More than 9,800 of the 10,100 eligible voters in former Bangladeshi enclaves of West Bengal’s Cooch Behar have enrolled for the voter list, signalling exceptional enthusiasm among the people who became Indian citizens less than eight months ago.
These people have lived in a virtual no-man’s land for 68 years because of a complex territorial division, which created enclaves or islands of foreign territory inside each country along the Indo-Bangladesh border.
The historical quirk was rectified when the two countries agreed in 2015 to swap the almost 200 enclaves located in one country but officially belonging to the other.
The excitement among the new voters for the April-May state assembly polls is palpable. The draft roll was released, electoral officials have started demonstrating how to cast votes using the EVM, and political parties have started visiting their villages for the first time.
“We are all charged up. This is the first time we’ll determine the fate of politicians who will supervise development of our area,” said 24-year-old Rousan Sarkar, a resident of Kismat Batrigachhi, which was a Bangladeshi enclave within India until last July 31.
Most of Sarkar’s friends from neighbouring Indian territories in Cooch Behar’s Dinhata voted in the Bengal elections five years ago that saw the fall of the world’s longest-serving elected communist government.
She along with other enclave-dwellers missed out. Enclave-dwellers were not reckoned as citizens by any of the countries and enjoyed no rights at all.
But now they vote on May 5; the first time as Indian citizens. Last week, big crowds thronged block development offices in three assembly constituencies of Cooch Behar to check their names on the voter list.
“We are excited but unsure who to vote for. We want the parties to give us written assurance about expediting recording of land holding. But no party has agreed yet,” said Joynal Abedin, a resident of Madhya Mashaldanga enclave.