NEW DELHI - Showing the finger can get you a punch in the face in many parts of the world. In India, during this general election at least, it can earn discounts at gas stations, restaurants, spas, stores and hospitals after voting.
India's polling stations mark each voter's left forefinger with an indelible dot of a silver nitrate solution after casting the ballot to guard against voter fraud.
In a move to increase political involvement, Young Indians, a group linked to Confederation of Indian Industry trade association, launched the "Show the ink, See prices sink"campaign, which gives discounts and other incentives to people who vote. "Among youngsters it's become a cool thing to flaunt their fingers after they've cast their vote," said D.N.V. Kumara Guru, national chairman of the group, saying more than 100 businesses had signed up for the campaign. "There is a lot of momentum across the country." At the last general election, only about 58 per cent of the electorate voted, with many urban Indians in particular apathetic.
During this year's election, which began on Monday and runs until May 12, 815 million voters will be eligible to participate. Besides the discounts, the Election Commission has issued newspaper advertisements using celebrities like Virat Kohli, the cricket star heartthrob of millions, to exhort people to vote.
In the capital, New Delhi, which went to the polls on Thursday, people who show the marked forefinger can get a discount of about 0.7 per cent on petrol at any one of 67 pumps in and around the city during the day. "It's our moral and social duty to motivate citizens of India. After a long freedom struggle we got this right," said Ajay Bansal, general secretary of the Federation of All India Petroleum Traders.
Gas station owners wanted to share the cost of travelling to a poll booth by offering this measure, Bansal said. They also wanted to encourage youngsters because in India people can start to vote at the same age they can begin to drive a car.
In the southern tech capital of Bangalore, the Sakra World Hospital is offering a 10 per cent discount on outpatient services such as health check-ups and consultations between April 18 and May 1 to people with an ink-marked finger.
Virgin Atlantic Airways, known for its unusual promotions, announced voters have the chance to win cabin upgrades, lounge access and goodie hampers in a lucky draw.
But there's a catch - they need to be travelling a bit farther than the distance to the polling station, they have to be booked on a Delhi-London flight with the British airline.