They have been Indians for less than six months. But already politics has put a wedge between them. The ongoing elections in West Bengal have meant politicians turning up, asking for votes. However, with some old problems, cropping up in new reincarnations, Dinhata camp — home to 98 families and 156 voters — has been sharply divided into two parts: Those who are with the Trinamool Congress and those who aren’t.
Dinhata is one of the three resettlement camps, along with Haldibari and Mekhliganj, that were set up by the district administration in November last year, ahead of the historic land swap that allowed India and Bangladesh to take control of respective enclaves in their territories.
On Wednesday, a day before the new Indians exercise their franchise for the first time, the rift was out in open with residents complaining of intimidation by the ruling party to the Election Commission.
- The no more Bangladeshis
- Cooch Behar: Were attacked for backing Left, say ‘new Indians’
- West Bengal polls: ‘That’s it? I just press a button?’
- West Bengal elections: In enclaves, we were a number for the govt, now we are just voters
- At 103, first-timer learns a lesson: Easier to get a voter card than a ration card
- West Bengal: From former enclaves, 10,000 new voters lift TMC hopes
“When we came here, we knew nothing about the political system here. Neither did we know anything about the candidates. They all came here and assured to help us — all of them making the same exact promise. What is strange is that those who have joined the ruling party are accusing the others of being with the Left and are constantly trying to intimidate us. We aren’t a part of any party. We haven’t had time to think of politics,” said Usman Gani (24), who used to run a dispensary.
However, Mijan-ul Rehman, who joined the Trinamool Congress in November, denied the allegations. He explained that he had joined the ruling party because he felt that it would give him a platform through which he could raise the issues of common people. “No one here is getting enough to eat. That’s a fact. Its not that I am trying to feed some people and not the others… there is definitely no threat from our side. The fact that is that they have joined the Left and are now trying to cast aspersions on us,” said Rehman.
Presently, the camp has been split almost evenly in two halves —- the southern-end occupied by the Trinamool Congress supporters while the other is occupied by those against it. The faction, which is now allegedly with the TMC, had initially opposed the ‘exchange’ of enclaves and had campaigned for the creation of “corridors”. This rift was reopened after the exchange of enclaves in December when Rehman led a strike against the quality of food being given. When others didn’t participate, Rehman joined the Trinamool Congress.
Another incident that sparked off tension was during the Republic Day celebrations organised by the Trinamool Congress the camp.
“There was music and song and dance. But it was organized in such a way that the non-TMC section was disturbed. Generators were placed outside our homes and drunken revelry kept us up through the night,” claimed Deepak Burman (18).
This division would have been impossible had it not been for the multitude of problems faced by residents here. Take for instance Amorto Burman and her son, Kartik Barman. Both have been issued Aadhaar cards, but not the ration cards. Both have been listed as 49-years-old. “My mother is nearly a hundred years old and we have seven members in our family. But as per the rules here, we all get 30 kg rice.
Families with more than five members are given an additional 5 kg per member. This lasts us barely two weeks,” said Kartik.
The new ‘Indians’ were promised ration cards, but these weren’t issued due to the model code of conduct being put in place. But the speed at which election cards were issued has left a number of residents wondering about the government’s priorities.
Consequently, most families are running out of money. “We have not received any indication about when we can sell the land we left behind in Bangladesh and get the money for it. First we were told to wait a few months. Then, we were told to wait till elections get over.
Some of us have worked for 52 days under the 100-day job scheme. But only those who have joined the Trinamool Congress have received full payment. How can that be? None of us have been able to sell land in Bangladesh, so we are running out of money,” said Naresh Burman, a doctor who is now unemployed.
In the just over five months that these ‘new Indians’ have been living at Dinhata camp, changes are visible. The metallic sheen of the tin houses is softened by adjoining gardens and homemade curtains. Children play with more abandon. Gates, which were kept locked, are now open.
But even though the camp is strikingly devoid of all electoral campaign material, it is not devoid of Bengal’s polarizing and often violent politics.