Shimla, Mar. 29, 2019: When Shyam Saran Negi exercised his franchise in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur district in 1951, he created history by becoming Independent India’s first voter. More than 60 years on, he is a VIP of sorts as there is full media glare whenever he goes out to vote.
Negi has voted in every Lok Sabha, assembly and panchayat elections and at 102, he is all set to vote again in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
But little do people know that Negi lived in oblivion for 45 years till the Election Commission tracked the country’s first voter in July 2007 when Indian Administrative Service officer Manisha Nanda, now additional chief secretary (public works department) in Himachal Pradesh first learnt about Negi from the photo electoral roll.
“I had lot of interest in Kinnaur since as I was aware that voting in the snow-bound area was held ahead of other places in the country,” said Nanda. “One fine day, I came across a photo electoral roll which had voters more than 90 years old. Negi’s age suddenly caught my attention and I asked election department officials to visit Negi, then 92-year-old,” she said.
M Sudha Devi, a 2003 batch IAS officer then posted as Kinnaur deputy commissioner, went to meet Negi, who was amongst the reputed village men at Kalpa.
Negi told Devi that he was first voter of independent India and had never missed to cast vote in his entire life.
He said the election commission had advanced voting in Kinnaur district, keeping in mind harsh winter and snowfall.
Born on July 1, 1917, Negi was then a teacher in a government school and was drafted for poll duty in the first election.
“My father had requested the polling party to allow him to cast his vote and then move to the polling station where he was assigned duty. The officer concerned acceded to his request and he became the country’s first voter,” said Negi’s son Chander Prakash, 53. After examining Negi’s claim, Devi informed Nanda, who began searching for records in the election office.
“We searched records and files for four months. The election commission also searched for records at its headquarters in New Delhi,” she said.
“My experience of tracing the first voter was like completing Ph D on the subject,” added Nanda.
In 2012, then chief election commissioner Naveen Chawla reached Negi’s home in Kalpa village of Kinnaur to facilitate him.
During 2014 elections, Google made a video featuring Negi for its ‘Pledge to Vote Campaign’.
The video got more views than another video launched under the same campaign featuring celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan, Diya Mirza, Arjun Rampal and cricketer Virender Sehwag.