His weather-beaten face is heavily wrinkled and his body frail. And he barely can walk without the support of a stick. Yet, Independent India’s first voter Shyam Saran Negi, 104, has declined the Election Commission’s offer to help him cast his vote from home through a postal ballot.
Negi has, rather, sent a heart-warming message to the state’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) C . Paul Rasu about his plan to go to the polling booth at Kalpa, in Kinnaur district, to cast his vote for the upcoming Mandi Lok Sabha by-poll, slated for October 30.
On October 25, 1951—when polling was held for the first time—Negi became the first voter of independent India to cast his vote. Since then, he had not missed a single election—whether Lok Sabha, assembly or panchayat—to exercise his democratic right.
“I never missed a single election. It’s because I know the value of my vote. I am determined to exercise my voting right at my polling booth on election day,” Negi told Kinnaur district officials who had asked him to use the EC facility that enables all voters above 80 to cast their votes through postal ballots .
Rasu told Outlook in Shimla that due to the pandemic and enforced regulations to maintain social distances, and reduce footfall at the polling booths, all voters above 80 years and physically-challenged persons will have the option to vote through postal ballots .
By now, at least 32,715 voters above 80 have already been issued postal ballots in all four constituencies, including Mandi parliamentary constituency and three other assembly constituencies—Arki, Fatehpur and Jubbal–Kotkhai in Solan, Kangra and Shimla districts, respectively.
“Negi has been our brand ambassador to promote voters awareness campaign. During the last Lok Sabha election, Kinnaur deputy commissioner had gone to his house and provided an official vehicle to take him to the polling booth. A video was also shot on him even as Google had also made a film on Negi. We will make arrangements for him to facilitate his voting at the booth,” Rasu said.
Negi was also honoured by then Chief Election Commissioner of India, Navin Chawla, who visited his village in 2010. For years, this ex-schoolteacher had lived in oblivion, till a former IAS officer and then Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Manisha Nanda had located Negi after a long-drawn search for him in 2007.
“It took a lot of hardships to trace Negi, who lived in a small village at Kalpa. It was the time when photo voters’ I-cards were being prepared. I saw a tiny photo of Negi ji and started my research as to who could be the oldest surviving voter or having voted in the first election of independent India. I was helped by then deputy commissioner (Kinnaur) Sudha Devi authenticate his identity and also fish-out old voting records,” recalls Nanda, who retired as the additional chief secretary in the revenue department.
Kalpa was then known as ‘Chinni’ in his village.