Updated: January 18, 2021 10:49:40 am
He has failing vision. His joints creak. He needs support to walk. But, for 103-year-old Shyam Saran Negi, the first voter of independent India, they are minor hindrances that he put aside to reach a polling booth in Himachal Pradesh’s Kinnaur Sunday to exercise his franchise in the panchayat elections, for which over 70 per cent turnout was recorded.
In the first round of the three-phase elections, 1,227 panchayats went to the polls Sunday. The remaining two phases are slated to be held on January 19 and 21. The state has 3,615 gram panchayats.
“I feel very happy that our country has been witnessing regular elections since 1947 after years of gulami (servitude),” Negi told reporters after casting his vote at booth in Kalpa.
Earlier, he was accorded a red carpet welcome at the polling booth. Deputy Commissioner Hemraj Bairwa honoured Negi with a Kinnauri ‘topi’ and shawl. The DC said young voters should get inspiration from Negi, who turned up to cast his vote despite bad health.
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In his message to people, Negi, who had made a special appearance in a Hindi film, “Sanam Re”, said voters should participate in the election process to elect good and capable and honest candidates.
During India’s first general elections in 1951-52, polling in Kinnaur was held several months before the rest of the country because of geographical reasons, the district being a high-altitude region where snowfall would have made the exercise difficult during the winter. Negi, then 34 years old, became the first voter of the free country by casting his vote at Kalpa. “I was a schoolteacher then and had been put on election duty. Due to it, I reached my polling booth at the Kalpa primary school at 7 am to cast my vote. I was the first one to reach there and vote. Later, I was told I was the first to cast vote anywhere in the area,” he had earlier said.
Born on July 1, 1917, Negi claims to have cast his vote in every parliamentary, assembly and panchayat elections since then.
Meanwhile, over a hundred Covid patients or people under quarantine also cast their votes during the elections after following the Covid-related SOPs. Polling was held at more than 7,000 wards in the state for the posts of pradhan and up-pradhan, and in nearly 5,000 wards for panchayat ward members. For Zila Parishads and Panchayat Samitis, 234 and 991 wards went to polls, respectively.
Electoral Officer Sanjeev Mahajan said a voter turnout of over 70 per cent was recorded in the first round. Over 63 per cent voters of two panchayats in Kaza block in Lahaul-Spiti braved extreme cold weather conditions at a temperature of minus seven degrees Celsius to cast their vote, a district official said.
A voter turnout of 76 per cent was recorded in Hamirpur district.
Chief Minister Jai Ram Thakur and his family members cast their votes at Government Primary School at Kurani in Murhag panchayat of Mandi district. State Congress president Kuldeep Singh Rathour and his wife Tripta Rathour voted at Medhavani village in Kumarsain tehsil of Shimla.
The State Election Commission also wrote to the Kangra administration, ordering an inquiry into the omission of former state minister Sudhir Sharma’s name from the electoral rolls for the panchayat polls.
In a letter to the Kangra deputy commissioner, the election commission secretary sought to know how the Congress leader’s name was omitted from the electoral rolls of Rakkar panchayat falling under the Dharamshala development block.
Last week, the former state urban development minister had alleged that names of hundreds of voters are missing from the electoral rolls in almost every panchayat in the state. He termed it a “well thought-out conspiracy”, claiming most voters whose names are missing believe in the Congress ideology.
The counting of votes for ward members, deputy village heads and village heads will take place soon after voting. However, the counting for members of panchayat samitis and zila parishads will be conducted on January 22.
The candidates are contesting elections as independents and not on a party symbol.
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