Thought for the week: India's first voter

A remarkable man passed away last week: 106-year-old Shyam Saran Negi was known as India’s firstvoter.
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Negi cast his first vote in the election which followed India’s Independence. His reputation is based on the fact that his home state of Himachal Pradesh, opened polling in 1951 five months before the scheduled 1952 election, in order to avoid disruption by heavy snows.

He participated in every election since that date, including one just a few days before his death. For his notable record in the world’s largest democracy, he will be given a solemn state funeral.

His record is a standing rebuke to all those who, though they live in a democracy, rarely if ever cast their ballots in an election. Even in the best of years, a 70% turn-out of voters is scarcely achieved.

Rev David ClarkeRev David Clarke
Rev David Clarke

Admittedly, the quality of our politicians often leaves much to be desired. I can understand the American voter in the nineteenth century who arrived at his polling station to be asked whom he wanted to vote for. When he announced that he wanted to vote for Henry Clay, he was told that Henry Clay had died some years earlier.

‘Yes, I know,’ he said, ‘but I would rather vote for Henry Clay dead than for some of these men living!’ On the other hand, we must acknowledge the personal sacrifices many make, and their willingness to absorb random criticism from many quarters.

Citizens who blithely and unashamedly declare that they have no interest in politics seem to ignore the contradiction of their position. Are they seriously saying they have no interest in the state of the Health Service, or the education provision for their children and grandchildren? Are they not concerned for the state of our environment or the security of the country? All these things are in the hands of our elected representatives.

Jesus was one asked a question which was designed to make political mischief for him; “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar? (Mark 12’ 13-17). Jesus answered that query with an enigmatic sentence; ‘Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s’.

That first phrase suggests that followers of Jesus ought to play their part in the body politic. Each vote counts. Shyam Saran Negi would have agreed.

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