People who set electoral ball rolling in free India (With Image)

March 31st, 2009 - 12:57 pm ICT by IANS  

By Vishal Gulati
Shimla, March 31 (IANS) The tribals of Himachal Pradesh have a special place in the history of democracy in independent India as they were the first to cast their votes.

The residents of remote Kinnaur, Chamba and Lahaul and Spiti districts were months ahead of the rest of the nation in exercising their franchise for the first general elections in 1951-52.

“The voters of Kinnaur, Chamba and Lahaul and Spiti voted in October 1951 while the rest of the country voted between December 1951 and February 1952. This was done to ensure that snowfall did not deprive the tribals of the privilege of exercising their franchise,” Anil Khachi, the state chief electoral officer, told IANS.

“There were no proper roads at that time. The ballot boxes were transported on horseback,” said octogenarian Dharmu Ram of Tholang village in Lahaul and Spiti district.

Prem Prakash, a school teacher from Chang Ho village in Kinnaur, said: “I vividly remember my grandfather huffing and puffing to reach the only polling station located over 30 km from our house. The rugged mountainous terrain made it difficult for him to walk.

“At that time there was no enthusiasm among the voters as most of them were illiterate. People hardly knew the names of the candidates but felt happy that they voted for Panditji (Jawaharlal Nehru),” he added.

As per the records of the state election department, nonagenarian Shyam Saran was among the first to vote at the polling booth in Kinnaur’s Kalpa village, now renamed Chini, on Oct 25, 1951.

The department has a video recording of him casting his vote during the 2007 assembly elections at a polling booth located at an altitude of over 10,000 feet. However, officials are not aware of his whereabouts now.

Tribal areas form the Mandi constituency, which was earlier called Mahasu. In 1952, Rajkumari Amrit Kaur of the erstwhile royal family of Kapurthala won.

This time, five-time Congress chief minister Virbhadra Singh - who is contesting the Lok Sabha election after 26 years - and BJP’s three-time MP Maheshwar Singh are the main contestants in Mandi.

Virbhadra Singh’s wife Pratibha Singh is the sitting MP. In 2004, she defeated Maheshwar Singh by 66,566 votes. She had lost to Maheshwar Singh in 1999 by over 131,000 votes.

Of the 1.1 million voters in the constituency, 145,000 live in tribal areas. Lahaul and Spiti has just 22,981 electors against 1.08 million of Kangra district.

The high-altitude polling station Hikkim, which is 15,500 feet above sea level, is also located in this constituency.

“This time 321 people are eligible to vote at the Hikkim station in Spiti division. In 2004, there were 171,” said Khachi.

“The polling exercise is a difficult task in this region as one-third of the polling booths are located at altitudes above 13,000 feet,” he said.

Voting for the Lok Sabha polls will be held in the state May 13.

“The Lahaul valley is still cut off from the rest of the country owing to heavy snow,” said Sher Singh, the Lahaul and Spiti district public relations officer.

“The usual election bustle is still missing here. The poll scene will heat up only with the melting of snow and opening of land routes,” said Hukam Chand of Keylong, the district headquarters of Lahaul and Spiti.

(Vishal Gulati can be contacted at

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