Vot­ers’ safety: EC may drop in­deli­ble ink in Maoist ar­eas

Hindustan Times (Chandigarh) - - NATION - Sm­riti Kak Ra­machan­dran

NEWDELHI: Con­cerned about pos­si­ble reprisals by Maoist rebels against vot­ers in the Novem­ber as­sem­bly polls, the Ch­hat­tis­garh election of­fice has asked the Election Com­mis­sion of In­dia (ECI) to con­sider re­lax­ing a rule re­quir­ing the use of in­deli­ble ink in ar­eas where the rebels are ac­tive.

The semi-per­ma­nent ink is ap­plied to the fore­fin­ger of elec­tors to pre­vent them from vot­ing more than once un­der rules man­dated by the ECI . The stain lasts sev­eral days be­fore start­ing to fade. Ch­hat­tis­garh has 14 ar­eas where left-wing ex­trem­ists are ac­tive. Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials aware of the de­vel­op­ment, the chief election of­fi­cer of Ch­hat­tis­garh has asked the com­mis­sion to take a call on whether the use of the ink could be dis­con­tin­ued in these ar­eas. “The EC is ex­pected to take a call on whether this sug­ges­tion can be ac­cepted and re­lay the same to the law min­istry. If it is found ten­able, then it will re­quire a change in sec­tion 49(K) of the Con­duct of Election Rules, 1961,” said an of­fi­cial, re­quest­ing anonymity. Maoists are op­posed to the elec­toral process and have in the past at­tacked peo­ple who voted. The use of in­deli­ble ink makes it easy to iden­tify peo­ple who turned up at the polling booths to ex­er­cise their fran­chise.

Polling to pick a new as­sem­bly in Ch­hat­tis­garh will be con­ducted in two phases. On Novem­ber 12, polling will be held in 18 con­stituen­cies that are lo­cated in ar­eas un­der the grip of left-wing ex­trem­ism (LWE).

The re­main­ing 72 con­stituen­cies will go to the polls on Novem­ber 20.

“Threats are is­sued to lo­cals in LWE ar­eas to boy­cott the elec­tions, fail­ing which the Maoists threaten to chop off their fin­gers if they are found with ink marks. Vot­ers whose fin­gers are marked with the in­deli­ble ink are vul­ner­a­ble to at­tacks,” the of­fi­cial cited above said.

This is not the first time that such a re­quest has been made; sim­i­lar con­cerns were put forth by the election of­fi­cials of the state ahead of the 2013 as­sem­bly polls as well as the 2014 gen­eral election. How­ever, both times the in­deli­ble ink that is made by Mysore Paints and Var­nish Lim­ited was used. For­mer chief election com­mis­sioner HS Brahma said the is­sue was very sen­si­tive; it may not be fea­si­ble to dis­con­tinue the use of in­deli­ble ink as it is the only sure-shot way of en­sur­ing that no bo­gus vot­ing takes place, he said.

“It will be very dif­fi­cult and not ad­vis­able to change the rules at the last minute, es­pe­cially since there is no fool­proof al­ter­na­tive to us­ing the ink,” he said.

The ECI has put forth the ar­gu­ment that do­ing away with use of in­deli­ble ink may jeop­ar­dise free and fair elec­tions, al­though it says that the safety of vot­ers, and polling of­fi­cials and se­cu­rity forces de­puted at election time, is para­mount. “There could be bo­gus vot­ing, for in­stance, in which case the real vot­ers will be de­nied a chance to ex­er­cise their fran­chise. There are sev­eral such con­cerns that the EC will have to con­sider,” the of­fi­cial quoted above said.

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