Amid rising coronavirus cases, the Election Commission has flagged instances of star campaigners and political leaders campaigning without masks, and warned it will not hesitate to ban rallies if COVID guidelines issued by it last year are breached.
In a letter to leaders of all recognised political parties on Friday, the poll panel said, 'It is widely known that in the recent weeks, COVID cases are being reported in larger numbers.
'However, instances of election meetings/campaigns have come to the notice of the commission, where norms of social distancing, wearing of masks have been flouted in disregard to the commission's guidelines.'
The letter pointed out instances of star campaigners and political leaders or candidates not observing COVID-19 protocols, 'including non-wearing of masks themselves at stage or while campaigning'.
'By doing so, the political parties and candidates are exposing themselves as well as the public attending such election meetings to the grave danger of the infection,' the letter said.
In cases of breach, the Election Commission (EC) said it will 'not hesitate in banning public meetings, rallies of defaulting candidates, star campaigners or political leaders without any further reference'.
On Thursday, the Delhi high court had sought responses from the commission and the central government on the use of masks during poll campaigns.
While the three-phase election in Assam and the single-phase polls in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry are over, the fourth leg of the eight-phase West Bengal assembly election is being held on Saturday.
The poll panel said it has taken 'serious view of the laxity' in following norms, particularly not wearing masks and not maintaining social distancing by political leaders on the dais or stage.
It asked parties to follow its guidelines with all seriousness.
The two-page letter said it is advisable that political leaders and candidates, who have the incumbent duty to control the spread of COVID-19, lead by example.
They must push all their supporters in the beginning of a rally, meeting or a campaign to wear masks and use sanitisers, and put in place crowd-control measures as per social distancing norms, according to the letter.
'Political parties, leaders, campaigners, candidates, existing or aspiring policy makers are expected to be torch-bearers for the campaign against COVID and hence, are expected to not only set an example by maintaining social distancing, wearing masks and following prescribed protocols but also by exhorting all the local formations who attend programmes to follow COVID protocols,' the letter read.
In October last year, the EC had taken a serious view of 'utter violation' of social distancing norms during poll campaigning and leaders addressing public meetings without wearing masks in complete disregard of its guidelines issued in August ahead of the Bihar assembly elections.