Sixty-six years ago, in 1951, a young Shyam Saran Negi made history when he exercised his franchise in scenic Kalpa in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district becoming independent India’s first voter. Decades have passed leaving wrinkles across the over-100 -year-old retired school teacher’s face yet his enthusiasm remains undiminished as he prepares to again cast his vote. “My father is preparing to cast his vote on November 9 for the state Assembly polls,” his youngest son Chander Prakash told PTI over the phone. Negi, who has never missed voting in any state or general election, is a VIP of sorts as there is full media glare when he goes out to vote. Even the administration will roll out a red carpet when he walks into the polling booth this time. “My father still remembers the day when he cast his vote for the first time. He still gets the same joy and thrill each time he exercises his franchise,” said Prakash, the youngest among nine siblings.
Polls were held in Chini or present day Kalpa in Kinnaur district, which borders Tibet on the east, before other parts of the state in 1951, anticipating heavy snowfall in higher altitude areas, when Negi first voted. His house is in Kanang Saring in Kalpa, famous for its high-quality apples, and situated at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet. Negi, who is a big fan of former Prime Minister, late Lal Bahadur Shastri, says people should vote for good leaders as it will help country develop. He recalls how times have changed since he first voted.
“I still remember the time when there were only a few schools and one had to walk long distances to reach them. Now, you find schools in the remotest of towns. And what gives me happiness is that there is a great focus on girls’ education now as opposed to the time when they were restricted indoors,” he says. Negi’s grandson Deepak Kumar says his grandfather is a role model for the younger generation, as he keeps on exhorting them to vote and elect good leaders. He was even appointed a brand ambassador by the state election commission.
According to Prakash, Negi often calls himself a “frog in the well” as he has travelled only once outside Himachal and that too up to Haridwar. “He lives in a world of his own. He loves listening to the radio and keenly follows the news. However, he is not fond of watching TV,” Prakash said. These days he walks with the help of a stick and mostly remains indoors as winter is round the corner, he said. “He eats less these days, but is fond of drinking tea,” Prakash added.
Kinnaur Deputy Commissioner Dr Naresh Kumar Lath, who is also the district electoral officer, said a red carpet will be rolled out to facilitate Negi to cast his vote without any hassle. “He will be given a rousing reception near the polling station gate in Kalpa. He will be honoured with a traditional Kinnauri cap, a shawl and mementoes,” Lath said. Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Kalpa, Dr Avaninder Kumar said “We have made all arrangements to facilitate him reach the Kalpa-2 polling station from his home. He will also be dropped at home after he exercises the franchise”.