This man has his stamp on all votes
Talk to Shashi Kumar Prabhune, 73, if you want to know the history of India's voting system. He is the sole supplier of the 'arrow cross rubber stamps' used in stamping ballot papers during polling across the country.
Even with EVMs replacing ballot papers, Prabhune remains flooded with orders from various state governments. This is because the EC has prescribed the rubber stamps as essential items to be kept at every polling booth as a standby.
Prabhune recalls the 1952 and 1957 elections when separate ballot boxes were kept for individual candidates. Voters were required to cast ballot papers in the prescribed boxes. When the number of candidates went up considerably, the EC started the system of marking on ballot paper.
The marking system was first tried in the Rajasthan panchayat polls in 1961. Officials initially ridiculed Prabhune's stamp — a two-inch wooden piece with a cross rubber stamp at the bottom. He only got the order after the chosen supplier failed to meet the deadline.
EC officials, who took some samples, later asked Prabhune for a meeting in Delhi. The low rate quoted by Prabhune earned him a monopoly over the trade during the 1962 assembly and Lok Sabha elections across India.
In the 1962 and 1967 elections, there arose a problem with cross-mark seals. Excess ink on the stamp pad would at times lead to smudging or double marking when ballot papers were folded — rendering the ballot invalid.
At a meeting in Delhi it was suggested that ballots should be printed on blotting paper. Prabhune offered to find a less expensive alternative.
That was when he came up with the arrow cross mark rubber stamps. The arrow mark was to be in an anti-clockwise direction. If the impression was printed elsewhere on the ballot paper, it would have the arrow in a clockwise direction, and thus get detected.
After this breakthrough, he was awarded a lifetime contract for the supply of stamps. On August 15 this year, Prabhune's firm, M/s Ideal Cottage Industries, will celebrate its golden jubilee.