The Election Commission has expressed deep anguish over the 'toxicity' seeping into the electoral campaign and asked all political parties and their leaders to observe the model code in letter and spirit.
Coming in the backdrop of several instances of hate speeches and offering of cash to voters, the Commission sent a detailed letter to all recognised political parties late Sunday evening and asked them to follow the 'sage advice' given by the Supreme Court.
'In conducting the electoral campaign, set high standards of electoral morality so as to ensure the integrity and purity of elections,' the Commission said in its advisory.
Observing that the campaigning for the five-phased elections was gathering momentum and would soon reach a crescendo, the panel said it was pained to observe that many important leaders of political parties at the national and state levels were, in their election speeches at public meetings and rallies, making 'intemperate and derogatory remarks'.
They were 'attacking the personal character or personal conduct of leaders and candidates of rival parties, or making highly provocative and inflammatory statements that have the effect of inciting communal hatred, disharmony or ill-will, and aggravating the differences between different classes of citizens on grounds of religion, caste and community'.
'The open distribution of money, justified in the name of local customs, is also most deplorable. Not merely does this violate the Model Code of Conduct, but also amounts to the electoral offence of bribery under section 171 B of the Indian Penal Code and is also a corrupt practice under section 123 (1) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951.
'In fact, these violations of the Model Code of Conduct and, in several instances, the law of the land seem to be turning into something of a trend, which if unchecked, is bound to seriously damage the election process and set a deplorable precedent for future elections,' the EC cautioned.
The Commission said the code has made it clear no party or candidate shall indulge in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic.
'The model code also says that criticism of other political parties, when made, shall be confined to their policies and programme, past record and work. Parties and candidates shall refrain from criticism of all aspects of private life, not connected with the public activities of the leaders or workers of other parties,' the advisory said.
Criticism of other parties or their workers based on unverified allegations should be avoided, it noted.
'There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes,' the Commission said.
The panel made it clear that mosques, churches, temples or other places of worship shall not be used as forum for election propaganda.
'All parties and candidates shall avoid scrupulously all activities, which are corrupt practices and offences under the election law, such as bribing of voters, intimidation of voters, impersonation of voters, canvassing within 100 metres of polling stations, holding public meetings during the period of 48 hours ending with the hour fixed for the close of the poll, and the transport of voters to and from polling station,' it said.
'With each passing day, the Commission is being flooded with complaints of violation of the provisions of the Model Code of Conduct and commission of electoral offences and corrupt practices under the law, particularly by important leaders and office bearers of political parties. These complaints are also receiving wide coverage in the broadcast and print media across the land,' the EC said.
The Commission observed that the duty at the top echelons of leadership at the state and national level of all political parties was to set the trend for giving the needed information to the electorate by adopting desirable standards so that it percolates to the lower levels and provides a congenial atmosphere for a free and fair poll.
It said, 'A contrary trend of speeches by the top leaders tends to degenerate the election campaign as it descends to the lower levels and at times promotes even violence leading to criminalisation of politics.
'The growth of this unhealthy trend is a cause for serious concern for the proper functioning of the democracy and it is the duty of the top leaders of all political parties to reverse this trend to enable movement of the functioning democracy in the proper direction,' it said.