NCP chief Sharad Pawar has waded into a controversy for asking his supporters to remove the indelible ink mark and vote twice in the coming Lok Sabha election. But makers of the ink say it cannot be erased so quickly and those who try to do so with chemicals may end up burning their fingers.

According to C. Harakumar, marketing manager of Mysore Paints and Varnish Limited (MPVL), which will supply 2.2 million vials (of 10 ml each or 22,000 litres) for the election, the mark just cannot be “erased”.

“If the voters try to remove the ink through any chemical concoction they might end up burning their fingers,” Mr. Harakumar told IANS.

The company, a Karnataka government undertaking, is the sole manufacturer of the indelible ink, popularly known as voter’s ink, which has been used in elections since 1962 to avoid fraudulent or multiple voting and other malpractices.

“Once applied the ink mark remains on the finger for a few months, thus preventing the voter from casting his vote again. And this is because no chemical, detergent or oil can remove the ink from the finger,” Mr. Harakumar noted.

The ink contains silver nitrate, which stains the nail on exposure to ultraviolet light, leaving a mark that is impossible to wash off and fades as new nail growth occurs.

Perhaps Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief and union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar was not aware of this fact when he remarked to party workers in Mumbai on Sunday that they should vote once in their native place and then a second time in their workplace.

When other political parties slammed his remark, Mr. Pawar backtracked, saying it was made in “jest”. But the Election Commission immediately took note of it.

According to former Chief Election Commissioner N. Gopalaswami, “The ink is very reliable.”

Speaking from Chennai, Mr. Gopalaswami said that approximately one vial is used in each polling station, of which there are nearly 900,000 across the country. Each booth has 900-1,000 voters.

Mr. Harakumar said the 2.2 million vials to be supplied for the Lok Sabha polls is higher than the two million supplied during the 2009 elections.

A senior poll panel official said that the Bangalore-based company specialises in manufacturing quality indelible ink in association with the Election Commission, the National Physical Laboratory and the National Research Development Corporation (NRDC).

It is the sole authorised supplier of this type of ink in India with an exclusive licence granted by the NRDC.

The MPVL was established in 1937 by the late Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the then Maharaja of Mysore, as the “Mysore Lac and Paint Works Ltd”. In 1989, it was renamed “Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd.”

Apart from supplying ink during elections in India, the firm has been exporting the product to 28 countries across the world since 1976.

The countries include Afghanistan, Turkey, South Africa, Nigeria, Nepal, Ghana, Papua New Guinea, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Canada, Togo, Sierra Leone, Malaysia, the Maldives and Cambodia.

“Though we supply ink to various countries, India is the biggest consumer,” Mr. Harakumar said.

In India, the ink is dabbed on with a stick, but it’s applied differently elsewhere.

While in Cambodia and the Maldives voters dip a finger into the ink, in Burkina Faso and Burundi, the ink is applied with a brush. In Turkey it is applied with nozzles and in Afghanistan with pens.

Last year, Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd earned Rs. four crore from ink exports.

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