In a first, the Election Commission on Monday imposed a nationwide campaign ban on Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath for 72 hours and on Union Minister Maneka Gandhi and Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati for 48 hours from Tuesday for their "provocative" communal remarks, which it said had the "propensity to polarise the elections".
A 72-hour campaign ban has also been imposed on Samajwadi Party's Azam Khan for his alleged "khaki underwear" jibe against actor-politician Jaya Prada, who is his rival BJP candidate in Rampur Lok Sabha seat.
The all-India ban on all four leaders -- two from the ruling BJP and two from opposition parties -- comes into force from 6.00 AM Tuesday.
While Adityanath, Mayawati and Gandhi were found guilty of violating the model code, the EC said Khan not only violated the poll code, he also disregarded its November 2013 directive asking politicians to desist from "deeds or actions construed as being repugnant to the honour and dignity of women".
For the first time a pan-India ban has been imposed on politicians, while any restriction on a chief minister and a union minister is unprecedented.
While there was no immediate reaction from Adityanath, Mayawati alleged the order has been passed "under pressure" and it would be remembered as a "black day" in the EC's history. She has faced action for appealing to Muslims to not vote for the Congress to avoid their anti-BJP votes getting divided.
Her alliance partner and SP chief Akhilesh Yadav asked the EC whether it is capable to issue similar directives to the prime minister to stop him from asking for votes in name of the Army.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's remarks asking first-time voters to dedicate their vote to those who carried out the Balakot air strike are under examination of the poll panel.
The poll authorities in Maharashtra's Latur, where he made the speech, have told EC that prima facie the comments are violative of its orders asking parties against using the armed forces in their campaigns.
The EC order to bar Adityanath and Mayawati came soon after the Supreme Court asking the poll watchdog about the action it has initiated against them.
However, a senior EC functionary said the commission had examined the two issues on April 14-15, and came up with the final decision after lots of deliberation as it felt a clear message needed to go out to the politicians.
In its order, the commission said it "strongly condemns" the impugned statement made by the UP chief minister and "censured" him for "misconduct".
Using its constitutional powers, the EC barred him from "holding any public meetings, public processions, public rallies, road shows and interviews, public utterances in media (print, electronic and social media) in connection with the ongoing elections for 72 hours (three days) from 6.00 am on April 16."
In another order, the EC censured and "strongly" condemned Mayawati for her remarks, and barred her from campaigning for two days.
On different ban periods for the leaders, a senior EC official said, "It is for the second time that Adityanath has been issued a show cause notice. On April 5, he was asked to be 'careful' in future, following his 'Modiji ki sena' remarks. Besides, Khan had faced a similar ban in 2014 for campaigning in UP."
"However, this is the first show cause and action against the BSP president ... The severity of the action is, therefore, different," he said.
Adityanath was served the notice for his speech at a rally in Meerut, where he compared the Lok Sabha elections to a contest between 'Ali', a revered figure in Islam, and 'Bajrang Bali' (a name for Hindu god Hanuman).
The poll panel observed that Adityanath, being a chief minister, has an "added responsibility to not only uphold the basic tenets, including secularism, of the Constitution of India, but also to display the same in his public appearances".
The EC said it is convinced that Adityanath made a "highly provocative" speech which had the "tone and tenor" to aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred between religious communities.
The poll panel told Mayawati that being a senior leader, she should have "desisted" from making comments that have the "undertone and propensity to polarise the elections" in several constituencies due to the reach of the media.
A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi had summoned a representative of the EC earlier on Tuesday while agreeing to examine the poll panel's contention that it has limited legal powers to deal with hate speeches of politicians during electioneering.
During 2014 LS polls, the EC had imposed state-specific ban on BJP leader Amit Shah and SP's Azam Khan from campaigning in Uttar Pradesh for their controversial remarks. The ban on Shah was lifted in a few days after he assured the poll body that he would not disturb public tranquillity and law and order. Since Khan had not given a similar assurance, the ban on him had continued.
A similar ban was placed on BJP leader Giriraj Singh in 2014 from campaigning in Jharkhand and Bihar for his controversial remarks that people who do not vote for Narendra Modi will have to find a place in Pakistan.
Action against Maneka followed her remarks on Thursday when she asked Muslims to vote for her as they will need her once the Lok Sabha elections are over.In its order on Khan, the EC noted the SP leader "has not changed his way of campaigning and he is still indulging in using very objectionable language in election campaigning."