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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 October, 2004, 15:06 GMT 16:06 UK
India link to Afghan ink stink
By Sunil Raman
BBC correspondent in Bangalore

Indian marker pen used in Afghan vote
The Indian firm says its products have stood the test of time
An Indian paint company says that marker pens with indelible ink supplied for Afghanistan's elections cannot be blamed for cases of election fraud.

Some candidates maintain that many people cast their vote more than once after removing supposedly indelible ink marks from their fingers.

But the company says that the problem arose because of confusion among election staff in some voting centres.

Counting in the vote has been put on hold after the malpractice allegations.

Ink not indelible

Mysore Paints and Varnish Limited, a public sector company based in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, told the BBC that the problem had arisen because of confusion among election staff in some voting centres.

"They used marker pens meant for paper and not the pen with indelible ink on voters' fingers," said C Harakumar, the company's marketing manager. "How can we be held responsible for mistakes of the election staff?" he asked.

'A proven ink'

"It will not have an impact on our reputation," said Manivanan, Quality Manager.

A polling agent checks the registration card of Afghan refugee in Peshawar, Pakistan
There have been several allegations of malpractice

He says that the ink was manufactured according to a formula specially designed by the Delhi-based National Physical Laboratory, and has been used in India for over 50 years in addition to being exported to many African countries, Cambodia, Nepal, Papua New Guinea and Turkey.

"It is a good ink, a proven ink," Manivanan observed.

Mysore Paints is the sole Indian company that manufactures indelible ink and it has been used in every Indian election for the last five decades.

Set up in 1937 as Mysore Lac and Paints Limited for manufacturing paints and related products, it became a public sector company after India gained independence in 1947.

It is a good ink, a proven ink
Manivanan, Quality Manager, Mysore Paints and Varnish

Mysore Paints and Varnish Limited is the only public sector company that manufactures paints in the country and its major shareholding is held by the Karnataka government.

'Very successful'

The United Nations Representative Sam Vidana Gamachi visited the company factory in Mysore before placing orders for 50,000 marker pens instead of ink bottles.

While 50,000 pens were sent to Afghanistan, voters in booths set up in Pakistan used indelible ink from bottles for the presidential election.

An Afghan polling official marks the finger of a woman
The ink is alleged not to be indelible

Company officials say 22,000 bottles of 80ml indelible ink were sent for use in booths set up in Pakistan for Afghan refugees.

"There it was very successful," Manivanan said.

Company officials say that UN officials insisted on the marker pens even though they were recommended to use ink from bottles.

It was the first time that Mysore Paints manufactured indelible ink pens.

For this week's election in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, officials decided to use ink bottles in preference to ink pens, a decision which under the circumstances seems to have been entirely justified.

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