India's first voter in Himachal Pradesh

Far away from an urban settlement, a 96-year-old villager has inadvertently earned a place for himself in the electoral history of independent India. This Himachal Pradesh native officially qualifies as the country’s first and now the oldest voter.

Shyam Saran Negi of Kalpa village in the Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh is unsure if his first-and-oldest-voter “feat” of sorts, albeit by default, really means anything tangible, but in the records of the Election Commission (EC), he holds a special place.

Talking to Deccan Herald over the phone, Negi said he is ready and fit to walk up to the polling station on November 4 for the 12th time in the assembly election. Negi has fathered 10 children, walks steadily and doesn’t need reading glasses. So how did he become the first Indian to cast a vote? The answer, Negi said, lies in his home town’s topography.

Residents at Kinnaur were the first to vote in India’s first general election held in 1951. Elections to these regions were advanced by a few months to avoid heavy snowfall these areas receive in freezing winters.

Negi, a then government primary school teacher, was part of the polling party and got the opportunity to vote on October 25, 1951. Rest of India voted six months later. Based on weather forecasts, HP’s Chief Electoral Officer Narinder Chauhan told Deccan Herald that it is unlikely to snow in these region on November 4. He said S S Negi is fit to walk to the polling booth even at this age. 

Ballot boxes, Negi recalls, had to be relocated on mules given the rugged terrain where the booth was set up at a height of close to 10,000 feet above mean sea level. “The first polling booth was set up inside a primary school building in the village under the Chini assembly constituency, later renamed the Kinnaur Vidhan Sabha constituency,” he said. Chauhan said the three lifeline himalayan passes of Rohtang, Sach and the Kunzung passes are still open. The EC will not take any chances and electronic voting machines will reach polling stations days in advance under strict supervision.

Meanwhile, Narinder Chauhan said the Hikkam polling station in Lahual Spiti is the highest polling station in India, located at more than 15,000 feet above sea level.
The polling station has 326 voters of which 153 are women. In Kinnaur district, there are 25 polling booths being set up at a height ranging from 9,000 feet to 12,000 feet above sea level. 

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