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Why Is Football Legend Bhaichung Bhutia Yet to Score a Goal Politically?

As per his own admission to The Quint, his party – Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP) – is "relatively new".

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"For us Sikkimese people, there are two individuals in recent history who have brought immense accolade to the state on a national as well as international level. One is, of course, Danny Denzongpa, the actor, and the other is Bhaichung Bhutia," says Biren Gurung, a resident of Gangtok.

With a sense of pride, he adds that Bhutia studied at the Sikkimese capital's famous Tashi Namgyal Academy (named after the 11th ruler of the erstwhile Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim which became part of India in 1975) that his son goes to now.

"The academy has also produced luminaries such as Geetanjali Thapa (a National Film Award winning actor) and journalist Karma Paljor. But the most notable alumnus of the school is undoubtedly Bhaichung Bhutia."
Biren Gurung

Such adulation for the former footballer is not uncommon in India's smallest state. Bhutia commands the status of a hero in Sikkim thanks to his illustrious career as one of India’s most decorated football players.

Why then have his feats on the field not translated into any major gains on the political turf? As per his own admission to The Quint, his party – Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP) – is "relatively new".

Ahead of the 2024 Sikkim Assembly election, The Quint tries to decode what's coming between Bhutia and political success as the former footballer says his party is open to joining the opposition Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) – the very party he had accused of corruption.

Why Is Football Legend Bhaichung Bhutia Yet to Score a Goal Politically?

  1. 1. A Fireball on the Field

    Fondly known as 'Tinkitam Express' (he was born in Tinkitam village in south Sikkim), Bhutia burst into the scene in the late 90s. His parents were farmers.

    His meteoric rise to the top in the field of football from humble beginnings is seen as the stuff of legends.

    As per his own admission to The Quint, his party – Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP) – is "relatively new".

    In a long international career that spanned from 1995 to 2011, much of which was spent heading the Indian team, he became the first footballer to play 100 matches for India and the first to sign a contract with a European club.

    (Photo: Facebook/Bhaichung Bhutia)

    In a long international career that spanned from 1995 to 2011, much of which was spent heading the Indian team, he became the first footballer to play 100 matches for India and the first to sign a contract with a European club.

    His exploits on the field earned him the title of 'The Sikkimese Sniper'. For instance, in 1997 Federation Cup semi-final, he scripted history by becoming the first player to score a hat-trick in the Kolkata derby when East Bengal defeated Mohun Bagan 4-1.

    Expand
  2. 2. How Does Bhutia's Political Innings Look So Far?

    Despite making a debut almost a decade ago, Bhutia has been unable to replicate the success of other sportsmen who switched to politics – from former cricketers Navjot Singh Sidhu and Gautam Gambhir to Olympic medallist and former athlete Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.

    A professor of political science at the Sikkim University told The Quint that Bhutia's case is unusual.

    "In most cases, sportsmen have carried their leadership into the political arena as well – and have fared well. But not Bhaichung... This is quite opposite to the trend we have seen in the Indian subcontinent. Even Imran Khan from across the border was able to make that successful transition," he said.

    In 2011, Bhutia decided to hang up his boots and take a plunge into politics.

    He first tried his hand in electoral politics in 2014 by contesting the Lok Sabha from the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency on a Trinamool Congress (TMC) ticket.

    However, his immense popularity in neighbouring West Bengal (which he once referred to as his 'karmabhoomi') was not enough to earn him votes.

    He lost the battle to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP's) SS Ahluwalia, who was backed by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha’s chief Bimal Gurung.

    In 2016, he contested the West Bengal Assembly elections again on a TMC ticket from the Siliguri Assembly seat. He was pitted against heavyweight CPM leader and former Siliguri mayor Ashok Bhattacharya. Bhutia lost.

    In 2018, he quit the TMC, claiming he always felt like an outsider in the party, but expected to be welcomed as a “son of the soil” in his native Sikkim.

