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Footballer and politician Bhaichung Bhutia

Gangtok: Since Wednesday afternoon, the effigy burning of Bhaichung Bhutia has left Sikkim wondering: did the protesters go overboard over a political issue and tarnish the legacy of one of the most cherished Sikkimese ever?

Many people felt the effigy burning in Namchi, South Sikkim was an insult to the Padma Shri recipient. Others highlighted how ‘Intolerance’ has grown under the Sikkim Krantikari Morcha government.

An SKM supporter from Namchi, one of the few who saw the incident on June 9, admitted, “We have not done the right thing, we know that. There are a lot of things that politics makes people do. The playground has been a wastage, the hospital would be a big development. We are compelled to act, as there is every likelihood that the hospital project may get shifted to West Sikkim. If his statement results in the project being shifted, then not just these ladies, but people across South Sikkim will join in protest”.

Ironically, Bhaichung Bhutia is a native of Tinkitam in South Sikkim. Namchi is home to his tribute stadium, the upcoming Bhaichung Stadium, a project initiated under the former Sikkim Democratic Front Party government.

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Sikkim Bhutia Lepcha Apex Committee (SIBLAC) Convener Tseten Tashi believes people who took part in the incident were overzealous activists or supporters of a party trying to prove their loyalty by trying to suppress dissent.

“It is surprising that law enforcement has neither given any official statement of the incident nor taken any action against the people who broke the law. It highlights the growing intolerance of ruling parties towards dissenting voices towards their policies and different methods to suppress and threaten opposition from voicing their opinions. The reaction towards Bhaichung Bhutia was more robust through their proxies though the government denies any hand in it.”

Uttam Lepcha, vice president of the SKM party, said, “We must understand that there is already one football stadium on the verge of completion at Namchi. The other field where the hospital is going to be constructed was just a temporary substitute. While the world is going through such a tough phase right now, a well-known person like him should not have made such irrational statements. Due to this immature and irrational statement, the public got so agitated that an effigy of Bhaichung Bhutia was set on fire at the heart of Namchi”.

Sikkim Progressive Youth Forum member Shanker Sharma said on his social media, “Administration may declare themselves as an extended arm of the ruling party. The important thing is not the burning of effigy which is allowed in democracy but the daylight violation of the lockdown and section 144. The brave Sikkim Police which did not hesitate even a bit to arrest students in uniform in the middle of the night watched helplessly a group of hyper-active women going berserk in the heart of Namchi with slogans, banners and of the burning of the effigy of a national sports icon. For what? Because he criticised one of the policies of the Govt. The drama went for an hour probably. The Police, the administration did not dare stop them. This is the epitome of the numbness of the administration. Now there is no doubt in the minds of the common people that for whom and in whose interest the police and administration work? Not even a pinch of unbiasedness remained in the administration. It is clear only the weak, helpless and those who do not agree with the Govt are punished for violating the rules. Section 144, Disaster Management Act are nothing for the ruling party”.

No arrests yet, investigation underway

South District Magistrate M. Bharani Kumar informed that they have made no arrests yet. “But we have CCTV footages in the area. Investigation is going under IPC section 188 and 51 of the disaster management act”. 

The police officials informed that about 15 people were involved in the protest. Speaking with East Mojo over phone, DC South stated, “The political affiliation is subject to interpretation, what we figured out was they belonged to Dakshin Sikkim Nari Sangh, they are not any registered organization. Nor have they claimed to be part of any political party nor has any political party claimed them to be their cadre. We are investigating”. 

SP South Thakur Thapa, the incharge of the South District Police, informed, “The case has been registered against unknown persons till yesterday. The individuals were unrecognisable, as they were wearing masks. We will investigate and find out who all were involved and take appropriate actions”. 

Thapa further informed that the Police department has already initiated action on the incident and had filed an entry in the General Diary.

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