The far-flung village of Kalpa, in the tough-terrained Himalayas, boasts a resident who has exhibited his strong faith in democracy.
Shyam Saran Negi was the first Indian to cast his vote in the first general election in independent India way back in 1951. Seventy years later, he is still exercising his right with as much conviction and enthusiasm as he did the first time.
On Sunday, the 103-year-old Negi cast his vote once again in the ongoing Panchayat elections to elect village heads in Himachal Pradesh.
He walked the 100-metre distance to the polling booth on his own, refusing the wheelchair offered by the district authorities. They had rolled out the red carpet to welcome him.
Speaking to Sputnik, Negi, a retired school teacher, said the vote is the biggest power granted to citizens in a democratic country and everyone must make use of it.
The centenarian has never missed a vote - be it for parliamentary elections, state elections, or village elections.
"It is sad to see that many youngsters don't go out to vote in elections. Voting is the most significant right given to citizens. If we don't contribute by casting our vote then what right do we have to complain against the system? Everyone must vote and make democracy a success", he said.
District Administration Greets Shyam Saran
Hemraj Bairwa, a top administrative officer from the Kinnaur district, who welcomed Negi near the polling booth, said: "He was so excited to be casting a vote again".
"Even at the polling booth, he told everybody that it is after a lot of struggle that India attained independence in 1947. Everyone should participate in the elections which are the most integral part of a democratic set up. It was his message to all, especially the youth. It is wonderful that his heart is still so young", the officer told Sputnik.
Dr Avanider Kumar, the Sub Divisional Magistrate for Kalpa who organised the red carpet welcome for the country's first voter, said "It is a wonder that this man has never missed casting a vote in any election. Despite inclement weather and his frail health, it was heartening to see his eagerness, his faith in democracy".
"He became country's first voter since elections in the tribal areas were held during independent India's first general election in 1951", Dr Kumar added.
Negi's contribution came to light nearly 45 years after he quietly kept doing his bit for democracy. It was in 2007 that the Election Commission of India tracked him down from details in photo electoral rolls.
In 2014, the Election Commission of India made Negi its Brand Ambassador. Today, he is a source of inspiration for all.
Shyam Saran – An Inspiration for Family and Village
According to Shyam Saran's youngest son C.P. Negi, his father continues to inspire everyone in the family, in the village, and the whole country due to his commitment to the electoral system.
"He has 8 children, 28 grandchildren and my son, who is 20 years old, cast votes alongside him for the first time during these ongoing Panchayat elections", he added. He said his father, who served as a physical education teacher in the village school, follows news and politics in the country with deep interest. Although hard of hearing, the son said, he's in "excellent" health.
"You cannot make out that he is over 100 years old. He eats well and insists on walking on his own to polling booths, however inclement the weather might be", he added.
Asked how he views the significance of voting, Shyam Saran said: "The youth of the country have not witnessed the struggles faced by people before independence when we were enslaved. We need to teach them how hard fought the independence is. Only then they will understand the true value of a vote".