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India's first voters set to exercise franchise again

India's first and oldest voters in Himachal Pradesh are all set to vote again for its four parliamentary seats on Sunday, poll officials said on Saturday.

Devi Das, 107, is one the oldest voters in the state. With his folding hands he is appealing the public to go and exercise their franchise on May 19.

The administration of Bilaspur district has declared him an Election Commission's SVEEP (Systematic Voters' Education and Electoral Participation) ambassador, an inspiration for others, mainly the first-timers, to vote.

In a message through a video, Das, with folding hands, is saying he has participated in all the elections.

"If I am alive on May 19, I must vote... I appeal that all should vote in the elections," he said.

Bilaspur Deputy Commissioner Vivek Bhatia met Das at his residence in gram panchayat Balhseena in Jhandutta area.

At the meeting, he recalled an incident with an arrogant British officer in 1948-49, while he was posted at Fort William in Calcutta.

"Persons like him are like a banyan tree. Barely able to speak, he gave me an advice which I will cherish for my life. I pray for his good health," Bhatia said in a Facebook post.

Some 999 centenarians will cast their votes for the state's four parliamentary seats -- Kangra, Mandi, Hamirpur, Shimla -- at seven special polling stations, Chief Electoral Officer Devesh Kumar told IANS.

Kangra, the state's populous district, has the highest number of 293 centenarian voters, followed by 125 in Hamirpur district and 122 in Mandi district.

Landlocked Lahaul-Spiti district, which remains cut-off from the rest of the world for at least five months owing to snapping of road links, has five 100-plus voters, the lowest in the state.

Deep into the Himalayas, bordering China, lives one of the country's oldest voters - Shyam Saran Negi (102) - who also participated in the 1951-52 general elections, India first election.

A staunch believer in democracy, he resides in the picturesque village of Kalpa in Kinnaur district and never fails to cast his vote in any of the elections, be it Lok Sabha or the Assembly or the panchayat.

Negi told IANS through his son Chander Parkash on phone, "I am appealing to all the voters, especially the younger generation, to spare time and elect an honest man who can take the country to new heights."

"After hundreds of years the country got its independence. So it is our duty to get elected an honest person after every five years for the cause of the country," added Negi, who was born on July 1, 1917.

In 1951, Negi, a retired schoolteacher, was on an election duty and exercised his franchise in Chini constituency - later renamed Kinnaur.

At that time, balloting in the snow-bound areas of the hill state was held ahead of other places in the country.

This time, he will cast his 31st vote. He has voted in 16 parliamentary and 14 Assembly polls.

"In 2007 Assembly polls, an election official got in touch with him for the first time and since then he is in limelight in every election," a state election official told IANS.

The state has over 53 lakh electors and 7,730 polling stations have been set up for smooth conduct of polls.

(Vishal Gulati can be reached at vishal.g@ians.in)

--IANS

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