As Himachal votes today, remembering India’s first voter Shyam Saran Negi

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Himachal Pradesh is all set to vote and while a total number of 55, 92, 828 electors will decide the political fate of leaders from different parties, one voter will be dearly missed.

That man is none other than Shyam Saran Negi, independent India’s first voter. Negi passed away on 5 November this year at the age of 106. He died of natural causes at his home in Kinnaur district’s Kalpa.

Also read: Himachal Pradesh Assembly Election 2022 LIVE: 17.98% voter turnout recorded in Himachal Pradesh elections till 11 am

Negi, who is known for not skipping a single election – be it general or state, voted till his last breath as he exercised his franchise days before the state elections (12 November) where he cast his vote through a postal ballot instead of attending a polling booth owing to ill health.

We take a closer look at the life and times of independent India’s first voter ever.

Who was Shyam Saran Negi?

Other than being a responsible voter, Shyam Saran Negi was a teacher by profession.

According to a report by The Quint, Negi was born on 1 July 1917 in Himachal Pradesh’s Kalpa village. He later joined a government school in his village where he worked as a teacher.

Lovingly called ‘masterji’ by the people of his hamlet, the centenarian was full of life and hope. Throughout his long life of 105 years, Negi had witnessed the state of Himachal Pradesh progress in front of his eyes.

His secret to longevity? Having a healthy diet that consisted of whole grains and organic vegetables from his farm. He also revealed that he liked to walk for long distances, a habit he followed every day.

According to a report by Times of India, Shyam Saran Negi retired as a government school teacher in 1975.

His wife, Hira Mani Negi died in 2014 at the age of 78. The couple had five daughters and three sons.

Currently, his family owns two hotels near Negi’s ancestral home as well as a couple of apple orchards.

The man who never missed an election

Shyam Saran Negi did not even realised that he had become independent India’s first voter.

He recalled during one of his interviews with The Quint, “India’s first election was held in February 1952, but the voting for tribal areas in Himachal Pradesh was held 5 months in advance in October 1951. As heavy snowfall renders these parts inaccessible during harsh winter months, the elections were preponed in Kinnaur.”

He also said that he arrived a little early on the day at the polls in the hilly state as he had to serve his election duty later during the day. It was only then that he was told he was India’s first person to cast a vote. At the time, Negi was 34 years old.

Shyam Saran Negi vividly remembered that he cast his first vote in the Shonthong polling station. According to a report by The Tribune, he said that he and his polling party had to trek long distances for more than 10 days to conduct elections in the region.

He claimed that he had voted in every parliamentary, assembly and panchayat election and was perhaps the oldest voter to witness the transition of election systems from stamping on the ballot paper to electronic voting machine (EVM) to the most recent voter-verifiable paper audit trail (VVPAT).

During his lifetime he urged people to exercise their right to vote. “Youth should come forward to participate in the democratic process as it is not only our right but also our duty to participate in the elections by exercising our franchise,” Negi told reporters.

Kinnaur’s deputy commissioner Abid Hussain Sadiq said that for his last vote, authorities had offered him to cast his vote in the comfort of his home but he initially rejected the proposition. “Considering his age and health, last week we had asked him whether he wanted to cast his vote at his home, but he had refused to say that he will cast his vote at the polling station. Unfortunately, he got ill and he informed us about his decision to cast his vote at home and accordingly arrangements were made by the district administration,” said Sadiq.

Negi’s last vote was a grand affair that was celebrated with traditional drum beats by the Kinnaur district administration while Sadiq honoured the first voter with a bouquet of flowers.

A red carpet was laid out for Negi to bring him to the postal booth set up in the compound of his residence.

According to an official release, Sadiq said, “Negi was brought on a red carpet till the booth where he exercised his right to franchise and soon thereafter his vote was sealed in an envelope and dropped in the ballot box.”

Brand ambassador for Election Commission

In 2014, the state Election Commission in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district appointed Shyam Saran Negi as its brand ambassador for the tribal region’s polling campaign. He was 97 years old at the time.

The reason behind appointing India’s first voter, according to the State EC, was to sensitise people in the area about their voting rights and the importance of voting.

The then assistant electoral officer, Prashant Deshta said, “It is a matter of pride for Kinnaur district and Himachal Pradesh that the first-ever voter of the world’s biggest democracy, belongs to this area. We have made Shyam Saran Negi the brand ambassador for the poll campaign to create voter awareness,” according to a report by Hindustan Times.

Negi in Google India’s digital campaign

Shyam Saran Negi’s inspiring life story reached the creators of Google in the same year when they featured him in their digital campaign that sought to encourage Indians to vote.

It was hoped that his inspirational story would encourage technologically savvy Indians to vote for the 2014 general elections.

The then marketing director of Google India said, “The 2014 general election promises to be a landmark in the history of this nation. Perhaps more than any other election in the past, this election is about capturing the imagination of millions of both first-time as well as experienced voters. This video has been developed to inspire Indian voters to vote in this election. The story of Shyam Negi is a testimony of Indian voters’ belief in the power of democracy.”

A death mourned by prominent leaders

The late centenarian’s death was condoled by various political leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

During his address at a public meeting in Solan, Modi said, “I was coming from Delhi when I came to know about the unfortunate death of Shyam Saran Negi. He even voted in these elections. He fulfilled his responsibility till the end. This is a message to all the youth and it is inspirational. I salute him and express my heartfelt condolences to the family.”

Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur took to Twitter to offer his condolences.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “He saw Independent India take its first breath and till his last breath he believed in democracy. He will always remind us of our obligation towards the country.”

Negi’s death also left top officials from the Election Commission sorrowful. The Chief Election Commissioner of India, Rajeev Kumar visited Negi’s residence to pay floral tributes to him for his dedication to voting.

India’s first voter was cremated with full state honour.

With inputs from agencies

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As Himachal votes today, remembering India’s first voter Shyam Saran Negi
As Himachal votes today, remembering India’s first voter Shyam Saran Negi
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