In a number of videos which have since gone viral, Pawan Kumar is seen sporting a large bandage on the index finger of his left hand, which would have been daubed with indelible ink after he cast his vote.
Mr Kumar, 25, is from the historically downtrodden Dalit community (formerly untouchables) in Bulandshahr, in the vast bellwether northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
He went to vote on Thursday, but apparently mixed up the symbols associated with each party and selected the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of prime minister Narendra Modi.
Speaking afterwards to reporters, he said he had intended to vote for another national party, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), which counts many Dalits among its supporters.
The BJP is represented by an icon of a lotus flower, while the the BSP’s symbol is an elephant.
“I wanted to vote for the elephant, but voted for the flower instead by mistake,” Mr Kumar is seen saying in one of the videos.
Asked if anyone had “forced or pressurised you to pick the flower”, he replies: “No.”
Party symbols are a vital way of identifying candidates in India, particularly in rural communities like Bulandshahr where rates of literacy are relatively low.
Candidates are listed on the electronic voting machines (EVMs) in alphabetical order, with national parties at the top and then regional parties and independents at the bottom.
As two of only three national party picks, the BJP’s Bhola Singh and the BSP’s Yogesh Sharma would have been listed next to each other – making it more likely Mr Kumar simply hit the wrong button.
According to the Hindustan Times, Mr Kumar had travelled to vote with his brother and, after realising his mistake, cut off the end of his own finger in a fit of anger. He was rushed to hospital and later discharged after receiving treatment.
While explicitly appealing for the votes of any one racial, religious or caste group is seen as divisive and against election rules, there are a number of parties like the BSP that have attractive policies specifically for Dalits – seen as a key “vote bank”.
Nonetheless, as the BJP swept to victory in 2014 it won almost half of the 84 seats nationwide reserved specifically for Dalits and other “scheduled”, or downtrodden, castes.
Analysts have warned that, while there is no polling broken down along caste lines, the BJP may struggle this time round to repeat the same feat. In Uttar Pradesh there have been protests by Dalits over a statistical rise in crimes and atrocities against scheduled castes.
Meanwhile, with two of the seven phases in the election complete there have been complaints that some faulty EVMs have been giving votes to the ruling BJP – even if the voter did manage to press the right button of a non-BJP party.
One voter posted a video from a booth in Uttar Pradesh which, he claimed, showed him holding the button of a non-BJP party while the machine told him he had voted for Mr Modi’s outfit.
While this is hardly conclusive proof, it appears to have triggered other complaints, leading to one BSP worker being booked by police for “spreading fake news”. The Election Commission insists the machines are reliable and has urged the public to be cautious about reports to the contrary.
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