Congress leader Navjot Sidhu has been barred from campaigning for 72 hours by the Election Commission for his recent comment in which he warned Bihar's Muslim community against dividing its vote. The poll body has "strongly condemned" his comment, barring him from holding public meetings, processions, rallies, road shows, interviews, and from making any public comment. The ban will commence from 10 am on Tuesday.
Mr Sidhu, the Congress's star campaigner, was addressing a poll rally in Bihar's Katihar last week when he said," I will like to warn you Muslim brothers, they are dividing you by bringing people like Owaisi (AIMIM chief Asaduddin Owaisi). They are raising a new party here, they want to divide and win".
"If you people remain united, you have 65 per cent population here, here minority is majority, then everything will be overturned, it could lead to Modi's loss," he added.
Mr Sidhu was canvassing in support of veteran Congress leader and former union minister Tariq Anwar when he made the controversial remark.
The poll panel on Saturday issued a notice to Mr Sidhu for violating the model code of conduct, saying it amounted to making use of religion to seek votes.
A case had been filed against Mr Sidhu for his comment.
The Congress is contesting the national election in Bihar in alliance with Lalu Yadav's RJD to stop the division of the anti-BJP votes. The RJD is contesting 19 seats, Congress nine and Rashtriya Lok Samata Party (RLSP) of Upendra Kushwaha--who quit the BJP-led alliance in December-- is contesting five.
There were reports that Mr Sidhu had stayed away from the national election campaign after his wife was denied a ticket in Punjab. He, however, joined the campaign later.
A similar remark had landed Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati into trouble. For her comment in which she had asked the Muslim community not to divide their votes, had got her a poll body notice, and later a 48-hour ban on campaigning.
The poll body has taken stringent action against prominent leaders from many parties for election code of conduct violation. While BJP's Yogi Adityanath and Maneka Gandhi had been barred from campaigning for comments on communal lines, Samajwadi Party's Azam Khan faced a campaign ban of 72 hours for a controversial comment against his opponent Jaya Prada.