Indian football icon Bhaichung Bhutia, who lost a lopsided election last year for the post of AIFF president, on Wednesday launched a scathing attack on the governing body’s incumbent president Kalyan Chaubey while demanding for ‘fresh’ polls. The former Indian captain’s salvo at the AIFF executive committee comes in the wake of the sacking of its secretary general Shaji Prabhakaran, who has been removed on grounds of ‘breach of trust’.

Bhutia claimed that Prabhakaran has been made a ‘scapegoat’ by the Chaubey-led body, adding that having an election is the only way to save Indian football.

“The breach of trust should not be on Shaji alone but all the members heading the AIFF, including the president, vice-president and treasurer,” Bhutia told PTI from Gangtok.

“Where has this breach happened, what is this breach everybody wants to know?” Bhutia asked, adding that all the major decisions were taken jointly by the members.

He cited the examples of AIFF’s decision to drop out of race to host the AFC Asian Cup 2027 and also the recent chaotic build-up to the Asian Games in China, where the Indian team reached merely a day before its first match.

“Everytime, the president and secretary together, have taken the key decisions including Asian Games and the withdrawal of bidding to host the Asia Cup,” he said.

“But they are making Shaji a scapegoat here. (The) entire team, president, secretary general, vice-president and treasurer are responsible for this mess. Everyone should go and elections should be held under the new constitution.” “I’m not surprised by the sacking of Shaji. From the time the new management has taken over, there has been huge mismanagement,” Bhutia claimed.

Former India goalkeeper Chaubey, who joined the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party a few years ago, became the first player-turned-president in the 85-year history of the All India Football Federation when he routed Bhutia by securing 33 out of 34 votes last year on September 2.

The election was of significant importance since the national federation was suspended by the FIFA for ‘undue influence from third parties’, with the world governing body saying that the U-17 Women’s World Cup ‘cannot currently be held in India as planned’.

But the ban was lifted after the elections were held, clearing the decks for India to host the tournament in October last year.

Terming it as ‘temporary elections’ Bhutia further said, “The election (which) happened at that time was a temporary one for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup and was held for the ban to be lifted.” “It’s an interim body which is in power right now. The Supreme Court has formed a new constitution. There is a case going on, and that has been approved. So I think, under that constitution, the elections should happen immediately. It’s the only way to save Indian football,” Bhutia emphasised.

“The previous elections were not permanent because the constitution was not there. They formed a draft only for the ban to be lifted and the World Cup could be held,” Bhutia claimed.

He further said the performance of the Blue Tigers have been a disaster, especially while playing away from home.

“In terms of performance, apart from those 2-3 wins in India, every tournament they (have) played outside has been a disaster.” The Igor Stimac-coached side won Tri-Nation Series, Intercontinental Cup and SAFF Championships at home this year.

But India lost to Iraq on penalties in the King’s Cup opening round game which also was a semi-final, whereas in the Merdeka Cup last month they were knocked out with a 2-4 defeat against Malaysia.

“The new set of members have to come in, (a) new body should be formed (and) only then football can be saved in India and brought back on track,” Bhutia signed off.

The AIFF on Wednesday announced that it has sacked the secretary general Shaji for ‘breach of trust’, a move described as ‘conspiracy’ by the New Delhi-based sports administrator.

Prabhakaran’s sacking came 14 months after his appointment to the high-profile job, even as the national federation did not provide details on the ‘breach’ which prompted such an action.

The 51-year-old Prabhakaran, however, expressed that the decision has no constitutional validity.

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