In January last year, border security force personnel caught Md Zakaria, Md Sohel Ahmed, Babillula Zalali and Pulin Sinha at Lyngkhat on Meghalaya’s border with Bangladesh. They were established as residents of Sylhet and Maulvibazar districts of Bangladesh but were armed with Indian voter identity cards.
There are hundreds, locals say, who slip through to enjoy citizenship rights on either side of the 443km border Meghalaya shares with Bangladesh. The case is similar along the state’s boundary with Assam with several villages and blocks marked disputed territory.
For instance, some 1,700 Rabha tribal people in Patgaon area on the Assam-Meghalaya border are voters in Assam’s West Guwahati assembly constituency. They enjoy a similar privilege in Meghalaya’s Jirang assembly constituency, their dual voter status attributed to a territorial dispute between the two states.
Residents of such disputed villages exercise their franchise hoping to see some development. “We are caught in no man’s land. Both states fight over us but pass the buck when it comes to improving conditions here,” said village elder Paniram Rabha.
Meghalaya chief electoral officer Prashant Naik said the threat of dual voters could be a problem for the poll-bound state, particularly along the state’s borders with Assam and Bangladesh.
Some political parties, particularly the regional ones with little or no states along the borders inhabited by people of doubtful citizenship, have taken up the dual voter issue in their campaigns. In 2007, names of some 3,000 dual voters were struck off the electoral rolls.