One of the Elect


He leads a quiet life in an old wooden house in Kalpa, a famous apple-growing village in Himachal Pradesh's Kinnaur district.

He leads a quiet life in an old wooden house in Kalpa, a famous apple-growing village in Himachal Pradesh's Kinnaur district. He wakes up every day to the view of the sun rising from behind the mighty, snow-clad Kinner-Kailash mountain range and lighting up the Kinnaur valley. The height of these mountains, he says, has inspired him to have lofty, albeit sometimes unrealistic, ideals in life. As he awaits November 4, the day Himachal Pradesh votes to elect its next government, all he wants is to be able to walk without help to the polling station to press the blue button on the Electronic Voting Machine (EVM) one more time.

Ninety-five-year-old Shyam Saran is the country's first and oldest surviving voter. He first cast his vote in October 1951, almost six months before the rest of the country voted in India's first general elections in February 1952. Given the extreme cold that had to be tackled while conducting polls in Kinnaur and Lahaul and Spiti, the Election Commission decided to hold polls in these areas before winter set in. This ensured that Shyam Saran, and many of his contemporaries, ended up being one of the first citizens to vote in free India. Saran is the only survivor from that lot. Two years ago, the Election Commission of India identified him as India's first voter, and he has since seen a steady stream of tourists and journalists visiting him. Former Chief Election Commissioner Navin Chawla visited his house in Kalpa in June 2010 to honour him, a fact recounted with much pride in Kinnaur.

"Koi kasar nahin chhodi (I have pulled out all stops)," Saran beams when asked if he has voted in all the elections since 1951. "Vote hi hamara sabse bada adhikar hai. Aajkal ke yuva vote nahin dena chahtey. Woh nahin jaantey woh apna kitna bada adhikar ganwa rahey hain (Voting is the greatest right we have. Nowadays, youngsters are not too keen to vote. They don't realise how great a right they are squandering)," Saran says.

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