Enclaves to vote for first time in Bengal

Enclaves to vote for first time in Bengal

For Md Asgar Ali, the final phase of polling to the West Bengal Assembly on May 5 will be a new experience, one he had to wait 68 years.

Although he has cast his vote a few times before independence on local body polls, the resident of the former Bangladeshi enclave in India will be casting his first vote in a free India, that too, at the age of 104.

Born on January 1, 1913, Asgar Ali is probably the oldest voter in Bengal, if not in the country. As he received his electoral photo identity card (EPIC) for the first time, he was overjoyed. What added to his glee is that he will exercise his right as an Indian citizen, along with his youngest son, Billal Hossain and grandson Jainul Abedin. “All is Allah’s will,” he said, smiling a toothless grin, when asked about his feelings. “I’m unwell, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to walk to the booth,” he said, adding that his grandson Jainul has assured him of arranging for a rickshaw.

For 24-year-old Jainul, getting his voter card and the right to cast his vote is one he has fought for, along with many other young activists of the Bharat-Bangladesh Enclaves Exchange Coordination Committee. The NGO that helped both governments to smoothen the process of exchange has been disbanded since the formal exchange at midnight of July 31-August 1, 2015, but Jainul and his comrades are now working to ensure all former enclave residents get their rights. His father, 44-year-old Billal, who is equally happy, cannot stop looking at his voter card.

While many like Asgar and his kin are looking forward to May 5, some others like Md Taleb Ali and Javeda Bewa will not be able to exercise their rights as they are yet to receive their voter cards, most likely due to bureaucratic oversight. “Around 10 families are yet to receive their cards. We’re feeling dejected because all of us fought the movement for enclave exchange together but now our names are not there on the voters’ list,” he said. Javeda, in her mid-40s, had the same complaint. “Everybody in our family has got their cards, except me, my son and my daughter,” she said.

The complaint of administrative negligence stems from the fact that the government had run surveys as late as February 2014 and then again in 2015, before the formal exchange of these land pockets with Bangladesh. “The former enclaves have 9,776 voters but around 500 of them won’t be able to vote because their names were not on the survey list when the government came in November 2015 to update the electoral rolls,” said Diptiman Sengupta, the man who spearheaded the movement for enclave exchange.

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