs for years, he could not get rid of the “outsider" tag. The Sikkimese Sniper, however, returned to his roots and in April 2018 and took a further stride into politics by floating a political party in his home state.

Set for assembly polls in 2019, Bhutia is confident that his Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP) would offer a “new” and “clean” state if voted to power in the Himalayan state.

Bhutia, who will contest in the election, recently put two of his favourite jerseys up for sale, to "raise clean money for clean politics in Sikkim". He is committed to staying in politics for a long time and will primarily take on the ruling Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) headed by Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, who holds the stint as the longest serving Chief Minister in the country. Bhutia has always been a poster boy for the youngsters of Sikkim, as well as India. He is looked up to by the boys and girls of Sikkim as they always relate to him coming from a lower middle-income family who made it big at a national level.
Also Read: "Will give clean government, people believe in my party" During his sporting days, Bhutia was never away from politics. Indeed, in 2008, he raised plenty of political flak after he refused to participate in the torch relay for the Beijing Olympics, showing his support for the Tibetan freedom movement. As the de-facto president of HSP, Bhutia hopes to set a benchmark in national politics with its unique constitution and its innovative approach to politics. The party, in its constitution, lays down that nobody gets more than two terms in office—whether one is elected an MP, MLA, or party president. Such an anti-incumbent sentiment would be a driving force in the election believes Bhutia.

Bhutia has come down heavily on the chief minister for the matter of unemployment in Sikkim, and has said his government had been unable to create jobs, leading to unhappiness and an alarming rate of suicides among the youth.

The party manifesto talks about implementing policies to ensure a 'Happy Sikkim' within five years. It includes the promise of overhauling the education system within a year of assumption of power. Furthermore, it promises free accessible primary, preventive and promotive healthcare for all through public healthcare delivery system. Bhaichung Bhutia had earlier contested unsuccessfully on the Trinamool Congress ticket.
Recently, in an interview with TheWire, Bhutia had said,
taking on SDF will be a big challenge for his party, as the former has been in place for the last 25 years, with a well-oiled system of winning elections. Bhutia opined that the incumbency has led to minimal progress in the state. People across the state are facing long hours of load-shedding even though it is a power surplus state. Fifty per cent of the rural population doesn’t have a safe drinking water supply and roads lying in bad shape, he said. The HSP has been questioning the Chief Minister about the expenditure report of the Central funds allocated to the state in September last year to build hydroelectric power projects. A recent Comptroller and Auditor General’s (CAG) report on Sikkim highlights
a scam in the power sector worth thousands of crores. Another concern Bhutia alleged the SDF with Chamling's policy of pitting one community in the state against another in terms of land ownership. Presently, one community cannot sell their land to another, however, private players can purchase the land for setting up industries.  The HSP aims to address this issue as the prevalent status is disrupting the ecological balance they believe. Sikkim has earned fame all over India by being a model state which has entirely shifted to organic farming. However, the agricultural produce of the state has reduced by 65%
, resulting in a shortage of food grains to meet the demand of its seven lakh population. Besides, state witnesses over 20 lakh tourist coming all across the year. The SDF government, in April last year, decided to ban all non-organic vegetables from entering Sikkim in order to promote organic vegetables produced in the state.  Unable to meet the daily needs, it led to a crisis situation. The ban was brought in without any study of the ground situation and the government had to ultimately lift the ban. Former Indian football team captain speaks during the launch of his political party ' Bhutia declared his party would ensure sustainable development by taking good care of farmers through measures like minimum guaranteed price and subsidies.
Besides fighting corruption, conservation of forest, preservation of Sikkim’s culture, development and sports at the grass-roots level are among the top priorities of Hamro Sikkim.
Also, the protection and preservation of the rights of the three indigenous communities - Lepcha, Bhutia and Sikkimese Nepalese people - will feature on top of his party's priority list in the upcoming elections. With several projects promised, the Tinkitam Express is ready to roll the ball of a big political movement. Though in his earlier stint at politics with the TMC, Bhutia had missed the target, Sikkimese hero will be taking the field at his home state, which can be a gamechanger, being deemed as a true hero of the soil.
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