Mahendra Lama taught at Jawaharlal Nehru University and then headed Sikkim University. Now contesting as an independent, he spoke to HT at his Darjeeling residence. Excerpts:
Why do you support Gorkhaland?
All Himalayan regions in India have a separate state except this patch of land. This is a common geographical demand. Nepali-speakers want a state to protect identity. Bengalis will get a larger playing field. Marwaris can sense a business opportunity. Adivasis want it for their rights, identity and development.
We can name it something else too. But this is a national security issue because the region is connected to four international borders – Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and China. Chicken’s Neck, which connects Northeastern states to the rest of India, is also in Darjeeling district.
There is threat because of unregulated borders and free movement of people, encouraged by the Bengal government. If you have a good government and powerful prosperous state here, it will strengthen security.
Even if you win, how can a lone independent MP get a state?
The problem has been that Darjeeling has either elected candidates who don’t know Delhi, or MP’s who know Delhi but don’t know the hills. Baichung Bhutia knows neither Delhi nor Darjeeling, and Ahluwalia has nothing to do with this place.
I will focus on the 500 MPs – all those except from Bengal – and mobilise Northeast, hill and tribal MPs to support the cause. There were only three Nepali-speaking MPs in 1992, but we managed to get Nepali language officially recognised.
Do you see yourself as Darjeeling’s Kejriwal?
The genesis is the same, of civil society members coming out for the first time. I have written to AAP to support me here.
By Prashant Jha, Hindustan Times
Bhutia: What ultimately matters is honesty
Former India football captain and TMC candidate rubbishes ‘outsider’ jibe and says Darjeeling voters deserve fair dealing
Dubai Baichung Bhutia’s entry into politics has not been without its share of controversies. The ‘Sikkimese Sniper’, as he is popularly known, is the Trinamool Congress (TMC) candidate from the prestigious Darjeeling constituency in West Bengal.
From a failed attempt at seeking the support of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) to countering caustic comments on his ‘outsider’ status in Bengal, the former India football captain and Padmashree Award winner shares his thoughts on a wide variety of issues in an exclusive interaction with Gulf News from Darjeeling. Following are excerpts:
Why did you choose to fight the elections on TMC ticket?
Choosing Trinamool was not a problem at all. In fact, it was the only option for me when I decided to take the plunge into politics. And one reason, or rather the only reason, behind it is our leader and Bengal Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee. Her story is an inspiring one.
Today, there is so much talk about women empowerment and I think she is one of the best examples of women empowerment in Indian politics. From almost nowhere, she has brought her party to such a place of prominence.
In spite of being the chief minister, her lifestyle remains as simple as ever. She is still her usual, humble self. With such an inspiring personality around, you need to look no further.
You have played in many matches for India. But this is a completely different ‘match’. What is the kind of feedback you are getting from voters?
I must say that the feedback from the public has been extremely encouraging so far. People have shown a very positive interest in my candidature. Darjeeling has been through a lot — socially, politically. Life in Darjeeling has been interrupted far too often and for far too long due to political disturbances. People are sick and tired of all that.
They want progress, they want development. People of Darjeeling have suffered a lot and they now deserve to be given their dues. All political parties ought to keep that in mind. So this election is all about hope for a better tomorrow.
If you are elected, what will be your agenda in parliament?
As I said, the priority for the entire district of Darjeeling now is to ensure development and the biggest challenge on the road to development is peace. If I am elected, my first objective will be to ensure peace. I also feel that every single individual who lives in Darjeeling has a role to play in this.
You tried to seek the support of the GJM for your candidature. But the GJM is supporting the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) candidate, S.S. Ahluwalia. Is the GJM-BJP combination a worry?
Not at all. In fact, GJM’s support for the BJP candidate has made things a lot easier for me. Ahluwalia is a rank outsider. He is from Punjab. How can you expect the people of Darjeeling to vote for a person who does not even belong to this area and who has not been to this place ever before?
He doesn’t even know the languages spoken here. He has no idea about the demographics of Darjeeling.