    In April 2018, the former footballer said that he was launching his own political party – the HSP – and said his party would fight "the corrupt regime" of Pawan Chamling, who was then the longest-serving chief minister in the country.

    Bhutia decided that the party would contest in 12 of the 32 seats in the Sikkim Assembly elections in 2019. He himself filed nominations to contest from two Assembly seats – Gangtok and Tumin-Lingi – in East Sikkim. But his party just managed to garner a paltry 70 votes in Gangtok and another 234 votes in Tumin-Lingi.

    Last week, Bhutia said that he was open to joining the opposition SDF led by Chamling.
    Expand
  3. 3. Impulsive or Not?

    Political activist Nawin Kiran Pradhan explained to The Quint that Bhutia is someone who is seen as is an "impulsive" decision-maker.

    "There have been talks at different points about the HSP going into an alliance with the SDF, the BJP, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM, the ruling party of the state helmed by Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang), and the Sikkim Republican Party. As a party president, people don't see him as having clarity, because of which his party has not really been able to make inroads. If as a party president, Bhutia is seen as someone who is indecisive and flippant, it is not going to translate into votes either."
    Nawin Kiran Pradhan

    However, Bhutia tends to think otherwise.

    When asked by The Quint about why his party is open to an alliance with Chamling's party now, he said,

    "Before the 2019 elections, the scenario was different. What happened is that after Prem Tamang formed the government, about 90 percent of the corrupt leaders of the SDF have gone and joined the SKM."

    "The SKM government before coming to power had promised that a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe would be initiated against the SDF leaders, including Pawan Chamling. But that has not happened even after four and a half year, despite him having the resources and means to do so. No court has also been able to convict Chamling which shows that he is clean and we are wrong to put corruption charges against him personally," Bhutia told The Quint.

    He added that since the corrupt SDF leaders have jumped ship to the SKM, corruption is rampant in the SKM. The SKM, however, has not responded to Bhutia's allegations. The article will be updated as and when they respond.

    On being asked about why he and his party are to taste electoral success, Bhutia told The Quint, "The HSP is still a relatively new party having just started in 2018. In the 2019 elections, we were about six-seven months old, and we knew that we would not form the government."

    He went on to add that the SDF is brand new in some ways – and it is mostly staffed by young people, and so he would like to associate with this clean image of the SDF.

    "Even Chamling has said that 60-70 percent of those who will be given tickets for the 2024 Assembly polls will be young people."
    Bhaichung Bhutia

    Chamling's party had won 15 Assembly seats in the 2019 Assembly elections, but 12 of them later joined the BJP, while two switched their allegiance to the ruling SKM. A large number of SDF members, including former MLAs and senior leaders, have also quit the party.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

A Fireball on the Field

Fondly known as 'Tinkitam Express' (he was born in Tinkitam village in south Sikkim), Bhutia burst into the scene in the late 90s. His parents were farmers.

His meteoric rise to the top in the field of football from humble beginnings is seen as the stuff of legends.

As per his own admission to The Quint, his party – Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP) – is "relatively new".

In a long international career that spanned from 1995 to 2011, much of which was spent heading the Indian team, he became the first footballer to play 100 matches for India and the first to sign a contract with a European club.

(Photo: Facebook/Bhaichung Bhutia)

In a long international career that spanned from 1995 to 2011, much of which was spent heading the Indian team, he became the first footballer to play 100 matches for India and the first to sign a contract with a European club.

His exploits on the field earned him the title of 'The Sikkimese Sniper'. For instance, in 1997 Federation Cup semi-final, he scripted history by becoming the first player to score a hat-trick in the Kolkata derby when East Bengal defeated Mohun Bagan 4-1.

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How Does Bhutia's Political Innings Look So Far?

Despite making a debut almost a decade ago, Bhutia has been unable to replicate the success of other sportsmen who switched to politics – from former cricketers Navjot Singh Sidhu and Gautam Gambhir to Olympic medallist and former athlete Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore.

