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Why Baichung wants to eject Chamling from office

By Aditi Phadnis
June 18, 2018 10:28 IST
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'Chamling's legacy is toxic.'
'7 out of 10 teenagers in Sikkim abuse drugs.'
'The youth are dying and the future looks bleak.'

Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, India's longest serving chief minister. Photograph: Kind courtesy

IMAGE: Sikkim Chief Minister Pawan Chamling, India's longest serving chief minister. Photograph: Kind courtesy

Sikkim might be perceived as a paradise but there's a lot that is rotten in the state.

Its newest politician, footballer Bhaichung Bhutia tells Aditi Phadnis what he dreams of achieving through the Hamro Sikkim party he launched last month.

You have been a sportsman. What gave you the idea of joining politics?

The idea of joining politics while being a sportsperson is nothing extraordinary.

It is politicians who make policy for sport and if we have a sportsman thinking about these policies as a politician, obviously it will benefit sport.

Politics in India is looked down upon. It is seen as being dirty, corrupt and politicians are seen as untouchables.

But actually, it is not so bad.

To change the world, you need good, young, idealistic people to come into politics and public life.

I am passionate about India and about making it a better place.

If young people keep on complaining and saying it is all dirty so it is better to stay away, then politics will never improve.

Young and good people should come forward and join politics to clean it up.

We need to get into the system to really change the system.


You contested an election as a member of the Trinamool Congress...

I always saw myself as an 'outsider' in the Trinamool Congress, which I quit in February this year.

I did not agree with the party's stand on Gorkhaland statehood issue.

I believe that the people of Darjeeling can have other options (apart from remaining a part of West Bengal) and I stick to this stand.

Indian football legends Bhaichung Bhutia, left, and I M Vijayan, right, present Sunil Chhetri with a trophy and a jersey to celebrate his 100th game for India. Photograph: AIFF Media

IMAGE: Indian football legends Bhaichung Bhutia, left, and I M Vijayan, right, present Sunil Chhetri with a trophy and a jersey to celebrate his 100th game for India. Photograph: AIFF Media

Would it be wrong to say that you are a better sportsman than politician, considering you have won many football matches but not that many elections?

It is unfair to compare politics and my success in sports because I think in politics until you actually get into government and run it, your performance cannot really be judged.

Yes, it is true that I narrowly missed winning elections. But how I will perform as a politician can only be judged after I have been elected, and people can judge on my performance.

Till the time you get into a system or win an election or are in government, it is hard to say what kind of politician you will be.

What does Hamro Sikkim stand for?

Hamro Sikkim stand for the welfare of people of Sikkim.

Obviously it is very important to balance development with natural habitat, but at the moment I think the way the current government is selling away land, giving out big power projects -- around 30 or 31 -- and land to 40 or 50 pharmaceutical companies, this is not healthy for a place like Sikkim. The state is earthquake prone.

In Sikkim, the challenge is to balance development and the state's natural habitat. How do you propose to do that?

Development for a state like Sikkim for which the USP is its natural habitat has to be very calculated and sustainable.

You can't just give everything away for the sake of development.

You need to think about development, how you are going to do it without destroying Sikkim's air purity, its flora and fauna and its countryside.

As I mentioned earlier, what worries me a lot is corruption.

My party will address corruption, unemployment, high suicide rates, youngsters who are getting sucked into drugs/alcohol because in my mind, all these things are related to each other.

And lack of leadership in the state is a key issue for me.

The current chief minister of Sikkim has made his mark as the longest serving CM India has ever had. What gives you the confidence that you can dethrone him?

The current CM may be the longest serving CM in India, but it is not about the number of years or the number of times he has been the CM. I think what he has done and what legacy he will leave behind is more important.

At the moment, I believe his legacy is toxic and will be bad for Sikkim in the years to come.

Just look all around you.

Despite having so many power projects, uninterrupted power supply has still not reached a large part of the state.

While we vouch for organic farming, agricultural land is being taken away by pharmaceutical companies.

Even today, a tarred road has not reached my village.

Roads in Sikkim are in a very pathetic condition.

Drinking water is a problem.

We demand the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation) inquires into the misutilisation of central funds.

Numerous centrally sponsored schemes like the National Rural Health Mission, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana have been running in Sikkim for years. However, on the ground the situation remains far from desirable; and in fact, sordid.

Only a central enquiry into the fund utlisation will bring out the truth. These schemes are only fueling the corrupt.

While the government paints a picture of paradise to the outside world, the situation of unemployment in Sikkim is appalling.

One of the smallest states, with just over six lakh (600,000) people, Sikkim ranks the second highest in unemployment.

It also has the highest suicide rate 37.5 per lakh people -- that's more than triple the Indian average.

The 25-year-old government has done nothing to address this.

The government hides data -- it is shocking but 7 out of 10 teenagers in Sikkim abuse pharmaceutical drugs.

One in every family is involved in substance abuse; and therefore every family is.

The youth are dying and the future looks bleak.

People are not allowed to say what they want. They can't raise their issues.

There is a huge clampdown -- especially on those who raise their voice against corruption in the state.

The 2019 Sikkim assembly elections will be a fight between black money and clean money.

I would urge Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling allow an enquiry by the CBI in the state.

After all, if they (the government) are clean, they need to prove it.

The CM is working on dictatorial lines. He needs to get out of this mindset.

I think the people of Sikkim are now looking for a change and hopefully with the Hamro Sikkim Party that will have credible people, there will be a change.

There is another aspect of Sikkim's social fabric.

Nepali-speaking residents of the state have got a raw deal since the formation of the state in 1975.

My party will work for the Nepali-speaking Sikkimese.

Two communities of Sikkim -- the Limboo and Tamang -- were notified as scheduled tribes way back in 2003. They are still awaiting representation in the state assembly.

A democracy must give equal opportunity to everyone.

Baichung Bhutia at the Lakme Film Week in February. Photograph: @LakmeFashionWk/Facebook

IMAGE: Baichung Bhutia at the Lakme Film Week in February 2018, the same month he quit the Trinamool Congress, a party where he says he felt like an 'outsider'. Photograph: @LakmeFashionWk/Facebook

Are you going to contest the Lok Sabha elections or just assembly elections?

Whether I contest Lok Sabha or assembly, I think it is up to the party to decide.

Once we form the party, we have our executive committee. This will have meetings and the party will decide.

We have just launched the party (on May 31) and after that we will form our decision-making bodies, elect office-bearers.

So, whatever the party decides, as a member of the party I will follow.

They will direct me about what elections we should fight.

This is not my party. This is a party of the people of Sikkim.

If my party wants, I will contest the elections.

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Aditi Phadnis
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