Centenarian leads ex-enclave dwellers’ leap to democracy

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Dinhata (West Bengal), May 5 (IANS) Doddering and frail but nevertheless beaming with pride, 103-year-old former enclave dweller Mohammed Ajgar Ali led three generations of his family in casting their maiden votes in the sixth and final phase of the West Bengal assembly elections on Thursday.

Perhaps the oldest first-time voter in the country, Ali is one of the 9,776 newly registered electors from the erstwhile enclaves in Cooch Behar district.

Accompanied by his grandson Joynal Abedin and son Bilal, Ali was brought in a special vehicle provided by the Election Commission as three generations of the family cast their votes at a booth in Mansab Seoragudi Primary School in Mosaldanga in Dinhata assembly constituency, over 700 km from state capital Kolkata.

Ali is from Madhya Mashaldanga, a former Bangladeshi enclave that became part of India on August 1, 2015, following the implementation of the historic Land Boundary Agreement in which Bangladesh and India exchanged 162 adversely-held enclaves.

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“I feel proud that I am voting with my grandfather and father. We have been waiting in anticipation for a long time for this day,” said Joynal Abedin.

Joynal, who too was ecstatic after voting for the first time, said there were nearly a dozen families in Mosaldalnga where three generations of a family cast their votes.

Leaning heavily on his walking stick, Ali slowly made his way to the booth and was helped by a designated official to operate the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM). A look of consternation passed over Ali’s crinkled visage while he went through with the unfamiliar process.

As he sat down on the floor momentarily, tense eyes darted to the centenarian. However, aided by officials he was up on his feet and flashed a victory symbol accentuated with a toothless smile.

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“Perhaps I have lived for so long only to see this day. When I woke up early in the day, I couldn’t stand properly but now that I have voted, I can die in peace,” said Ali struggling to hide his emotions.

Similarly, taking the huge leap in the same assembly seat are 103-year-old Haseem Ali Khandakar from the former Dakshin Mashaldanga and Kachua enclaves and Khatemon Bewa of erstwhile Purba and Dakshin Mashaldanga enclaves, said Ayesha Rani, additional district magistrate of Cooch Behar.

Holding their voter identity cards close to their hearts, the erstwhile enclave dwellers eagerly waited for their turn to cast their vote, marking another giant leap in their absorption into India after nearly seven decades of stateless existence.

It was nothing short of a festival for the enclave dwellers as men and women, young and the old, all made a beeline to the booths well before the voting process had begun.

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Rising to the occasion, the EC has rolled out the red carpet for these first-time voters, besides setting up five model polling stations with facilities for sitting, wheelchairs etc.

“It took us a lot of time to enable them to learn about how things work but it is proving to be a success,” Rani told IANS.

Altogether 9,776 erstwhile enclave dwellers, including 567 who have opted for India from the former Indian enclaves — now part of Bangladesh — are registered as electors.

They are spread across five constituencies — Dinhata (5,486 voters), Mekhliganj (988), Sitai (1,396), Sitalkuchi (1,898) and Tufanganj (8).

Following the implementation of the historic Land Boundary Agreement, Bangladesh and India exchanged 162 adversely-held enclaves on August 1, 2015.



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