KOLKATA: Former Indian football team captain Bhaichung Bhutia quit Trinamool Congress on Monday, leading to a race among political parties to woo the Sikkim icon before the 2019 Assembly elections in the Himalayan state.
Announcing his decision on Twitter, the legendary striker wrote: “As of today, I have officially resigned from the membership and all the official and political posts of All India Trinamool Congress party. I am no longer a member or associated with any political party in India.” TMC leaders are yet to comment on the exit.
With Bhutia currently holidaying in Philippines and Thailand with family, he has left people guessing on his next move. However, BJP seemed to be leading the race with Union minister Kiren Rijiju tweeting: “Football icon and former Indian captain Bhaichung Bhutia’s resignation from TMC was expected. He told me he has high regards for Mamata Banerjee but was unable to cope with the situation. He desires to do more for football and Sikkim. My best wishes to Bhaichung for his future endeavour.” Both Sikkim BJP and main opposition Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM) issued statements on Monday inviting Bhutia to join their respective parties. With Assembly elections next year, sources revealed that both the parties have plans to put him as a heavyweight candidate against incumbent chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling.
However, Bhutia has had a bad electoral record. Since entering politics by joining TMC in 2013, he first lost to BJP candidate S S Ahluwalia in Darjeeling in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and then again to CPM veteran Ashok Bhattacharya in Siliguri Assembly seat in 2016 Assembly elections.
While he was handpicked by party supremo Mamata Banerjee herself to boost the party’s base in the Darjeeling hills and Sikkim, Bhutia publicly expressed displeasure after 12 lives were lost during the 104-day-long Gorkhaland agitation last year.
His resignation comes closely after the West Bengal chief minister accused Sikkim of fomenting trouble in Darjeeling.
Relations between the two states soured after Sikkim chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling wrote to home minister Rajnath Singh last year supporting Gorkhaland statehood movement. West Bengal police also accused their Sikkim counterparts of non-cooperation to nab absconding Gorkha Janmukti Morcha president Bimal Gurung who was speculated to be hiding somewhere in the Sikkim-West Bengal border.
Bhutia had of late dedicated more time in imparting football training to youngsters at his Bhaichung Bhutia Football Schools in New Delhi, where he had also offered to train reformed Lashkar-e-Toiba militant Majid Khan in November last year after the Anantnag footballer gave up arms in response to his mother’s call to return home.