Bhaichung Bhutia ineligible to contest Assembly elections in Bengal

Siliguri, March 5: Former footballer Bhaichung Bhutia, announced as Trinamul candidate from the Siliguri Assembly seat yesterday, figures on the voter list of his home state of Sikkim and not that of Bengal.

This should make him ineligible to contest Assembly elections in Bengal, according to the Handbook of Candidates published by the Election Commission of India.

Bhaichung told this newspaper, during a phone conversation that got truncated midway, that he had got his name shifted from Sikkim’s voter list to Bengal’s but a scan of both did not bear this out.

If there’s a mistake or tardiness somewhere, there’s time till March 29 to rectify it.

“If you are a candidate for a general seat, that is to say, for a seat not reserved as aforesaid, then you must be an elector for any constituency in the state or Union territory,” says the poll panel handbook, in a chapter titled “Qualifications for Election to a Legislative Assembly”.

(The line appears in a section dealing only with general Assembly seats, hence the qualification. In the section dealing with reserved Assembly seats, the handbook cites the same requirement for a candidate – that of being a voter from the state concerned. Siliguri is a general seat, anyway.)

Bhaichung Bhutia ineligible to contest Assembly elections in Bengal

A senior official at the state chief electoral officer’s office in Calcutta confirmed the rule, which means Bhaichung’s candidature can be challenged.

“We know that Bhutia’s name doesn’t feature on the voter list in Bengal…. Asok Bhattacharya, our leader, will lodge a complaint,” CPM state secretariat member Rabin Deb said.

Siliguri is the turf of Bhattacharya, a former urban development minister, and Mamata Banerjee had fielded Bhaichung to give the veteran CPM leader a tough fight.

Bhaichung had contested unsuccessfully from the Darjeeling Lok Sabha seat in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

“In the case of parliamentary elections, a candidate only needs to be an elector from any part of India. If he is, he can contest from any constituency,” a poll official said. “But in the case of Assembly elections, the candidate has to be a voter from the state concerned. He can then contest from any Assembly constituency in the state.”

Bhaichung said he had transposed his name from Sikkim to Calcutta. Transposition refers to the deletion of a name from one voter list and its inclusion in another. This is a compulsory duty for every voter who has been staying at a different address for over six months.

“It’s true that I was a voter in Sikkim but I have changed it…. Now, I’m a voter of Calcutta,” Bhaichung told this newspaper this afternoon before the line got disconnected. The former footballer did not take further calls or reply to text messages.

A search of the electoral rolls with his name did not corroborate his claim.

Bhaichung’s general election affidavit of March 23, 2014, says: “My name is enrolled in 9-Barfung, Sikkim, at serial no. 121 in part no. 9.”

The voter list prepared and updated by the Sikkim chief electoral officer and published on January 11 this year carries Bhaichung’s name against the same serial number (121) and the same part no. (9) for 9-Barfung Assembly seat.

Every year, new electoral rolls are published in January across the country, bearing additions and deletions.

The list shows Bhaichung’s voter card number, GKP-0062844, and those of his wife Madhuri Tipnis (serial no. 114, voter card number GKP0106344) and other family members, including his brothers.

The Telegraph entered Bhaichung’s voter card number in the Sikkim chief electoral officer’s search options – any voter can generate his voter slip by entering the voter card number. It displayed the same details as the voter list.

Under poll panel rules, a person’s name cannot occur twice on the rolls. So, Bhaichung cannot be a voter in Bengal, however long he has been living in Calcutta, as long as his name appears on Sikkim’s voter list.

A poll commission official, however, said there had been instances of a voter’s name figuring on multiple voter lists because of human error.

“There can be another possibility: maybe Bhaichung has applied for transposition and it is a work in progress, as the electoral rolls are still being revised,” the official said.

The last date for filing nominations for the Siliguri constituency, which votes on April 17, is March 29. “But if he has not yet applied for transposition, he’ll be cutting it too fine,” the official said.

Doubts have surfaced over another Trinamul candidate from north Bengal: James Kujur, the additional superintendent of police fielded from Kumargram in Alipurduar.

Akash Magharia, Jalpaiguri superintendent of police, today said he had not yet received any official communication on Kujur’s resignation.

Kujur had claimed yesterday that he had tendered his resignation to Magharia. Police sources in Jalpaiguri said Kujur was likely to vacate his official residence tonight or tomorrow morning. “He has taken leave and gone home to Kalchini,” a source said. “He is not using his official vehicle or other facilities but his belongings are still in the official bungalow.”

Election Commission officials have clarified that there’s no bar on Kujur contesting the polls provided he resigns from service.

“He should have resigned earlier to ensure that all his ties with the department are severed. If there’s a delay, someone can allege that he still has links with the department, and we’ll have to verify it,” an official said.


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