Asgar Ali is a first-time voter at 104 years of age.
For the past so many decades he has watched from the sidelines people enthusiastically trooping in to polling stations to elect their representatives. He has also watched many historic events such as the World War II and Bangladesh Liberation war.
But it’s not history that did him in but geography did. Ali was a resident of a Bangladeshi enclave of Mashaldanga inside Indian territory.
And he has finally become a bonafide Indian after the two nations last year started a process of exchanging 162 landlocked islets, or enclaves, to resolve a complex border dispute lingering since Independence.
Till the land-swap agreement, more than 15,000-odd stateless residents of India never got a chance to vote in India.
The six-phase assembly elections in the state will be held from April 4 to May 5. Ali will vote on the last day.
Though he watched two countries being liberated from foreign yoke in 1947 and 1971, freedom came to Ali on August 31, 2015, when the enclave residents got Indian citizenship following the Indo-Bangladesh enclave exchange.
On Monday morning Ali, had his first brush with the electoral process as Trinamool Congress candidate Udayan Guha of Dinhata constituency came to his village to campaign.
“My grandfather is thrilled. But he is too weak to walk. We have to carry him to the polling station,” said Jainal Abedin, his grandson, told HT over phone. (We could not speak to Ali as he is almost deaf.)
Some of the thrilling tales that Abedin has heard from his grandfather are how Subhas Chandra Bose escaped from his house in 1941 and how bombers hovered on the skies of North Bengal during the second World War and Bangladesh Liberation War.
But now that he has got the opportunity to avenge geography, who will he vote for? “All of us, including him, will vote for the party that promises to prioritise the process of registering land records,” Abedin said.
On Monday morning when the Trinamool candidate came canvassing, he found that the former enclave dwellers pasted their demands on the dais the ruling party built. Guha and his men stayed away from the dais and addressed the new citizens from a field.
Ali now lives in a family of 12 that includes his two sons and their families.
The old man has no birth certificate but his family members say he must have been born in 1911-12.
His eldest daughter, Rabia Bewa, was born in early 1940s and was married off to a family in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). She is a septuagenarian now.
“We grew up hearing stories from him on subjects from India’s contribution in Bangladesh Liberation War. He always rued that he could never vote though he witnessed two liberation struggles,” said Abedin.