Hectoliters of purple ink mark voters in India’s colossal poll

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - NEW DELHI: Every election in India leaves a mark on its people, not only in political terms, but also literally, in the form of purple stains on their index fingers.

As voters register in booths and have their ID verified to cast ballots, election officers paint a streak of ink across the top of their left index finger, leaving a dark purple stain that usually stays on the skin for more than two weeks.

The exercise started in 1962, during India’s third general election, to prevent fraud and duplicate votes, after the country’s first two polls were marred by complaints of voter impersonation.

One manufacturer was chosen to supply the ink and, as the country’s 18th parliamentary vote is underway, it is still the same one: Mysore Paints and Varnish, from Mysore city in the southern state of Karnataka.

The company was founded in 1937 by the then ruler of Mysore, Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, and became a public sector company after India gained independence from British rule in 1947.

Operated by the Karnataka state government, it is the only company authorized to produce the voter ink.

“From 1962, we have been the exclusive supplier of ink to the election commission of India,” K. Mohammed Irfan, the company’s managing director, told Arab News.

“At that time, Sukumar Sen was the chief election commissioner, and the inventor of the ink is by the name of Dr. Mathur.”

The inventor worked at the National Physical Laboratory, one of India’s earliest national laboratories, and the manufacturing process is based on a guarded chemical formula that has never changed.

“This ink cannot be erased easily,” Irfan said. “It is made of silver nitrate. Once the ink comes into the light it forms bluish and brownish stains, which remain from three days to more than one month.”

More than 968 million people are registered to vote in the world’s biggest election, which started on April 19 and will run in six phases until June 1. The Election Commission has ordered hectoliters of the indelible ink as part of the process.

“For this parliamentary election, we have taken around 80 days to manufacture 2.65 million bottles of ink,” Irfan said, adding that each vial is 10 ml.

“The total cost of manufacturing is 55 crore rupees ($6.6 million).”

A worker fills indelible ink into vials that is used during elections to prevent duplication of voting, at the government-run Mysore Paints and Varnish company in Mysore, India, March 12, 2024. (REUTERS)

Inked fingers are flashed by all those who cast their vote — from Bollywood stars and politicians to common citizens who take pride in being part of elections, which the Indian government usually refer to as “the festival of democracy.”

Shashank Aggarwal, 19, a first-time voter from Noida city, went to the polls on April 26 in the second phase of the vote.

“When the ink got marked on the finger, I felt that I had become part of the festival,” he said. “It felt nice.”

Kapil Sharma, who also voted last week, said that the purple pigment was still clear on his skin.

“The mark is still fresh and has not disappeared,” he said. “I proudly display my inked finger. I don’t mind if it sticks with me for the next five years. It’s a symbol and color of our democracy.”

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