March 27, 2014

On the Road before E Day | March 26, 2014

Day 3: Bhaichung has a goal

The Trinamool Congress is a bottom-up party, one that has risen from the grassroots. If you look at the map of Bengal, Trinamool is moving vertically – from the bottom, upwards – in another manner as well. It is growing from its base in southern Bengal to the northernmost extremities of the state and acquiring a dominating pan-Bengal presence. The 2014 Lok Sabha election will be our first as an independent force in north Bengal. In 2009, we had an alliance partner and left much of north Bengal to it. The consequences were disappointing, for both Trinamool workers and local voters.

This year, a clutch of north Bengal seats goes to polls early. On April 17, there is voting in Coochbehar, Alipurduars, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling. A week later, on April 24, Raiganj, Balurghat, Maldaha Uttar (Malda North) and Maldaha Dakshin (Malda South) will see voters queue up. Jangipur and Murshidabad, traditionally the gateway to north Bengal, also vote on April 24.

On Wednesday, March 26, we had a busy day in the Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency. This is a sprawling and diversely-populated area. The ethnic composition and voter concerns vary dramatically as one comes down from the Himalayan uplands to the plains. We were in Siliguri, close to where Mamata Banerjee addressed two public meetings in the day.

In Siliguri, I caught up with Bhaichung Bhutia, one of India’s greatest soccer players and the lovable man who is Trinamool candidate from Darjeeling. A quiet, understated bloke, Bhaichung left me impressed. His wife and little children – a boy and a girl, both aged under five – had come to keep him company for a few days. It was nice to watch the determined, strong-willed footballer play a gentle father.

Bhaichung and I were together at a most unusual political event. It was not so much a public meeting as a live chat show, with me asking him questions – about himself, his decision to join politics, what drew him to Trinamool, his aspirations for his people and for the Darjeeling he’s embraced. He was refreshingly candid and spoke expansively in Bengali, English and his faltering Hindi. I think he left the crowd impressed.

Bhaichung is fighting a tough seat, but going about it methodically and always conscious of the obstacles in front of the goal. In the best traditions of sportspersons, he’s refusing to resort to “yellow card” tactics and play dirty with his opponents. In the time I have known him, I have developed a great respect for him. This is the sort of person we need in politics – an achiever from another field, someone with experience and a sense of community, with a thinking mind and a warm heart, someone who inspires young people.

I hope Darjeeling agrees with me.

Derek O’Brien
Member of Parliament
Chief Whip in the Rajya Sabha and National Spokesperson, Trinamool Congress