Gangtok: Football legend and politician Bhaichung Bhutia is all set to join former Chief Minister Pawan Kumar Chamling led Sikkim Democratic Front (SDF) party. Bhaichung made the formal announcement on Wednesday, ending a week-long speculation of him joining Sikkim’s opposition party.

As the working president of Hamro Sikkim Party, Bhaichung was the face of the party since 2018. The party contested in the 2019 state elections but failed to secure a seat.

He is all set to merge his Hamro Sikkim Party with SDF soon, after consultation with other party leaders and members, said Bhutia. “There are still some leaders to meet and merger of two parties will not happen immediately, it will take time. I have not fixed a date to join SDF or merge yet, that will happen after thorough discussion,” he said.

During the last election, Bhaichung had supported ruling Sikkim Krantikari Morcha and held meetings with present Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay in the run up to 2019 election.

“We were all in support of Parivartan promise made by Prem Singh Golay in 2019. We had tactically fielded candidates where the SKM had weaker candidates in constituencies. We wanted the Parivartan as much as SKM did. However, in these 4 years, the Parivartan has failed under Golay and SKM. They are now full of corrupt leaders and businessmen who in the past ruined 25 year ruling SDF party,” Bhaichung alleged.

When asked why he chose the SDF party, he said, “Following the exit of corrupt leaders, SDF has now cleansed itself of corruption. For long SKM cried about Chamling being a corrupt leader, but it’s evident in these 4 years that SKM has not been able file a single case against Chamling on corruption. Thus, ensuring that Chamling is free of corruption. Besides, in these 4 years as an opposition, perhaps SDF is the only party that has spoken for Sikkim, their call for Save Sikkim is evident of the same. Bhaichung and SDF will be like Messi and Argentina to win the World Cup”.

While the two leaders had criticized each other in the past, Bhutia said, “At that juncture criticizing SDF and Chamling was a necessity, they had been thoroughly corrupted. Sikkim needed change and it happened. But now we understand that Chamling was not entirely wrong, it was merely corrupt leaders. Yes, he had criticized me in the past for contesting from West Bengal but so did Golay later. He criticized me as a footballer as well, but I feel that it was his ignorance then. Even when I contested from West Bengal under Trinamool Congress ticket, there were criticisms, but I stand here as one of the few leaders from Sikkim who has contested in two States. I can’t say about Chamling but in terms of Golay, I can declare that he will not be able to get even a Panchayat ticket from any other State”.

When questioned why he would not join Citizen Action Party or the BJP, Bhaichung responded, “SDF perhaps is the only party that has spoken against Centre’s stand on Finance Bill 2023 which led to the dilution of Sikkimese identity and Article 371F. They are the only party to oppose the Centre currently, hence I preferred to join SDF. Citizen Action Party is not clear on their stand against the Centre pertaining to February’s Immigrant row where Sikkimese Nepali were termed as foreigners. They only criticized SKM government but not the Centre. Making it evident that they are aligned with BJP, and we know how CAP as a party is being funded currently. I am not against BJP but against the Centre’s stand over the dilution of Sikkimese identity, hence there was no way I would join the BJP”.

Criticizing Chief Minister Prem Singh Golay, Bhaichung said, “When jokers are in charge of the State, the State becomes a circus. Same status in Sikkim as we have given power to the jokers. Golay is good at heart but doesn’t have a brain to run the government. Initially when Golay returned from jail, he was clear from all corruption. It was as though he had returned from rehabilitation from corruption. But then he aligned himself with corrupt businessmen who in the past had corrupted SDF. Soon, all the corrupt leaders started siding with Golay after they formed the government, hoping to find more corruption. In the past 4 years, SKM party has become richer than the State government itself largely because of these corrupt businessmen and leaders who are being favoured by Golay now, thus corrupting SKM party and the government and even the Chief Minister”.

In six years, HSP had merged with former Chief Minister late Nar Bahadur Bhandari’s Sikkim Sangram Parishad when the party lost its electoral symbol and flag. Bhaichung had then come to the rescue by taking SSP’s red and white colours as HSP, claiming to carry on the legacy of Bhandari.

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However, as news of Bhaichung joining SDF circulated, late Bhandari’s daughter Primula Bhandari criticized Bhaichung of merging with SDF.

Bhaichung defended his move saying, “We have used the colours of SSP but never used their flags or any other party identity. The party flag and identity still stand with two former SSP Vice Presidents. The criticism from Bhandari’s daughter is not valid as she did nothing to save her father’s party or his legacy, rather she sided with SKM to come out in criticism of me joining SDF.” He added that SSP is still intact with its former leaders, despite losing the right as a political party last year.

Also Read | Sikkim can become a hub for skilled youth development: CM Golay

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