The Election Commission on Monday said Madhya Pradesh Congress chief Kamal Nath violated the Model Code of Conduct and asked him not to use words like “item” for any candidate.

The poll panel had issued a notice to Nath on October 21 for calling Bharatiya Janata Party leader Imarti Devi an “item”. The Commission’s notice came after the BJP complained to the panel and the National Commission for Women had also flagged it. He had been asked to respond within 48 hours.

“The Commission hereby advises Kamal Nath, ex-chief minister Madhya Pradesh that while making public utterances he should not use any such word or statement during the period of Model Code of Conduct,” the order read. It added that Nath’s “item” reference about a rival woman candidate was a violation of the advisory issued by the Commission.

A controversy had erupted after Kamal Nath, at a poll meeting in Gwalior’s Dabra district earlier this month, had said that Congress candidate Suresh Raje was a “simple man”, unlike his opponent who was an “item”. Nath was also dismissive of Devi’s candidature for the bye-elections in the state.

“Ye unke jaise nahi hai… kya hai uska naam? [He is not like her, what is her name?],” Nath had asked the crowd that responded with Devi’s name. “You know her better than I do, you people should have warned me beforehand… ye kya item haikya item hai.”

Later, Nath had refused to apologise even after Congress leader Rahul Gandhi called his comment “unfortunate”. The former chief minister claimed that he had referred to Devi as an “item” because he forgot her name.

Devi had been a minister in Nath’s 15-month government before it collapsed in March this year. She was also among the 22 MLAs who walked out of the party with Jyotiraditya Scindia, leading to its collapse, which had necessitated the upcoming bye-polls.

The Dabra Assembly seat is reserved for the Scheduled Caste community. Bye-polls for 28 Assembly seats in Madhya Pradesh will be held on November 3. The results will be declared on November 10.