Kamal Nath is no longer a "star campaigner" for the Madhya Pradesh by-polls next week, the Election Commission ordered today after a series of controversial remarks by the Congress leader.
The powerful election body said the 73-year-old leader's star campaigner status was being revoked for "repeated violation of model code of conduct" and for "complete disregard" of warnings to him. Kamal Nath, being a leader of a political party, had repeatedly "breached ethical and dignified behaviour", the commission said in its order.
If the former chief minister does campaign, the cost of his travel, stay and everything else will be from the candidate's poll expenses, which are limited. A "star campaigner's" expenses go to the party account and can be unlimited.
The Congress's Madhya Pradesh unit said it would challenge the decision in court.
Kamal Nath had earlier been warned by the Election Commission after he used the word "item" for a woman BJP candidate, a former Congress leader among the 22 MLAs whose exit led to the collapse of his government in March.
Campaigning in Dabra, he had mocked BJP's Imarti Devi saying the Congress candidate was a "simple person" unlike his rival, who was an "item".
In a notice, the poll panel had warned the senior Congress leader against the use of "such words or statements" when the model code of conduct was in place.
The veteran was subsequently accused of making another provocative comment.
On October 13, Kamal Nath said at a rally that Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan is a "nautanki kalakar who should act in films in Mumbai". He had also said: "Aapke Bhagwan toh woh maafia hai jisse aapne Madhya Pradesh ki pehchaan banai. Aapke bhagwan toh milawat-khor hain (Your god is mafia - an apparent attack on the chief minister)."
By-elections are being held on November 3 to fill 28 vacant seats in the Madhya Pradesh assembly. Most of these fell vacant when Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia revolted earlier this year and defected to the BJP, taking along 22 MLAs.
Kamal Nath's Congress-led government fell and the BJP returned to power. The BJP needs to win at least eight of these seats to stay in power. If at all the Congress manages to win all 28, it can make a comeback attempt.
On the campaign trail, the Congress has been ranged against its own, with Kamal Nath lashing out at former party men who are now contesting as BJP candidates.