How can such a person be aware of the real issues and problems that people face here?
The sitting MP from Darjeeling is BJP’s Jaswant Singh — another outsider. In the last five years, Singh has been in Darjeeling on only two occasions.
How can a person serve his or her constituency if he or she doesn’t even bother to visit the constituency regularly?
The voters are not fools. They will keep all these factors in mind. Moreover, big national parties such as the BJP must think twice before airdropping candidates like Ahluwalia. People should condemn such tactics. It’s an insult to the voters.
These candidates have no idea about what life is like in the hills, what the problems and priorities of the people are in this part of India.
The GJM is supporting the BJP candidate because it wants to ride the Narendra Modi ‘wave’. But let me tell you, the perceived Modi ‘wave’ in Darjeeling is zero.
You consider Singh and Ahluwalia as ‘outsiders’, but what about yourself? You also do not belong to Darjeeling. You are from Sikkim…
Calling me an outsider is absolutely wrong … it’s just madness. Some politicians are doing this just to confuse the people. And I know it is the GJM that has started this campaign against me.
The GJM has always tried to divide the people of Darjeeling, but only a lunatic will say that I am an outsider.
People from Darjeeling and Kalimpong travel to Gangtok and other places in Sikkim almost on a daily basis and there are so many people from Sikkim who live and work in Darjeeling.
We share the same culture, same food, same language and we are from the same hilly region. So what is the issue?
There have been instances of celebrities from film and sports joining politics, but most of them could not make much of an impact in the long run. Are you worried about the possibility of failure?
Well, whether it is politics or any other profession, what ultimately matters is honesty and transparency. One has to be honest and transparent in whatever one does.
Having said that, it is also important that a new entrant in politics is backed up by his or her party and given the support he or she needs. So it works both ways.
Personally speaking, fear of failure doesn’t worry me at all. I am an optimist.
By Sanjib Kumar Das Pages Editor
Our common plank should be anti-racism: Bhaichung Bhutia
Sitting in a Kalimpong hotel, as party supporters crowded outside, Trinamool’s celebrity candidate, footballer Bhaichung Bhutia spoke to HT. Excerpts:
Why did you join politics?
Politics was never new to me. Ask any of my footballer friends, and they hated to stay in my room because I was always watching news channels to follow politics. I was not sure about timing. But I was offered the ticket by CM. My relationship with Mamata Banerjee is very close. What she has achieved single-handedly is inspirational. Without Trinamool Congress, no party can form the government in the 16th Lok Sabha.
The criticism here is you are an outsider, from Sikkim.
I have played football all across India. We have students and people from this region in other cities, and they never treated me as an outsider, but a part of the hills. 40-50% of people here have relatives and friends across the Darjeeling-Sikkim border.
GJM is calling me an outsider, but look what they have done. First they got Jaswant Singh from Rajasthan, and now Mr Ahluwalia. I run a football club, which has four-five players from here.
My coach is from Kalimpong. I have auctioned my Jersey to help cyclone victims. When Prashant Tamang won Indian Idol, the entire hills voted for him. The same happened when I won Jhalak Dhikla Ja. The entire hills voted for me, not just Sikkim.
Trinamool is accused of inciting ethnic politics among Nepalis.
Development has not happened, and there is no basic facility in the hills. GTA is run by GJM, but they have done no work. MP Jaswant Singh has come only three-four times.
One of the reasons why Mamata has started cultural boards is because people can benefit directly. Our main battle in mainland India is to make everyone feel one, and campaign on an anti-racism plank so that people from northeast are not mistreated in Delhi, or north Indians in south India, or south Indians in north India.
You are from the hills. Don’t you think the demand for Gorkhaland is valid?
Why did the agitation start? If there is no food, no future for myself and my kids, I am bound to start demanding things. But life has not become better. People are fed up with false promises. We have to tackle the first issue, which is providing basic services and better future.
Prashant Jha, Hindustan Times
554,149 total views, 1 views today