The Opposition Congress, which had extended support to Lord Ayyappa devotees at the time of the Sabarimala agitation, came out against state Chief Electoral Officer Teeka Ram Meena's directive, asking how such a grave issue should not be raised during the elections.
A day after the poll authority here gagged parties from raising the Sabarimala issue in the run up to the elections, a political slugfest appeared to loom over Kerala’s political horizon with the BJP and Congress opposing the move and ruling CPI(M) backing it.
Senior BJP leader Kummanam Rajasekharan, who arrived here Monday to a rousing reception after resigning as Mizoram Governor, said the matter was about beliefs and added that the BJP would approach the Chief Election Commissioner on this issue.
“The directive not to use the Sabarimala issue during the time of elections is baseless.
The issue being raised here is that of freedom of religion… It is the issue of freedom of worship and about rituals and beliefs,” he told reporters here.
The senior saffron party leader, who was at the helm of several campaigns in the past like a drive against an international airport at Aranmula, said the matter was not confined to the hill shrine alone, indicating his party was not prepared to immediately toe the poll authority’s diktat.
“It is not the issue of Sabarimala alone…if it is allowed in Sabarimala, it will happen next in the well known Bheemapalli mosque or Malayattoor church.
People of the state want to protect the rituals and beliefs and we will uphold their feelings,” Rajasekharan said.
However, the ruling CPI(M) has backed the Chief Electoral Officer’s stand.
The Opposition Congress, which had extended support to Lord Ayyappa devotees at the time of the Sabarimala agitation, came out against state Chief Electoral Officer Teeka Ram Meena’s directive, asking how such a grave issue should not be raised during the elections.
Meena said Tuesday that whether it was the Sabarimala temple, a church or mosque, these should not be used to solicit votes as it would be a violation of the model code of conduct.
Reacting to the directive, BJP state general secretary K Surendran had already said Monday the state government’s stand on the Sabarimala issue would surely be an election issue.
“It is 100 per cent sure that the stand taken by the (state) government on Sabarimala issue will be discussed in the elections. No one can interfere in it.
It is illogical to say that the Sabarimala issue should not be discussed in the election,” Surendran had said.
CPI(M) state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan came out against the saffron party’s stand and said the Chief Electoral officer had just reminded all concerned of a matter which was already in the law book.
“The BJP is a party which does not follow any rules and so it is not surprising that it is prepared to violate the code of conduct,” he alleged.
However, Opposition Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala came down heavily on the CEO, saying he did not know on what grounds the commission had directed that the Sabarimala issue should not be used in election campaigns.
However, senior advocate of the Kerala High court, Kalishwaram Raj said the Election Commission has only reiterated the existing legal position in the country.
“You cannot make use of religion, religious feelings or religious symbols etc during electioneering, which is already shown as a corrupt electoral statute in the country,” he said.
In the Representation of People Act, 1951, even as per existing law, this is a corrupt practise, he told PTI.
“But it does not mean you cannot discuss constitutional issues regarding Sabarimala, gender justice or gender equality etc. They can be discussed academically.
However, electioneering is totally different. You cannot make use of religious symbols or religious feelings for campaign,” he said.
Meena had Monday said that “inviting religious feelings, using any kind of Supreme Court judgement, invoking or soliciting votes in the name of religion or by inciting religious feelings is a clear violation of the model code of conduct.”
The CEO also said the Election Commission would not allow any kind of violation that puts a particular political party at an advantage over the other.
Kerala had witnessed widespread violence by devotees and right-wing activists after the state government decided to implement the Supreme Court’s September 28, 2018 verdict, allowing women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple.
The BJP has already pinned its hope on the Sabarimala issue as it believes that it was able to create a momentum among its workers.
The party’s central leadership brought back former BJP state chief Kummanam Rajashekharan, who was appointed as Mizoram governor nine months ago, to lead the party in Kerala.
The Lok Sabha elections will begin on April 11 and continue for over a month till May 19 across seven phases, followed by counting of votes on May 23.
Kerala will go to the polls on April 23.