Border Village Dwellers of Cooch Behar Exercise Their Electoral Rights in Assam Elections

Farid Moghal at his shop in Purba Falimari village in Tufanganj, Cooch Behar district.

In the northeastern region of India lies a unique conundrum of democracy – the border villages of Cooch Behar, where residents cross state lines to cast their votes in Assam elections. This peculiar phenomenon stems from the geographical intricacies of the region, where administrative boundaries often blur the lines of political allegiance. As the Assam elections approach, these border residents find themselves in a position where exercising their electoral rights demands traversing state borders.

Cooch Behar, nestled in the northern part of West Bengal, shares its boundary with Assam. The demarcation between the two states is not merely lines on a map but cuts through villages, fields, and even homes, creating a unique scenario where residents find themselves straddling state lines. For these villagers, the act of voting transcends the conventional notion of geographical boundaries; it becomes a testament to their commitment to democracy and a demonstration of their identity.

One might wonder why these residents go through the trouble of crossing state borders to cast their votes. The answer lies in the intertwined socio-economic and historical fabric of the region. Many of these border villages have familial, cultural, and economic ties that extend beyond state boundaries. As a result, the residents often identify more closely with the political dynamics of Assam than those of West Bengal.

Moreover, historical factors contribute to this complex situation. The Partition of Bengal in 1947 and subsequent territorial realignments have left a lasting impact on the demographics and political affiliations of the region. The enclaves, or chhits, as they are locally known, further complicate matters. These are pockets of land belonging to one country but entirely surrounded by another, leading to a unique set of challenges for governance and administration.

In the context of elections, the electoral rolls and polling stations add another layer of complexity. Residents of these border villages often find themselves registered as voters in Assam due to administrative convenience or historical reasons. Consequently, during elections, they must undertake journeys across state borders to reach their designated polling booths.

The significance of this act goes beyond the exercise of democratic rights; it is a manifestation of resilience and determination in the face of adversity. The terrain can be unforgiving, especially during the monsoon season when rivers swell and makeshift bamboo bridges become lifelines for connectivity. Yet, despite these challenges, the border villagers of Cooch Behar traverse rivers, marshlands, and rugged terrain to ensure their voices are heard in the electoral process.

The Assam elections become a focal point for these communities, where they assert their agency and demand attention from policymakers. Issues such as infrastructural development, access to basic amenities, and protection of cultural heritage feature prominently in their electoral discourse. By participating in the electoral process of Assam, they seek to influence policies that directly impact their lives, irrespective of administrative boundaries.

However, this practice is not without its controversies and challenges. The crossing of state borders for voting raises questions of jurisdiction and electoral integrity. There have been instances of political parties exploiting this situation for their gain, leading to accusations of voter manipulation and electoral malpractice. Furthermore, the administrative complexities inherent in managing elections in border areas pose logistical hurdles for election authorities.

To address these challenges, concerted efforts are required from both state governments and election commissions. Streamlining the electoral process, ensuring transparency, and enhancing accessibility to polling stations are crucial steps in safeguarding the integrity of elections in border regions. Moreover, fostering cross-border cooperation and dialogue between neighboring states can pave the way for sustainable solutions to the unique challenges faced by border communities.

In addition, the practice of residents from Cooch Behar’s border villages crossing state lines to cast votes in Assam elections encapsulates the intricate interplay of geography, history, and democracy in the northeastern region of India. It underscores the resilience of communities in asserting their electoral rights and shaping their collective destiny. As the electoral landscape continues to evolve, addressing the specific needs and aspirations of border populations remains imperative for fostering inclusive and participatory democracy.



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