Cracking the whip, the Election Commission on Monday banned Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, Bahujan Samaj Party leader Mayawati, Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan and Union minister Maneka Gandhi from campaigning for their hate comments.
While Adityanath and Khan have been barred for 72 hours, Mayawati and Gandhi face a 48-hour ban.
The nationwide ban comes into force at 6 am Tuesday, the poll panel said.
According to EC officials, this is the first time an all-India ban has been imposed on politicians to campaign in elections and also it is for the first time such a restriction has been put against a chief minister.
While Adityanath, Mayawati and Gandhi were found guilty of violating the model code, EC said Khan, who also faced a state-specific ban during 2014 polls, not only violated the poll code, he also disregarded its directive asking politicians to desist from 'deeds or actions construed as being repugnant to the honour and dignity of women'.
"...the Commission has observed that Azam Khan has not changed his way of campaigning and he is still indulging in using very objectionable language in election campaigning," the order said 'reprimanding him'.
In its order on Adityanath, the Commission said it 'strongly condemns' the impugned statement made by the UP chief minister and 'censured' him for 'misconduct'.
The EC order to bar these leaders came within hours of the Supreme Court taking note of the communal remarks made by Adityanath and Mayawati and asking the poll watchdog about the action it has initiated against them.
However, a senior EC functionary said the Commission had examined the issues of Adityanath and Mayawati on April 14-15, and came up with the final decision on Monday after lots of deliberation as it felt a clear message should go out to the politicians.
Using its powers under Article 324 of the Constitution, the EC barred them 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 and 48 hours from 6.00 am on April 16'.
On the different time periods for the leaders, a senior EC official said, "It is for the second time that the Uttar Pradesh CM has been issued a show cause notice by the EC. On April 5, he was asked to be 'careful' in the future. Khan had faced a similar ban in 2014 for campaigning in UP."
"This is the first show cause and action against the BSP president and the Union minister... the severity of the action is, therefore, different," he said.
Mayawati was issued the notice for her speech in Deoband, where she appealed to Muslims to not vote for the Congress.
The BSP chief had violated the Model Code of Conduct, the poll panel found.
Adityanath was served the notice for the 'Ali' and 'Bajrang Bali' remarks he made while addressing a rally in Meerut.
He compared the Lok Sabha elections to a contest between 'Ali', a revered figure in Islam, and Bajrang Bali (another name of the Hindu god Hanuman).
The poll panel also observed that being the chief minister of a state, Adityanath 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 order said, the EC 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 such comments that have the 'undertone and propensity to polarise the elections' in several constituencies due to the reach of the media.
During the Lok Sabha polls of 2014, Khan had faced a ban for campaigning in Utttar Pradesh for his religious remarks. Now BJP chief Amit Shah also faced a similar ban in 2014, but later it was lifted 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 from campaigning in Jharkhand and Bihar for his controversial remarks.
SP leader Akhilesh Yadav took to Twitter to ask EC whether it is capable to issue similar directives to the prime minister. 'EC directive against @mayawati ji begs the question: do they have integrity to stop PM 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.
Maneka had on Thursday last told Muslims to vote for her as they will need her once the Lok Sabha elections are over.
"We are not Mahatma Gandhi's children that we keep giving and not get anything in return," she said in Sultanpur's Muslim-dominated Turabkhani area.
Targeting BJP's Jaya Prada, Khan at a rally on Sunday had said, '...the underwear beneath is of khaki colour'.