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Indians wiped out by Bangladeshis in Bengal's voters list

Indians wiped out by Bangladeshis in Bengal's voters list

Author: Udayan Namboodiri
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: August 8, 2005

The voters' list of Satkhira Sadar in Bangladesh's Satkhira district has hundreds of names that match the one for West Bengal's Gaighata Assembly constituency. Even the names of the fathers of the voters match.So is this coincidence or just one manifestation of a deeper malaise that afflicts West Bengal's democracy?

"That is for the Government of India to find out," said Mamata Banerjee in an interview to The Pioneer on Sunday. "As a political party we did our best. Only the intelligence agencies can get confirmation. Or Bangladesh has to be asked to agree to a joint inquiry."

On Monday, when Mamata, along with NDA convenor George Fernandes and BJP's overseer for West Bengal affairs Rajnath Singh call on President APJ Abdul Kalam, they will carry along with them the voters' lists of these two adjacent districts separated by an international border. It will easily be clear that a large number of people living along West Bengal's 2,216-km-long border with Bangladesh are enjoying dual citizenship with voting rights in both countries.

The name of Gaighata has featured several times in the Bangladeshi infiltration debate because it is bang on the border and virtually inaccessible to the arm of Indian law. In fact it is a major hub of a variety of illegal border trade, including trafficking in women and children.

Though the Trinamool Congress won the Assembly seat in 2001, the CPI(M) controls most of the panchayats thanks to the 2003 incident in which thousands of opposition candidates simply "forgot" to file their nomination papers all over the State in that year's local body elections.

In the mid-1990s, a former Congress MLA from Gaighata, Probir Banerjee, produced the same evidence that Mamata Banerjee would be taking to the president on Monday. Only, he submitted it to then State Congress chief Shomen Mitra, who, true to style, sat on it.

In the murky politics of West Bengal, furnishing proof of Bangladeshi infiltration into the political process of West Bengal - and by extension India - sounds like a sour grapes story. Except the BJP, every party does its best to accommodate Bangladeshis into the Indian system by arranging ration cards and voters' cards against the promise of votes. This has gone on for two decades.

But while Bangladeshis are finding place on West Bengal's voters' lists, genuine Indians are being dropped. In Kolkata North-West constituency for instance - one not known to be affected by infiltration - a whopping 1,70,992 genuine voters found their names missing from the list for 2004, even though the total number of voters had increased over the one for 2001 by two per cent. In Kolkata North-East, the number of those dropped was higher -1,91,185.

Call it coincidence or machination, both those seats were won by the Trinamool Congress in 1999 and the party did well in the Assembly segments within them in 2001. In 2004, the CPI(M) "won" both.

But the biggest surprise was in Kolkata-South, Ms Banerjee's seat. In 1999 she won from here by over two lakh votes. Just before the 2004 election she found to her utter shock that 2,39,574 names had been dropped. It is another matter that she retained her seat, albeit by a much reduced margin, but the question hangs: what warranted such a huge exodus of voters from this constituency whereas the ones held by the CPI (M) saw only marginal erosion?

Much the same was witnessed in Jadavpur (names dropped: 2,03,365), Howrah (2,53,623), Dum Dum ( 2,40,542), Barasat ( 73,770), Sreerampur ( 1,63,772) and others won by the Trinamool and BJP back in 1999. When one takes a close look at the slim margins by which the NDA parties lost these seats in the 2004 hustings, the mystery both deepens and resolves itself.

In Sreerampur, for instance, Akbar Ali Khondokar of Trinamool lost by just over 18,000 votes. Tapan Sikdar of the BJP lost in Dum Dum by about 98, 000 votes. Similarly, Satyabrata Mookherjee of the BJP lost in Krishnagar by just 20,000 votes after seeing 73,213 genuine voters being subtracted and 32,992 new ones added over the one that elected him in 1999.

"The entire enumeration process is controlled by the CPI (M)," Ms Banerjee said. "When our boys try to go and check the veracity of the lists, they are beaten and often killed. The officials with whom we lodge complaints are members of the CPI (M)'s Coordination Committee for State Government Employees. There is no infrastructure to support democracy in West Bengal," Ms Banerjee lamented.

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