Google India pledges to vote with Shyam Negi

By Satrajit Sen , afaqs!, New Delhi | In Digital | March 31, 2014
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A part of Google's Pledge to Vote campaign, the film features Negi, independent India's first voter who has voted in every election since 1951.

It is not an easy task to obtain information about the first voter of an independent nation. For a vast nation like India, the task becomes next to impossible. This probably explains why not many people have heard of Shyam Saran Negi. Although there is no Wikipedia page on Negi, his name is emblazoned in the history of the country as independent India's first voter, who is now a 97-year old retired school teacher living in Kinnaur in Himachal Pradesh.

Google Pledge To Vote campaign video

Google Pledge To Vote campaign website

Sandeep Menon

Abhijit Avasthi

As the story goes, India's first General Elections were held in early 1952. But, an exception was made for Kalpa, a constituency in Kinnaur, in anticipation of snowfall, and hence elections were held there in October, 1951. That's when Negi, lovingly known as Masterji, got a chance to cast his vote first.

Taking a cue from this, Google India, as a part of its Pledge to Vote campaign, has launched a film featuring Negi who, since 1951, has voted in every election, including each of the 15 Lok Sabha elections. The years haven't diminished his belief in democracy and the power of elections. He also continues to be an inspiration to his family, friends and the community in Kalpa.

The film, conceptualised by Ogilvy & Mather Mumbai, was shot in Negi's hometown, Kalpa, over several days in early March. The Ogilvy team also acknowledges that the time spent with the protagonist in the lovely mountain town helped in bringing alive not just his story, but even his commitment to the country.

Speaking about the idea behind the campaign, Sandeep Menon, director, marketing, Google India, says, "The 2014 General Elections promises to be a landmark in the history of this nation. Perhaps more than any other election in the past, these elections are about capturing the imagination of millions of both first-time as well as experienced voters. This video has been developed to inspire Indian voters to vote in this election. The story of Shyam Negi is a testimony of Indian voters' belief in the power of democracy."

Abhijit Avasthi, national creative director, Ogilvy India, says, "Google wants to motivate people, especially youngsters, to exercise their right to vote. But rather than being preachy, it wants to do it the inspirational and emotional way. And who better to inspire us than Negi, who has diligently and with pride carried out this duty since 1951. We are all fortunate to have him present amongst us."

Google India's campaign #PledgeToVote urges citizens of the country to vote in this Lok Sabha election. It also promotes Google India's election hub,, where citizens can keep track of everything they need to know before voting.

Google's election hub displays the latest news, videos and also provides links to party resources, the Election Commission and links to NGOs like the Association for Democratic Reform and PRS Legislative Research.

Beyond information, the hub is also being used for interaction between voters and candidates with the Videos and Hangout pages. The page had also hosted Google Hangouts with various party leaders such as the minister of rural development Jairam Ramesh (on March 27), the chief minister of Madhya Pradesh Shivraj Singh Chauhan (on March 29) and former sports minister Ajay Maken (on March 30); the page states that more will be added over time.

Another interesting feature is the Pledge to Vote map, where users can share messages on why they want to vote. There are circles on this interactive map of India and when a user clicks on one, he/she can see the messages left by other users.

Given that the scope of participation in Hangouts may be restricted to only those who have access to a computer, Google has also designed an interesting innovation that provides audio access. People can call 08800484848 to listen in on Hangouts (both live and after they are over). The call is automatically disconnected and the caller receives a call with the audio.

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