Siliguri, March 4: The Trinamul Congress today announced former footballer Bhaichung Bhutia as its candidate in Siliguri Assembly seat, where the Left Front will field mayor Asok Bhattacharya in all likelihood.
Trinamul leaders feel the former Indian football captain cannot pose a challenge to Bhattacharya given the Left Front's victory in elections to the Siliguri Municipal Corporation last year.
The mayor said dropping the Siliguri sitting MLA, Rudranath Bhattacharya, from the list of candidates proved that Trinamul couldn't bank on the latter as his name had cropped up in the SJDA scam.
"It does not matter to us who the rival candidates are as we consider all of them as our rivals in elections. But the manner in which the sitting MLA has been replaced by a new candidate in Siliguri seat indicates that Trinamul cannot bank on Rudranath Bhattacharya, whose name was linked to the SJDA scam. Our allegation that he was involved in the scam has been virtually proved by Trinamul's decision," said the CPM leader.
Rudranath Bhattacharya was the chairman of the Siliguri Jalpaiguri Development Authority when around Rs 150 crore had been paid to private firms even before projects assigned to them were completed.
In the 2011 elections, Asok was defeated by Rudranath by a margin of 5,006 votes.
The decision to nominate Bhaichung to the Siliguri seat comprising 33 wards of the SMC has not gone down well with Darjeeling district Trinamul leaders.
"Bhaichung has a huge acceptance among people as a footballer. That is why he has been chosen to contest against Asok Bhattacharya, who is a heavy weight. But the decision would surely dampen the spirit of leaders and workers who are with the party throughout the year. Bhaichung is an occasional visitor and not a regular party worker. Rivals will seize on this aspect. The presence of Bhaichung in Siliguri vis-à-vis that of Bhattacharya is minimal and it would make our task tough," said a Trinamul leader who didn't want to be named.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, Bhaichung had been fielded by Trinamul in Darjeeling and he was defeated by S.S. Ahluwalia of the BJP by 1,97,239 votes.
Another Trinamul leader noted that when Bhattacharya was a minister, Bhaichung had attended several programmes with him. "The player had shared the dais with the CPM leader and even appreciated his initiatives with regard to sports. When Bhaichung campaigns for the polls, we don't believe that he will be able to speak much against Bhattacharya. If the candidate is a local Trinamul leader, he will be in a better position to target Asok Bhattacharya. In short, unlike local Trinamul leaders, the footballer has no idea of the basic issues people face and shortcomings of the civic body headed by Bhattacharya," the Trinamul leader said on condition of anonymity.
Observers have said the mayor has an edge over the footballer, especially when the Left Front and the Congress are inching closer to an electoral understanding.
Trinamul insiders said intense lobbying had led to the candidature of the footballer in Siliguri. "It was the same reason that saw Rudranath Bhattacharya being fielded in Siliguri in the 2011 Assembly polls," said a party insider.
All district presidents of the party in north Bengal, except Ranjan Sarkar, who heads the organisation in Darjeeling, were fielded.
Asked if Bhaichung's candidature made the contest easier for the CPM in Siliguri, Jibesh Sarkar, the Darjeeling district Left Front convener, said: "We cannot say whether the contest has become easier or not for us. We would like to say that he is a good player at the football ground. But in the political arena, he is not none to be reckoned with. We are confident of securing the Siliguri seat."