India's election commission yesterday hit back at claims of bias from frontrunner Narendra Modi, saying it "deplored" attempts to undermine its neutrality in the final stages of the marathon contest.
"There shall never be a situation or an occasion where the commission will deviate from neutrality," VS Sampath, the head of the commission, said at a press conference in New Delhi.
"We also deplore any attempt by anyone to cast aspersions on the constitutional institution like the Election Commission of India at a very sensitive time like the present one that could cause long term damage to the independence and neutrality of the commission," he added.
Sampath's comments came after Modi accused the commission of bias by not sanctioning one of two rallies that the Bharatiya Janata Party leader had planned to stage in Varanasi, in Uttar Pradesh, yesterday.
After accusing the commission of a failure to ensure "free and fair polls" in the last three phases of the six-week election, Modi said Sampath's organisation had been "acting partially".
The independent monitoring agency is widely credited for ensuring free and fair elections in India, in which 815 million voters have been called to the polls over five weeks.
Modi, who is standing for parliament in the holy city on the banks of the Ganges, was allowed to address another rally elsewhere in Varanasi which votes on Monday. But the commission said it would not allow him to address supporters in the centre of the city on security grounds after his last such appearance drew crowds of more than 100,000.