The Election Commission of India on Wednesday issued an advisory to all political parties, asking them to follow the coronavirus guidelines while campaigning. The commission said it has taken a “serious view of the laxity” on part of political parties and candidates in terms of maintaining crowd discipline.

In a letter to the president and secretaries of recognised national and state political parties, the poll body said that it has come across many instances where large crowds had assembled in violation of physical distancing norms. Additionally, political leaders and campaigners addressed the gathering without wearing masks, it said.

“By doing so, political parties and candidates are not only flouting the guidelines of the commission with impunity, but exposing themselves as well as the public attending the rallies/meetings to the danger of infection during the pandemic,” the poll body said.

The advisory came in view of election rallies in Bihar getting more crowded and participants not wearing masks, according to The Indian Express. Large crowds were seen at rallies addressed by Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Modi and Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Tejaswi Pratap Yadav recently. The Assembly elections in Bihar will be held in three phases from October 28 to November 7.

The commission pointed out that it had issued another advisory on October 9, where it had sought the cooperation of political parties to adhere to coronavirus-related guidelines such as wearing masks, using sanitisers, maintaining physical distancing, among others.

“As representatives of public, this onerous responsibility rests with the political parties to ensure that they not only cooperate with the district machineries in following the due norms of public health safety as prescribed, but also instill a sense of discipline for civic behavior in their cadre while doing ground management during campaign times. It is requested that you may like to issue advisory to all your field representatives to demonstrate utmost vigil and care to abide by all the extant instructions in large interest of public health and avoid any penal action for breaching the provisions.”

— Election Commission's October 9 advisory

The poll body said that it had issued guidelines related to the coronavirus pandemic on August 21, warning political parties that non-compliance of the instructions would attract actions as per Disaster Management Act, 2005, Section 188 of Indian Penal Code (disobedience to order duly promulgated by public servant) and other legal provisions.

The commission said that it does not need to reiterate that the political parties are the most important stakeholders during elections and are “duty-bound” to follow the guidelines. “CEOs [Chief Electoral Officers] and the District Machinery would be expected by the Commission to invoke appropriate and relevant penal provisions against the candidates concerned as well as the organisers responsible for such violations,” it added. “Separate instructions for strict compliance of guidelines are being issued to Chief Electoral Officers and state governments of poll going states.”

In its August 21 guidelines, the commission had issued guidelines for political parties and the public in view of the coronavirus pandemic. It had said door-to-door campaigns will be allowed only with five people, candidates can file nominations online and that voters will be given hand gloves. All voters have been asked to wear face masks, which they would be asked to remove briefly for identification.

The guidelines also included mandatory sanitisation of polling booths, thermal scanners at entry points of every station and a marker to maintain physical distancing for queues. The commission had also said that public gatherings and rallies can be conducted by strictly following the coronavirus guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

India’s Covid-19 case count on Wednesday rose to 76,51,107, with 54,044 new infections in 24 hours. The country’s toll rose by 717 to 1,15,914. There are 7,40,090 active cases, 67,95,103 recoveries, and the recovery rate stood at 88.81%.