Kolkata: Pitted against BJP's S S Ahluwalia who has the backing of the Gorkha Janmukti Morcha, Trinamool Congress nominee Baichung Bhutia said the real issue in Darjeeling hills was not a separate state, but lack of development.
"If people have no jobs, if they remain half-starved and if their children are not getting proper education, they are bound to fill the streets and agitate," Bhutia, former captain of India's national football team, told PTI.
"The real issue in the hills is development for all. Since only a government can bring development to a region, it is the Trinamool Congress which is running the state government can do it," Bhutia explained.
Bhutia's appeal for support from the Morcha was earlier spurned by its chief Bimal Gurung. Bhutia called up Gurung, whom he addressed as 'daju', on March 10 seeking his support even though the TMC had earlier ruled out partnering with the Morcha in the hills.
Bhutia is not happy at being called an 'outsider' by the Morcha and said if he were indeed so, so were the sitting Darjeeling MP Jaswant Singh of the BJP and present nominee of that party S S Ahluwalia.
"I am never an outsider. I have always stood by the people of the hills in their time of distress, be it an earthquake or any happy occasion. I have always been there," he argued.
Bhutia's nomination by the TMC has raised eyebrows in many quarters with doubts expressed over whether a successful player can make a successful public representative too.
Asked about this, Bhutia bristled: "Nobody is born a politician. Neither Narendra Modi nor Rahul Gandhi were born as politicians. Just like a game of sports, a politician too has to learn politics over time. I personally feel successful sportspersons can also make good politicians."