A professor of political science at the Sikkim University told The Quint that Bhutia's case is unusual.

"In most cases, sportsmen have carried their leadership into the political arena as well – and have fared well. But not Bhaichung... This is quite opposite to the trend we have seen in the Indian subcontinent. Even Imran Khan from across the border was able to make that successful transition," he said.

In 2011, Bhutia decided to hang up his boots and take a plunge into politics.

He first tried his hand in electoral politics in 2014 by contesting the Lok Sabha from the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency on a Trinamool Congress (TMC) ticket.

However, his immense popularity in neighbouring West Bengal (which he once referred to as his 'karmabhoomi') was not enough to earn him votes.

He lost the battle to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP's) SS Ahluwalia, who was backed by the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha’s chief Bimal Gurung.

In 2016, he contested the West Bengal Assembly elections again on a TMC ticket from the Siliguri Assembly seat. He was pitted against heavyweight CPM leader and former Siliguri mayor Ashok Bhattacharya. Bhutia lost.

In 2018, he quit the TMC, claiming he always felt like an outsider in the party, but expected to be welcomed as a “son of the soil” in his native Sikkim.

In April 2018, the former footballer said that he was launching his own political party – the HSP – and said his party would fight "the corrupt regime" of Pawan Chamling, who was then the longest-serving chief minister in the country.

Bhutia decided that the party would contest in 12 of the 32 seats in the Sikkim Assembly elections in 2019. He himself filed nominations to contest from two Assembly seats – Gangtok and Tumin-Lingi – in East Sikkim. But his party just managed to garner a paltry 70 votes in Gangtok and another 234 votes in Tumin-Lingi.

Last week, Bhutia said that he was open to joining the opposition SDF led by Chamling.
0

Impulsive or Not?

Political activist Nawin Kiran Pradhan explained to The Quint that Bhutia is someone who is seen as is an "impulsive" decision-maker.

"There have been talks at different points about the HSP going into an alliance with the SDF, the BJP, the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha (SKM, the ruling party of the state helmed by Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang), and the Sikkim Republican Party. As a party president, people don't see him as having clarity, because of which his party has not really been able to make inroads. If as a party president, Bhutia is seen as someone who is indecisive and flippant, it is not going to translate into votes either."
Nawin Kiran Pradhan

However, Bhutia tends to think otherwise.

When asked by The Quint about why his party is open to an alliance with Chamling's party now, he said,

"Before the 2019 elections, the scenario was different. What happened is that after Prem Tamang formed the government, about 90 percent of the corrupt leaders of the SDF have gone and joined the SKM."

"The SKM government before coming to power had promised that a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe would be initiated against the SDF leaders, including Pawan Chamling. But that has not happened even after four and a half year, despite him having the resources and means to do so. No court has also been able to convict Chamling which shows that he is clean and we are wrong to put corruption charges against him personally," Bhutia told The Quint.

He added that since the corrupt SDF leaders have jumped ship to the SKM, corruption is rampant in the SKM. The SKM, however, has not responded to Bhutia's allegations. The article will be updated as and when they respond.

On being asked about why he and his party are to taste electoral success, Bhutia told The Quint, "The HSP is still a relatively new party having just started in 2018. In the 2019 elections, we were about six-seven months old, and we knew that we would not form the government."

He went on to add that the SDF is brand new in some ways – and it is mostly staffed by young people, and so he would like to associate with this clean image of the SDF.

"Even Chamling has said that 60-70 percent of those who will be given tickets for the 2024 Assembly polls will be young people."
Bhaichung Bhutia

Chamling's party had won 15 Assembly seats in the 2019 Assembly elections, but 12 of them later joined the BJP, while two switched their allegiance to the ruling SKM. A large number of SDF members, including former MLAs and senior leaders, have also quit the party.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  Sikkim   Bhaichung Bhutia 

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