Monday, August 30, 1999 Published at 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
World: South Asia
Warning over campaign rhetoric
India's politicians have been told to clean up their act
India's Election Commission has warned the country's politicians to stop making personal attacks on their opponents.
The Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Pramod Mahajan, had to apologise for remarks in which he compared Mrs Gandhi to Monica Lewinsky, the former sexual partner of US President Bill Clinton.
The remarks were also roundly condemned by the Indian press.
No punches pulled
In another incident, the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, said Italian-born Mrs Gandhi's only contribution to India had been her two children.
The Congress Party hasn't refrained from scathing rhetoric either.
Mrs Gandhi and other Congress leaders have accused the BJP of working against the interests of non-Hindus.
Allegations of corruption in the prime minister's office have also been made.
No mention of private life
In its statement, the Election Commission - an independent body - said that criticism of other parties should be confined to their policies and past records.
It said that parties and candidates should refrain from criticising the private affairs of candidates not connected with their public activities.
It also said insulting or sexist language should be avoided.
"We should not demean our ancient culture, which is admired throughout the world, by any kind of undesirable remarks, least of all about women," it said.
The BBC's Daniel Lak in Delhi says that since both the BJP-led alliance and the Congress have broadly similar economic and social policies, negative campaigning seems inevitable.
The first round of voting in India's elections begins on Sunday, and continues over the next four weekends.