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Election's here, who cares'
- Chased by Ganga, people shun politicians

In her sleep, Nooresa Bibi can still hear the splashes as chunks of land dropped into the advancing Ganga. Two years after her home was gobbled up by the river, she spends restless nights in a ragtag shanty constructed beside the road to Panchanandapur, 18 km from Malda town.

Nooresa is not alone. In the last four or five years, around 10,000 families of the area ' which falls in the Manikchak Assembly constituency ' have been displaced and their shanties stretch for kilometres along the main road.

The fate of these thousands of electors has also robbed the political parties of their sleep as they scamper to woo the disgruntled voters.

'It's poll time and that is why everyone is coming to us,' sums up Champa Bibi. 'Two years ago, when our homes were washed away, Mamata Banerjee did not come here even once. It was only last Monday that she stopped by while driving to one of her meetings.'

In the 2001 elections, the people of Panchanandapur had voted for the CPM, but this time they are holding their cards close to the chest. They are probably more taken up by the business of living.

Shorn of their home and hearth and even their small plots of agricultural land, the people have been living a life of penury. The women have taken to bidi-making, while the men work as labourers.

Six women were binding bidis under the shade of a tree, their fingers moving deftly. 'Have you come looking for votes' one of them challenged. 'First stop the erosion being caused by the Ganga, make arrangements so that we can get back our homes, then come for votes,' she said.

Later, assured that the visit had noting to do with votes, Ayesha Khatun, Sonu Bibi, Sabina Bibi and the others were suitably apologetic. 'All we are getting these days are people coming to ask us to cast our votes. We have our names in the voters' list, but why should we vote' said Ayesha.

At times, the resentment bubbles over. 'The leaders are getting more and more prosperous while they keep claiming that the erosion will be tackled and the government will provide rehabilitation. Asima Chowdhury, the CPM MLA, came and reminded us that we had helped her win last time. Then came Congress candidate Rampravesh Mondol and promised us that he would stop the erosion if we voted him to power,' said Sonu.

While promises are made and broken, they said, their children were denied school education and all the men were in Delhi working as labourers. 'They can't spend money on train tickets just to come home to vote,' said Sonu.

The leader of the local anti-erosion committee, Rafiqul Islam, said there is no enthusiasm among the people about the elections. He pointed to Sabina. 'Take a look at her. She has four daughters and all of them are of marriageable age, but no one wants to marry anyone from Panchanandapur,' he said.

Politicians may like to think otherwise, but sometimes the polls come too far down the voters' list of priorities.

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