Kinnaur: On November 9, as voters decide who will form the next government in Himachal Pradesh, one among them is expected to receive a star welcome of sorts at the voting centre.
Shyam Saran Negi will cast his vote at the polling station in Kalpa, over 200 km from state capital Shimla. At 100, Mr Negi's is not only one of the oldest voters in the state, but was also the first voter of independent India.
Sixty-six years ago, Mr Negi made history when he voted in Himachal Pradesh's Kinnaur district becoming independent India's first voter.
Decades have passed since his first vote in 1951, but the retired school teacher has not lost his enthusiasm when he goes out to vote. Despite his age, Mr Negi has never missed voting in any state or general election. This rare feat has helped him become a VIP of sorts as there is a media fair when he goes out to vote.
"My father is preparing to cast his vote on November 9 for the state Assembly polls," his youngest son Chander Prakash was quoted by news agency PTI.
Mr Prakash says that his father still gets the "same joy and thrill" when he exercised his vote for the first time.
In 1951, elections were held in Kalpa (then known as Chini) in the Kinnaur district before other parts of the state, anticipating heavy snowfall in higher altitude areas. Mr Negi, who resides in Kanang Saring in Kalpa, was the first to vote. For every election thereafter, Mr Negi has ensured that he casts his vote at the election centre in Kalpa, situated at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet.
These days he walks with the help of a stick and mostly remains indoors during winters. "He eats less these days, but is fond of drinking tea," his son added.
Sub-Divisional Magistrate, Kalpa, Dr Avaninder Kumar said, "We have made all arrangements to facilitate him reach the Kalpa-2 polling station from his home. He will also be dropped at home after he exercises the franchise".
Mr Negi has been appointed a brand ambassador by the State Election Commission. On November 9, the centurian is expected to receive a "rousing reception" as he arrives to cast his vote. Kinnaur Deputy Commissioner Dr Naresh Kumar Lath, who is also the district electoral officer, said a red carpet will be rolled out to facilitate Mr Negi to cast his vote without any hassle. "He will be honoured with a traditional Kinnauri cap, a shawl and mementoes," Mr Lath said.
(with inputs from PTI)