BORN IN 1913, a resident of three countries, and possibly the oldest first-time voter in India, a mark he achieved last year, Asgar Ali died in his family home Sunday morning.
Ali was one of 9,776 residents of a Bangladeshi enclave in India, who opted for Indian citizenship last year following a historic bilateral land-exchange agreement and voted for the first time in Cooch Behar during the West Bengal Assembly elections.
”He died peacefully in his sleep at 5 am. He had not suffered and frankly, he was at peace after he was finally declared an Indian citizen,” said Ali’s brother, Shah Jahan.
Jahan told The Indian Express that a milestone that marked the territory as Bangladesh still stood in the middle of the fields that Ali and his family owned — it is now obscured by the village’s first pucca home.
Ali had lived all his life at Madhya Mashaldanga, a part of East Pakistan and later a Bangladeshi enclave in Cooch Behar district of the northern part of West Bengal. It became a part of India after the implementation of the Land Boundary Agreement under which Bangladesh and India exchanged 162 adversely held enclaves on August 1, 2015. A total 14,864 residents of 51 Bangladeshi enclaves became Indian citizens.
Naushar Ali Mian (50), Ali’s nephew, alleged that even though their one-bigha plot was fertile, they continued to be neglected by the state government. “The state government had made a number of promises, from solar panels to free rice. But we didn’t get any of these things. Moreover, the problems faced by us are compounded by the inherent dislike that people here have for us ‘chhit bashinda’ (enclave residents),” he said.
“Ali would often go to the milestone and grumble about how nothing ever changed,” said one of Ali’s family members, who did not wish to be identified.
“Towards the end, he had become a little disillusioned. He was unhappy about the way in which enclave residents were used for political purposes, and then ignored by the government. Our needs were never cared about,” said another resident of the village.
In the past few months, tension between TMC and BJP has been brewing in the area, particularly around district BJP president Diptiman Sengupta, who was previously at the forefront of the movement that initiated the enclave exchange.
TMC has since alleged that Sengupta has been halting development work and that BJP has been creating tension in the area. In December, BJP leaders had alleged that some Trinamool workers had ransacked five houses of their supporters and set two other houses on fire.