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How Indelible Ink Shapes the World’s Largest Election – What’s Behind the Purple Stain?

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The world’s largest democratic exercise in India has once again marked its presence through the iconic purple-stained index fingers of its citizens as they cast their votes in the ongoing elections.

The Election Commission of India employs indelible ink, also known as “voter ink,” to prevent electoral fraud and duplication of votes. After a voter verifies their identity and cast their ballot, the ink is applied to the top of their left index finger, leaving a lasting mark that can take up to two weeks to fade away.

While the method may seem basic, it has been remarkably effective for over seventy years, standing as a symbol of India’s democratic process.

K Mohammed Irfan, the managing director of Mysore Varnish and Paints Limited (MVPL), the state-owned company responsible for producing and distributing the ink, highlighted its significance. He emphasized how people from all walks of life, including the Prime Minister and common citizens, proudly display their ink-stained fingers as a testament to their participation in the democratic process.

MVPL has been working tirelessly to fulfill the massive demand for indelible ink during India’s elections, producing nearly 2.7 million vials for this year’s polls. The company’s factory in Mysuru, Karnataka, has been bustling with activity as workers diligently prepare the orange-colored containers for distribution.

The ink’s enduring effectiveness lies in its closely guarded formula, which has remained unchanged since 1951. While the exact composition is kept confidential, it is known to contain silver nitrate, which leaves a distinct purplish stain on the skin when exposed to sunlight.

Despite being “bound to secrecy” about the ink’s formulation, Irfan assured that MVPL strictly adheres to manufacturing only the required quantity of indelible ink, emphasizing its sole purpose in the electoral process.

The use of indelible ink traces back to India’s first general elections in 1951-52 when it was introduced as a measure to prevent impersonation and double voting. Despite initial concerns about its practicality, public opinion prevailed, leading to its widespread adoption.

Ornit Shani, author of “How India Became Democratic: Citizenship and the Making of the Universal Franchise,” highlighted how the practice of marking voters’ fingers further reinforced the core democratic value of equality in voting.

MVPL’s involvement in the production of indelible ink extends beyond India’s borders, with over 35 countries, including Ghana, relying on their supplies. However, Ghana recently announced plans to transition to biometric verification methods, signaling a departure from the traditional ink-based system.

In India, the use of indelible ink continues to be deeply ingrained in the electoral process, with Mukulika Banerjee, an associate professor of anthropology at the London School of Economics, noting its cultural significance. The practice not only serves as a means of preventing electoral fraud but also fosters a sense of civic duty and peer pressure among voters.

As citizens proudly display their ink-stained fingers on social media, the indelible mark serves as a powerful symbol of democracy in action, encouraging widespread participation in the electoral process.

This story was originally featured on CNN

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