All of us here at Marcellus’ Mumbai offices are quite excited about tomorrow – where we get to exercise our franchise, the power to elect the people who govern our country. Indeed, elections are much like festivals – a celebration of democracy. There’s plenty of discourse and banter among the contestants, their supporters and the voters alike. But here’s a piece on a quirky aspect of the Indian elections but absolutely central to its sanctity – the indelible ink that’s marked on our fingers when we vote:

“A voter’s finger is marked with indelible ink in the polling booth to prevent bogus voting—the casting of multiple votes. It was introduced in 1962 after rising instances of voting fraud in the first two general elections (1951-52 and 1957). Back then, indelible ink was the single most important instrument to prevent the malaise—voter identity cards were introduced only in 1993.”

This piece in the Mint talks about the public sector undertaking which is the sole supplier of this ink in the world’s largest democracy with an electorate comprising almost a billion people – Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd or MPVL, now owned by the Karnataka State government.

“MPVL has been the sole supplier of the indelible ink to the Election Commission ever since it was first used. The company was founded in 1937 by Krishnaraja Wadiyar IV, maharaja of the kingdom of Mysore. The ink remains its flagship product and accounts for the bulk of its revenue even today.

It is not just the Indian elections that MPVL supplies and protects. The state public sector unit exports its indelible ink to over 30 democracies around the world, including Malaysia, Cambodia, Mongolia, South Africa, Nepal, Ghana and Denmark. It even supplied the ink to Pakistan and Afghanistan back in 2004-05.”

But it remains a niche business still dependent on the election cycle:
“MPVL has always been a profitable and dividend-paying company. Its annual revenue in a non-Lok Sabha election year is around ₹30 crore… In years when Lok Sabha polls are held, its revenue and profit spikes. In 2019, MPVL’s revenue rose to ₹61 crore and profit touched ₹13.4 crore. In 2023-24, the revenue figure is estimated to surge to the ₹80 crore level. Revenue from supply to the 2024 Lok Sabha elections alone is projected to touch ₹55 crore.”

Despite its modest size, its importance cannot be understated given the problem it is trying to solve:

“The formula for the indelible ink is the brainchild of three scientists at the National Physical Laboratory (NPL)—B.G. Mathur, V.D. Puri and M.L. Goel—who hold the patent for it along with NPL.

Vishalakshi is among the few people in the country privy to the formula. “It is a big responsibility,” she says, adding, “We take great care to ensure that the ink we manufacture works without fail for a free and fair election.”

Before they are shipped, the products go through multiple layers of quality checks. “Quality checks happen at the raw material stage itself,” explains Vishalakshi.

Each batch of silver nitrate, the main raw material and a host of solvents are checked before being used in production. The mixing of the ingredients, as per the formula, happens in a dark room as the process is photosensitive. “The final product is then tested thrice, as per NPL norms: after production, while filling in the phials, and before dispatch,” she explains.

Attempts are made to remove the applied ink using a variety of fluids such as lemon juice, papaya juice, shampoo, nail polish remover, dye remover or a combination of these. Newspaper reports and social media posts are scoured for details of indelible ink vanishing and the ink is tested under the same conditions.

“The ink, once exposed to sunlight, will leave an indelible mark that will remain for anywhere between 72 hours and three months. How long it stays depends on the nature of the skin. It cannot be removed without damaging the skin,””

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