Personal attacks and hate-filled and threat-laden political rhetoric have been the hallmark of this general election. The vitriolic exchange is getting worse with each passing day and the Election Commission (EC) has been unable to restrain the erring leaders.
On Friday, Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said Narendra Modi "might be making noises about women's honour but it took him four elections to admit he was married".
The BJP reacted promptly. Asking Congress to desist from such personal references, BJP spokesman Ravi Shankar Prasad threatened to expose "well documented evidence" on the private lives of Rahul and his mother Sonia Gandhi.
The BJP prime ministerial nominee on Friday told an election rally that former Chattisgarh chief minister "might be privy to a secret about Gandhi family" because "though he has been losing (elections), it seems Madam Sonia can't do without him".
A few days ago, a UP Congress leader declared he would chop Modi to pieces, while another leader complained to the (EC) that an opponent had described him as "a dog's relative".
The poll watchdog watched as Modi's aide Amit Shah and Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan ended up polarising Hindus and Muslims by exhorting them to use their votes as revenge for last year's religious riots.
"Never before I have witnessed an election as bad as this one," election commissioner HS Brahma said.
Almost half of the complaints received by the (EC) regarding violation of the model code of conduct are about hate speeches. According to Brahma, politicians were exploiting the limitations of the model code itself, as it has not been revised since 1997.
A former chief election commissioner (CEC), wishing anonymity, said the EC gives an impression that it was a toothless body as it has not used its powers effectively to rein in leaders.
"Never before have I have seen leaders dare to challenge the election commission and get away without any action. The parties have openly polarised voters through hate speeches but the commission has silently watched," he added.
The commission has powers to derecongnise a party and withdraw party symbols for violations, said former chief election commissioner N Gopalaswami.
Another former CEC, TS Krishnamurthy, suggested debarring violators from campaigning for a certain period.
The action taken by the EC against Shah and Khan exemplify why the leaders get away with hate speeches and other violations of the model code.
Though Khan had been making provocative remarks since the past week, the EC sought an explanation from him only on Thursday, the day of polling in the troubled west UP. The commission gave Shah another day for clarifying his remarks. But critics say these actions have no meaning now.
"Their political purpose has been served…they have polarised Muslim and Hindu voters," said SP Bhambri, a former professor of political science at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
Election officials said most of the complaints have been centred around Modi, with his opponents either accusing him of raking up communal passions or his party defending him by accusing others of defaming him.
On an average, the Congress had been filing a complaint to the EC every working day. The targets of the complaints range from BJP's manifesto to Modi participating in a yoga camp organised by Baba Ramdev.
Petitions against hate speeches, not related to Modi, have also been received by the commission from north-east, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.