Model code of conduct: Commandments meant to be broken?
Much of the din against Congress president Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin is against the rules, going strictly by the Election Commission's Model Code of Conduct.
The poll dos and don'ts that came into force immediately after the announcement of the schedule for the April-May parliamentary elections makes it clear that criticism of private lives, not connected to the public activities of leaders or workers, is a violation.
The code warns that criticism of political parties should be confined to policies and programmes and not the private life of party people.
Several politicians have questioned Gandhi's right to be the prime minister of India because of her Italian origin.
But while some have confined their criticism to her political merits and de-merits, others have even made references to her religion, upbringing and even eating habits.
The Election Commission, however, says it cannot take any action unless there is a complaint.
Said one official: "We can take action only when we take cognisance of a complaint. A candidate can be suspended for poll code violation but many of them get away with breaking the code simply because it is difficult to keep track unless it is pointed out."
The first rule in the code is that no party or candidate can indulge in any activity that may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tensions between different castes and communities, regional or linguistic.
In India's multi-hued politics, parties and leaders thrive on caste- and religion-based vote banks.
The poll panel is also looking into complaints against Deputy Prime Minister LK Advani for highlighting his government's achievements in an official forum - the Raising Day function of the Central Industrial Security Force.
Some salient features of the code that the government has listed in its election handbook just for ready reference:
* Ministers shall not combine their official visit with electioneering work and shall not also make use of official machinery or personnel during electioneering.
* Issuing advertisements at the cost of the public exchequer in newspapers and other media should be avoided. Misuse of official mass media during the election period for partisan coverage of political news is a no-no.
* Ministers and others shall not sanction grants or payments out of discretionary funds from the time elections are announced by the commission, and make no promises of schemes or make appointments that could influence voters.
* There shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes. Mosques, churches, temples or other places of worship shall not be used as a forum for election propaganda.
* The right of every individual to peaceful and undisturbed home life should be respected, however much the political parties or candidates resent his opinion or activities.
* No political party or candidate shall permit its or his followers to make use of any individual's land, building, compound wall, without his permission, for erecting flag staffs, suspending banners, pasting notices, writing slogans et al.
* The carrying of effigies purporting to represent members of other political parties or their leaders, burning such effigies in public and such other forms of demonstration shall not be countenanced by any political party or candidate.