Dinhata: History will be made when dwellers of the erstwhile enclaves in Cooch Behar vote for the first time on Thursday, marking another giant leap in their absorption into India after nearly seven decades of stateless existence, as the staggered West Bengal assembly polls come to an end after the sixth and final phase of balloting involving 25 constituencies.
Nine of the constituencies are in Cooch Behar district, and 16 in East Midnapore.
Over 58 lakh (58,04,019) voters across 6,774 polling stations, including 9 auxiliary booths, are eligible to decide the fate of 170 candidates -- 18 of them female in this phase. The Election Commission will use 7,790 EVMs and 621 VVPATs.
But it will be a memorable day in the life of the enclave dwellers -- 9,776 of whom are registered as voters. They include 567 -- residents of the erstwhile Indian enclaves which are now part of Bangladesh -- who have opted for Indian citizenship.
Following the implementation of the historic Land Boundary Agreement, Bangladesh and India exchanged 162 adversely-held enclaves on August 1, 2015 as 14,864 residents of 51 Bangladeshi enclaves became Indians citizens.
While over 37,000 dwellers in the 111 Indian enclaves in Bangladesh became citizens of the neighbouring country, 922 of them opted for Indian citizenship and have been living in Enclave Settlement camps in Dinhata and Haldibari in Cooch Behar.
The electorate from the former enclaves are spread across five constituencies -- Dinhata (5,486 voters), Mekhliganj (988), Sitai (1,396), Sitalkuchi (1,898) and Tufanganj (8).
Rising to the occasion, the Election Commission has rolled out the red carpet for the 9,776 first-time voters, besides setting up five model polling stations with facilities for sitting, wheelchairs etc.
In East Midnapore, regarded as a stronghold of the Trinamool Congress, all eyes will be on Nandigram, where a peasants agitation in 2006-07 against the erstwhile Left Front government's bid to acquire farmland for a chemical hub and special economic zone had triggered police firing that resulted in 14 deaths.
The peasants protest played a pivotal role in the ouster of the Left Front after 34 years in office.
In 2011, the Trinamool Congress, then in alliance with the Congress, won 20 of the seats that go to the hustings in this phase.
The Congress got one, while Left Front partner All India Forward Bloc triumphed in four seats.
This time, the Left Front and the Congress have teamed up to throw a challenge to the Trinamool.
While the Left Front is in fray in 18 seats, the Congress is contesting from four constituencies.
In three seats of East Midnapore -- Nandakumar, Mahisadal and Khejuri -- the alliance has extended support to independent candidates.
The Trinamool and the BJP are fighting all the seats.
Among the Left Front partners, the CPI-M is in the race in eight constituencies, the Communist Party of India in five, Forward Bloc in four and Democratic Socialist Party (Prabodh Chandra) in one seat.
The star candidates include Trinamool's heavyweight leader and MP Suvendu Adhikari (Nandigram), who was purportedly seen in the Narada News sting operation video taking wads of currency notes in return for favours to a fictitious company.
Among other major candidates are state minister Sudarshan Ghosh Dastidar (Mahisadal), Udayan Guha (Dinhata) -- both from Trinamool, Paresh Chandra Adhikary (Mekhliganj) of the AIFB, BJP's Dadhiram Ray and the Congress's Hemangshu Sekhar Mahapatra.