The Royal History Of India's Indelible Election Ink

The Royal History Of India's Indelible Election Ink

Determining the future success or failure of a country, elections are perhaps the most coveted event in every democratic nation. Although it’s tagged as a privilege, voting is right of every citizen where the power lies in their hands to elect their choice of representative in both Assembly and General elections, choosing the government that they believe best represent their ideals.

A key factor in electoral voting is a mark of indelible ink that is applied on the index finger of every voter in order to ensure that each person votes once and that no bogus or fraudulent voting takes place at polling booths. In India, following the demonetization policy, today, the same indelible ink is being applied on the finger of individuals who have exchanged old currency notes at cash counters in banks. It is reported that the move was made to tackle the sly practice perpetrated by certain individuals of sending different groups of people to a number of banks to convert their black money into legal tender.

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Looking into the company’s history we found that it was in fact founded in 1937 by Maharaja Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, who back in the day was one of the richest men in the world. With family-owned gold mines, the Maharaja had a penchant for Rolls Royce cars which he’d buy in batches of seven as he considered it to be his lucky number, as stated by Vinay Nagaraju of Royal Mysore Walks. In 1947 the company was handed over to the Government of Karnataka who holds a 91.39 percent stake in the company according to a Business Today report, with the rest being distributed among close to 1,000 shareholders, including Srikantadatta Narasimharaja Wadiyar, scion of the royal family hailing from Mysore. Although the company also manufactures decorative paints, industrial coatings and varnishes, these other projects get overshadowed by the sheer revenue that’s generated by the ink manufacturing side of the business.During the very first election that took place in India in 1951-52, the election commission noticed several cases of identity theft taking place. To stop people from cast more than one vote the commission reached out to the National Physical Laboratory of India (NPL) requesting them to develop a unique ink formula that wouldn’t be easily wiped off, making sure that elections were carried out fairly sans any misconduct.

The NPL devised a closely guarded, secret formula and approached the company Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd. to manufacture the ink. To date, this company remains the sole manufacturer of this ink which is reportedly supplied to 35 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, Turkey, Lakshadweep, Singapore, Canada, as well as most of India’s neighbouring nations, and has inked close to 4.5 billion people as off 2015. From its first use in the third General elections of 1962, the ink has almost completely stopped any kind of identify theft during the voting period. In democratic nations like the United States and United Kingdom indelible ink is not used, instead opting for social security numbers issued to each citizen keep track of identity theft or multiple votes being placed by the same person. However, in a country as overpopulated as India where illiteracy is rampant, the use of indelible ink is an easier method of keeping a check on any misgivings.

A peak into the indelible ink manufacturing. Image source: Business Today

Distributed in 5 ml, 7.5 ml, 20 ml, 50 ml and 80 ml vials, a single 5 ml vial is sufficient for an approximated 300 voters. The bottles used are designed in such a manner so as to prevent any kind of reaction with sunlight until they are opened. The Election Commission of India is one of the major customers of this company, placing orders for the ink based on the number of registered voters involved in the election. It is then supplied to the Chief Electoral Officers who subsequently distribute it to individual voting centres.

What makes the election ink so special?

While the complete formula is unknown the ink is said to be made with small amounts of silver nitrate which reacts to light, marking a voters finger for up to 3-4 weeks. It cannot be simply washed away or removed by any known chemical or solvent. “Since the ink is photosensitive in nature, it darkens when exposed to sunlight or even indoor light,” shared Hemant Kumar, Managing Director of the manufacturing company, with Business Today.

In our large country the ink is worn as a badge of honour by voters regardless of class, gender, caste and creed. In a sea of diverse people that wear different sectarian markers in the form of ethnic jewelry, turbans, religious symbols and clan marking, all which change from region to region, the election ink is a unifying feature that strings together our multicultural population.

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