Gangtok: Bhaichung Bhutia is not new to politics. After unsuccessfully contesting the 2014 Lok Sabha elections from Darjeeling and the 2016 West Bengal Assembly elections from Siliguri as a Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidate, the former Indian footballer is all set to enter the electoral arena once again with his Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP).
In an exclusive interview with EastMojo editor-in-chief Karma Paljor, the ‘Sikkimese Sniper’ talks about his second innings as a politician, his party and the things that he would do if elected to power.
Karma Paljor: You opened your political innings in Sikkim, it is your hometown and you have the hometown advantage. But what actually made you think of coming back to Sikkim and launching your own party?
Bhaichung Bhutia: I was into politics in Bengal earlier but I knew that if I wanted to venture into politics seriously, then there is no better place to do it other than your home state. Every day we see people complaining that politics is bad, it is dirty. But it is no use sitting and complaining. it is important that people get into politics. Sometimes it is important to get into politics to clean it. It is important to motivate not only the young people of Sikkim but also from the rest of India to come into politics and work for a better state.
KP: You are a person who is popular across India, everybody loves you. People in Bengal adore you, even in Sikkim people love you a lot. But still there are some people who say that Bhaichung should have maintained his sanctity and remain a sports star rather than entering into political scenario. There are some people who say you should have remained a sports leader and not become a politician. What do you have to say to those people?
BB: In sports, there is a particular time frame and an age limit. After a certain age you cannot play sports, you’ll have to be there up to a certain age. My innings for sporting life got over when I retired in 2011. In India, I think everything including sports, health education or any sector, everything comes back to politics and to policies. When I came back to Sikkim, I felt there are a lot of opportunities, especially with the youth in sports and so I started my football club and did a lot of programmes with football. The policies in Sikkim are not up to what we wanted. When we see from outside we see a different Sikkim and when we come inside Sikkim, we see a different Sikkim altogether.
And I think the Sikkim right now is in a bad shape and needs development. We are the second highest unemployed state in India today. In terms of corruption too, the corruption in the political class is also huge. The money of the state is not reaching the right person, the poorer section. When I was doing politics in Bengal, I was more of a celebrity kind of thing. I was not able to connect to the people directly and we are not always available for the people. So I shifted back to Sikkim where my family was based. It was important for me to come back and start my second innings apart from sports career here.
KP: You have a very good relationship with Mamata Banerjee. You were a former leader of the Trinamool party, do you regret leaving them? Do you think you should have opened up a branch of TMC in Sikkim part?
BB: No, I don’t regret at all because if as I was looking for politics seriously I would want to be involved with the people, to be in touch with the grassroots. So in Bengal, as I didn’t live there, there is no point in doing politics when you’re not connected with the people.
KP: Then why didn’t you come here to Sikkim before?
BB: Even though I was thinking of coming back, I couldn’t come before because I was still in Bengal and I was towards the end of my career. So when the right opportunity came in, it was quite a surprise though but I grabbed it.
KP: And like a good footballer you accepted it as a training ground?
BB: Training ground yes, but I did follow politics throughout my entire football career. And when the timing came I got into the political scenario. Overall it is been a good experience a favourable learning experience with the TMC.
KP: What do you want for Sikkim? What are the main issues that you’re talking about?
BB: I think under 25 years of SDF, Mr Chamling’s rule, Sikkim lacked basic development. If we see at basic development, here the roads are bad and frequent power cuts occur. About 50% of the rural areas of Sikkim do not have electricity and water supply. The health sector is a mess and the corruption level of the state is so rampant with the political class. The state is running out of money and individuals have become richer than the state. Even If you look at unemployment, we are the second highest unemployed state in India, in suicide we are the highest in India and the most educated youth of Sikkim remains highly unemployed. There is a huge gap between the people who are making money and the guys who are in the rural area struggling and waiting for the government to give them some kind of grant. These are some of the issues we need to work on.
KP: So if you are elected, what is the first thing you are going to do?
BB: We do have come up with some of the plans which we shared. We have taken up the universal basic income. This is something which we wanted to work on and we have launched it just a week ago. The universal basic income scheme in India have not been tried by the states of India, only Madhya Pradesh it has been implemented in rural areas. I think this is something which we definitely want to do. We are looking for providing each and every member of the family 1500 rupees. So if there are five members of the family, then total money they get is Rs 7,500. The youth of Sikkim today is out of options because they have no money. They can’t choose what they want to do and are taking up any kind of work. They are frustrated for not getting jobs and the happiness index is low. There is a lot of frustration going on in the society. This is why we want to give the universal basic income of Rs 1,500 to the people. This scheme doesn’t cover people who are bureaucrats, politicians, MLAs, ministers and people who earn more than Rs 2,500.
KP: Final question, this government have been in power for 25-26 years. If you look at it in a balanced way, do you think the government has done enough? How much would you give to the government?
BB: I think out of 10 I would give the party 4. I think the development is not enough, they could have done much more. There is no basic development done. Today Sikkim’s connectivity is only through roads and the roads are pathetic in Sikkim, the internal roads within the state are pathetic. There are drinking water and electricity problems in the state. I think Sikkim today is not being able to sustain itself as a state. And the people in the front are selling off everything in the name of development. This is something I don’t agree to. There has to be a sustainable development which is not the case in Sikkim. We should aim at preserving and saving our culture, the environment and also leaving out something for our generations to come. That is why we initiated the universal basic income and we want to distribute the money to everyone in Sikkim.