SHOCKING! 'Indelible' ink no match for matchsticks

Apr 29, 2014, 07:03 IST | Team mid-day

The 'non-removable' voters' ink stain can be removed in five minutes with the help of a common household matchstick. WATCH the video in which mid-day proves this point

If you think the ink mark painted on your finger after you cast your vote was impossible to remove, you are wrong. As an experiment, this newspaper’s photographer managed to erase it within minutes. The same was also confirmed by a Bollywood superstar, who also managed to do away with his ink stain, as he had to go for a shoot.

The ink for the electoral process is manufactured by Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd (MPVL), a Government of Karnataka undertaking. It is applied on the voter’s index finger on the nail, extending below the nail joint. The Election Commission’s claim that the ink was indelible had fallen flat.

It should be noted that Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar had asked, in his speech to mathadi workers in Navi Mumbai, to remove the ink stain and vote twice for his party once in Mumbai and once in their hometowns in Satara as both places went to polls on separate days (April 24 and April 17 respectively).

Pawar later clarified that he had made the remark ‘in jest’. Offering a possible explanation, Dr Sadanand Dharap, chairman, Board of Studies of Chemistry of the Mumbai University said, “Silver nitrate is very expensive. Usually there is a 25% of solution of silver nitrate in ink.

If the silver nitrate proportion is less and if it is not up to the mark, then only ink might have come onto the finger. This ink is dye and can easily be removed. Maybe there is a manufacturing fault.”

Gone in minutes
Our photographer voted on April 24 from the Mumbai North East constituency, in a polling booth in Bhandup (West). He cast his vote around 4.30 pm. Four days later, on April 28 we carried out an experiment.

Five minutes and seven matchsticks later, the ink stain is gone

First, we wet the index finger, on which the mark is made, with normal water. We then rubbed the mark with the head of a matchstick (which contains phosphorus). Seven matches and five minutes later, the ink stain was gone completely.

The whole ink story
Electoral stain typically contains silver nitrate which stains the skin on exposure to ultraviolet light, leaving a mark that is impossible to wash off and is only removed as external skin cells are replaced.

Concentration of Silver Nitrate varies from 7 % to 25 %. In the case of proxy voting, ink is applied on the middle finger of the left hand of the proxy.

For the 2009 general elections, Mysore Paints and Varnish Limited undertaking supplied around 20 lakh vials of 10 ml size. Uttar Pradesh alone consumed 2.88 lakh vials.

Ink is applied on the voter’s finger as a line from the top end of the nail to the bottom of the first joint of the left fore finger (with effect from Feb 1, 2006).

Politicians react

Even if there were one case of a bogus vote found, you can’t call it a ‘fair election’. There are chances that bogus voting happened in rural areas, as there is no awareness about fair elections. We will now raise this issue of ink removal with the Election Commission, along with other matters like missing names from voters’ list and bogus voting. - Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena MP and spokesperson

The election commission should improve the quality of ink. - Nitin Sardesai, MNS MLA

The EC should have a public demonstration on the ink and prove that it is not removable. I would suggest that the EC make changes in the ink solution every election, so that it doesn’t get erased. We will also approach them on this issue soon. I feel there should be free and fair elections. - Ashish Shelar, BJP Mumbai unit chief

I haven’t come across any such cases. If there is something like this, the Election Commission should do something to ensure free and fair elections in future. - Sachin Sawant, Congress spokesperson

I don’t believe the ink can be tampered with, as there are mock drills done in front of booth level agents of both parties. There are chances that people might have voted out of Mumbai, as the ink automatically disappears with time. - Atul Londhe, NCP spokesperson

Did you know?
>> In India, the ink is dabbed with a stick, while in Cambodia voters dip a finger into the ink. 
>> In Burundi, the ink is applied with a brush, and in Turkey it is applied with nozzles 
>> Usually indelible ink is in violet colour. However, Suriname used orange colour ink in its legislative election of 2005.

Senior Supreme Court counsel Harish Salve said, “The technical skills of the Election Commission are still being stretched by the dishonesty of those who want to abuse this most sacred process of electing those in whose hands our future and future of our children lie.

I suppose they go back to their drawing boards and come up with some other solution to maintain free and fair elections.” Senior counsel Aspi Chinoy said, “The mark is the essential safeguard that nobody casts a vote twice.

If the ink gets removed so easily, it only undermines the probity of the elections. The Election Commission must take serious note of this, and take adequate measures to improve the same.”

Election commission says
Nitin Gadre, state chief election officer, said the issue comes under the Election Commission of India and that he couldn’t offer any comment. Attempts to contact Chief Election Commissioner VS Sampath, Election Commissioners, HS Brahma and Nasim Zaidi, and Deputy Election Commissioner Vinod Zutshi yielded no results.

20,140 litres
The amount of ink expected to be used in the 2014 elections

The number of fingers that can be marked by each bottle

Year since which Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd has been manufacturing and supplying indelible ink for all elections in India

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