Star campaigner in Lok Sabha poll fray ‘to make money’


By bappaditya paul
The former captain of the Indian soccer team, Baichung Bhutia, who is contesting the Lok Sabha polls from Darjeeling on a Trinamul Congress ticket, had campaigned for CPI-M’s Asok Bhattacharya in the 2006 Assembly poll and in return got plots in Siliguri and Kolkata at a highly subsidised rate.

Baichung Bhutia in a 2011 Assembly poll campaign for CPM's Asok Bhattacharya in Siliguri.
Baichung Bhutia in a 2011 Assembly poll campaign for CPM’s Asok Bhattacharya in Siliguri.

In 2006, Baichung had extensively campaigned for Mr Bhattacharya in areas such as Bagdogra and Champasari in Siliguri that are populated by the Nepali-speaking people. The CPI-M leader and former minister was then seeking re-election from the Siliguri Assembly seat, which he won with a margin of over 70,000 votes.

As a mark of gratitude, on 1 February 2008, the State Agricultural Marketing Board allotted a 1.3 bigha commercial plot in the Siliguri Regulated Market premises to Baichung’s firm ~ Free Kick Ventures Pvt Ltd ~ for starting a highway-styled petrol pump.
Free Kick Ventures Pvt Ltd had four partners ~ Baichung, his wife Madhuri Tipins, a Siliguri based businessman Manish Gautam and his wife. The firm got the plot on 30 years’ lease by making a one-time payment of only Rs 2 lakh and an annual rent of Rs 25,000.

At that time, although the state Agriculture Minister was Forward Bloc’s Naren Dey, Mr Bhattacharya had played a crucial role in ensuring that Baichung’s firm got the land lease.
But that’s not all.

Trinamul Darjeeling candidate Baichung Bhutia in 2014 poll campaign with Mamata Banerjee and Mithun Chakraborty.
Trinamul Darjeeling candidate Baichung Bhutia in 2014 poll campaign with Mamata Banerjee and Mithun Chakraborty.

Mr Bhattacharya, who was holding the portfolios of Municipal Affairs and Urban Development departments, had showered another gift on Baichung that he now laments. “I had allocated a five cottah residential plot to Baichung near Ruby Hospital on E M Bypass in Kolkata. He was charged a highly subsidised price at the rate of Rs 2 lakh per cottah; now the price of the same plot will not be less than Rs 2 crore,” the former CPI-M minister said over phone from Siliguri this morning.

“Baichung has now joined Trinamul as the North Bengal Development Minister Gautam Dev has allotted him a 16.30 acre plot at Matigara near Siliguri. This makes it amply clear that Baichung has got into the poll fray to make more money. That’s his only aim.” Mr Bhattacharya, however, avoided answering, if he had in 2006 misjudged the former soccer captain’s support for real.Baichung BhutiaDespite repeated calls made to his cell phone, Baichung did not respond for a reaction to the former minister’s comments.

Mr Binny Sharma, spokesperson of the Trinamul Congress Darjeeling Hill Unit said: “Mr Bhattacharya need not worry about why Baichung has joined politics. For the past one month, Baichung is roving the entire Darjeeling Lok Sabha constituency enquiring about the problems people face here and he will surely address those issues once he is elected to Parliament.”

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This is a modified version of a news report that was first published in The Statesman on 15 April 2014).


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