Kalpa (Himachal Pradesh), March 14: He has voted in every election since India became independent. And, at age 97, Shyam Saran Negi is all set to vote again — and wants no Indian to miss out on the coming electoral battle. “Voters should exercise their right to franchise and hand over the reins of the government to an honest leader who can end corruption and check price rise,” Negi told IANS in an interview.
Negi lives in this picturesque village, located at an altitude of 10,000 feet, in Kinnaur district, which is known for its delicious apples. The nonagenarian, whose immediate family includes his wife, four sons and five daughters, said it is important to vote. He has several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“I was told about NOTA (None of the Above) option. I believe one must use the right to franchise,” said Negi, eagerly awaiting the polling day in Himachal Pradesh May 7. A team of election officials called on Negi here, some 250 km from Shimla, to know his well-being.
Retired as a junior basic teacher from a government school in 1975, Negi was among the first to vote in independent India’s first Lok Sabha battle in October 1951 in Chini constituency – later renamed Kinnaur. At that time, balloting in the snow-bound area was held ahead of other places in the state and the country.
Though his ripe age has rendered him partially blind and hard of hearing, he still walks on his own. His wife Hira Mani, 10 years younger to him, will accompany him to the polling booth, almost a kilometer away from his house. “My eyesight is failing, my body is frail, but I know how to use an EVM (electronic voting machines). I also sign on the electoral roll on my own,” a beaming Negi added.
Negi has memories of the first Lok Sabha election. “At that time I voted for Jawaharlal Nehru. But later I voted for (another) party which promised better governance.” He didn’t reveal the name of the other party.
Negi is concerned about the deterioration in Indian politics. “In recent years it is common to hear that politicians are corrupt. The parties now hardly approach people with genuine policies. They waste precious time of parliament by creating ruckus rather than take part in serious discussions on issues of public interest.”
Negi has religiously voted in every election, at the state and panchayat level too, his youngest son Chander Parkash said. Kalpa village is part of the Mandi Lok Sabha constituency, which includes Kullu and Mandi and parts of Chamba and Shimla districts besides the tribal-dominated Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti.
In 2010, then chief election commissioner Navin Chawla visited Negi’s village to honour him as part of the Election Commission’s diamond jubilee celebrations. The election department has a video of Negi casting his vote in 2007 and 2012 assembly and the 2009 parliamentary elections.