Scripting democracy in Cambodia, with Indian ink

cambodia-inkThey are not just bottles of ink; they are repository of democratic dreams. Produced in Mysore, India’s southern city, 40,000-odd bottles of indelible ink, used to coat voters’ fingers to avoid duplication, have travelled all the way to Cambodia, a dynamic Southeast Asian nation which is scripting a new chapter in its national upsurge.

India is not in the business of exporting democracy, but is happy to help other nations in bolstering their electoral process. In Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, one could see the new democracy connect between India and the Southeast Asian nation which heads for elections next month.

At a simple ceremony at the National Election Committee headquarters in the Cambodian capital June 19, India’s envoy Dinesh K. Patnaik handed over 40,000 bottles of indelible ink to Im Suosdey, chairman of the NEC. The indelible ink, manufactured by Mysore Paints and Varnish Ltd., is estimated to have cost India $90,000, loose change for dyeing a nation in the colours of democracy. This was not the first time: India had gifted 26,000 jars of indelible ink to Cambodia for the general elections a decade ago.

Im Suosdey was all praise and quick to acknowledge what he called India’s “consistent close attention and support” for conducting the electoral process in Cambodia.  The Indian envoy assured all possible cooperation to beef up the democratic process in Cambodia, including the ongoing training of NEC personnel by the Election Commission of India.

It’s not clear how much India’s indelible ink will help to ensure free and fair elections in Cambodia as the incumbent Prime Minister Hun Sen seeks a fourth term. In the July 28 elections, around 9.67 million Cambodians are eligible to cast their ballots to elect the 123-seat National Assembly.

Whatever may be the outcome, Indian officials say India is doing its bit to help strengthen the electoral process in the Southeast Asian nation which is steadily moving up the development ladder for the last two decades after the Khmer Rouge’s murderous violence. After the collapse of the Khmer Rouge regime, India was among the first few countries to recognise the new government and opened its embassy in Phnom Penh in 1981 when much of the world shunned Cambodia.

If the traces of Hindu rituals and mythology are anything to go by, India’s relations with Cambodia spans centuries. This strong cultural affinity explains why India readily agreed to assist in the conservation of the famous Angkor Wat temple, a UNESCO heritage site.

India has proactively contributed to a slew of capacity building initiatives and has set up a Cambodia-India Entrepreneurship Development Centre (CIEDC) that seeks to create a new crop of business leaders in the Southeast Asia country that has become a magnet for foreign investment in the last few years.  Cambodia is a major recipient of India’s ITEC programme which provides foreign professionals and diplomats training in diverse areas at leading Indian institutes.


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