COOCH BEHAR (India) • Frail, aided by his grandson, and beaming with pride, 103-year-old Asgar Ali was among thousands who cast their ballots for the first time in elections held in eastern India yesterday.
Caught in one of the world's most intractable border disputes, Mr Ali had been stuck in a stateless limbo for decades until a historic land swop last year between India and Bangladesh.
Mr Ali, his 18-strong family and thousands of others became Indian citizens under the deal in which their Bangladeshi enclaves on the Indian side of the border ceased to exist.
Yesterday, they voted for the first time, in the final phase of assembly elections in West Bengal state.
"I am very happy to have voted," Mr Ali said through grandson Jamal Hussain. "This is the first time ever that I have voted in, or participated in, the democratic process."
He was helped by election officials at a polling booth in the district of Cooch Behar.
Last year's pact saw Bangladesh assume sovereignty over 111 Indian enclaves on its side of the border. India, meanwhile, took 51 Bangladeshi enclaves on its own side.
Enclaves are small pockets of one country's territory surrounded by the other. The enclaves dated back to ownership arrangements made centuries ago between local princes. The swop meant more than 50,000 people who were living in the enclaves could access citizenship benefits such as schools and healthcare that they had lacked since 1947.
"I voted hoping that it would lead to change, some work in our village, in our neighbourhood. Maybe we will get a hospital," said Mr Ali, a former farmer. "All leaders are good. Whoever wins should get work done in our neighbourhood."