The picture shows people queuing outside a polling station to cast their vote in Varanasi in the most populous Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. Photograph:( Getty )
The Election Commission of India (EC) warned political parties that it will take "stern action" if the model code of conduct or poll laws are violated by them in the five poll-bound states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur.
The Model Code of Conduct (MCC) came into effect just after the announcement of the polls on January 4.
The Election Commission said that peace and tranquillity during the poll process is "absolutely essential for free and peaceful conduct of elections in the country".
The poll body cited a recent judgement of the Supreme Court, India's top court, that barred political parties from using religion, caste, language and race to appeal for votes during elections.
"As you are kindly aware the model code of conduct and various provisions of IPC, inter alia, provide that political parties and their leaders should desist from making statements to the effect of creating disharmony between different sections of society on the basis of religion as the same disturb peace and tranquillity of the society which is absolutely essential for free and peaceful conduct of elections," it said.
The election body's letter to the national and state parties added: "The Commission will not remain a silent spectator if the provisions of law or MCC are violated and no one can do it with impunity. The Commission will take stern actions for any violation under all powers available."
The Election Commission has also said that the photographs of political leaders on all hoardings and advertisements in the five poll-bound states should be removed or covered as the Model Code of Conduct is in place.
The pictures on hoardings that project the achievements of any political functionary or political party should be either covered or removed, the Election Commission said.
"...all those hoardings, advertisements which seek or purport to project the achievements of any living political functionary or political party and which carry their photos or name or party symbol should be removed forthwith," the election body said.
The poll panel said that such images or hoardings "undoubtedly amount to their (individual/party) election campaign at public cost".
"...No political party or functionary can use public resources and incur or authorise expenditure from public exchequer to eulogise himself or itself or enhance his/its own or any political leader's image," it said.
The commission gave these fresh directions by reiterating its instructions issued on December 12, 2004 after the chief electoral officer of Goa raised the issue after the election schedule was announced on January 4.
It, however, made it clear that hoardings put up by the government which convey messages on family planning or social welfare schemes "may be allowed to be displayed".
(With inputs from the PTI)