14/03/2019 3:03 PM IST

Can Political Parties Make Sabarimala A Poll Issue In Kerala? EC Lays Down Rules

The EC’s previous gag order on Sabarimala had triggered a political slugfest in the state with the BJP and Congress opposing the move.

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Kerala’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) on Wednesday clarified an order on raising the Sabarimala issue during election campaigns in the state for the upcoming Lok Sabha polls.

Parties must not use the name of Lord Ayyappa for soliciting votes and creating disharmony, Chief Electoral Officer Teeka Ram Meena told an all-party meeting in Thiruvananthapuram. The ruling Left Democratic Front, Congress-led United Democratic Front of the Opposition, and BJP took part in the meeting.

“Sabarimala is a religious place. If somebody is using the name of a temple or a mosque for soliciting votes, it is a clear violation of the model code of conduct,” he said.

The EC’s previous gag order on Sabarimala had triggered a political slugfest in the state with the BJP and Congress opposing the move. The ruling CPI(M) had backed it.

On Wednesday, Meena said,“I cannot ban any action by a particular political party. I cannot ask any political party not to use the name of a particular religious institution. But if anyone uses any picture, poster, video of any religious institution to solicit votes, it will be considered as an act against the model code of conduct.”

The CEO said he would be “ruthless” in implementing the model code of conduct and asked parties to look up the sixth clause which says no place of worship, including temples, mosques and churches, should be used for election propaganda, Malayala Manorama reported.

The EC said the BJP could not argue that the CPI(M)-led LDF government had conspired to destroy the Sabarimala temple, as the party had insisted it would during its campaign, the report said.

“The responsibility lies with them (the parties) as to what extent they will use the issue. I’ve told them that it is up to them,” Meena told reporters after the meeting, quoted The Hindu.

BJP makes some promises

After the Election Commission’s directive, BJP state president PS Sreedharan Pillai said the party did not have the right to seek votes in the name of the Sabarimala temple and had promised the EC that the BJP would not violate the law.

Pillai told reporters the CEO had said “the Sabarimala issue must not be used to create hatred or disharmony in society. But we can use the issue related to the stand of the government, police, atheists.”

Pillai also said political parties can discuss Sabarimala during campaign in the manner the Babri Masjid, Ayodhya, Triple Talaq issues were being raised.

The BJP chief said his party workers know the ‘lakshman rekha’ while campaigning about the Sabarimala issue in the state.

LDF’s response

“If the BJP attempts to say that the government wants Sabarimala destroyed, we will have no choice but to tell the voters what the LDF government had done on the issue,” CPM leader Anathalavattom Anandan said.

The CPI(M) said the BJP wants to focus on the Sabarimala issue alone as the party lacked any other topic to discuss in the polls.

“We are not against any religious institutions. The BJP, which talks about faith, had asked the devotees not to give offerings to Devaswom Board temples, thus paving the way for their destruction. Our focus will be highlighting the failures of the Modi government at the Centre,” Anandan said.

Kerala had witnessed frenzied protests after the 28 September 2018 Supreme Court verdict, allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the hill shrine.

The Lok Sabha elections will begin on 11 April and continue for over a month till May 19 across seven phases, followed by counting of votes on 23 May.

Kerala will go to the polls on 23 April. 

(With PTI inputs)