Kerala’s Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Teeka Ram Meena has stepped into a minefield by warning political parties in Kerala that they should should desist from using the Sabarimala temple controversy to garner votes.
The Sabarimala issue and the way the CPM-led Pinarayi Vijayan handled the entry of women into the hill shrine in Kerala are the main election campaign planks of both the Congress and the BJP. Little wonder that both the parties have slammed the CEO while the CPM is happy about it.
The CEO seemed to have erred in taking a hasty decision even before discussing the matter with political parties. If Sabarimala issue cannot be raised, neither should Ayodhya or the Babri Masjid.
Clearly cornered and facing flak, the CEO has called for a meeting of all political parties. The Congress and the BJP plan to question the rationality behind Meena’s order.
The CEO seemed to have stretched the interpretation of the model code of conduct to a controversial turf. “Inciting religious feelings, using any kind of Supreme Court judgment… citing or invoking or doing something of religious propaganda on the Sabarimala issue by invoking the name of Sabari God etc, will be a clear violation of the model code of conduct,” he told reporters Monday, leaving the Congress and the BJP aghast.
There is a distinction which Meena should have drawn. Political parties cannot seek vote in the name of Lord Ayyappa or any god. That is a well known law. But discussing the issues of tradition, culture, rituals in connection with Sabarimala god are not within the ambit of what Meena says are “invoking or doing something of religious propaganda on the Sabarimala issue.”
The new directive on Sabarimala is bound to give the BJP a fresh handle over the emotional Sabarimala issue that was showing signs of fading out in Kerala. The BJP is bound to once again tell its supporters that the move is a concerted effort to put down what they call “core values of Hinduism.”
The Congress too plans to use the women entry into Sabarimala issue in a different context. The party plans to tell people how Pinarayi deeply divided the society in Kerala and that he handled the law and order situation in a ham-handed manner.
Both the parties are on the same page when it comes to how Pinarayi ‘smuggled women’ in the restricted age group into the temple, how he lied before the Supreme Court when his government claimed that 51 women had entered the temple, then revised the number to 18 and then to two.
The Chief Minister was the butt of jokes and carping criticism from the BJP and the Congress as the list of 51 women had a few men in it.
Not surprisingly the BJP has dismissed the CEO’s interpretation of the poll code of conduct as “illogical.” Taking a defiant stand, BJP state general secretary K Surendran said the strategies adopted by the Kerala government on the Sabarimala issue would indeed be an election issue.
“It is 100% that the stand taken by the state government on Sabarimala issue will be discussed in the election campaign. No one can interfere in it… It is illogical to say that the Sabarimala issue should not be discussed in the election campaign,” Surendran said.
This stand has been endorsed by former Mizoram government and BJP candidate for Thiruvananthapuram. But the CPM is happy and says what the CEO has done is just reiterating an existing rule.
The BJP has filed a complaint to the Election Commission seeking removal of Meena as Kerala CEO.
Meena is likely to face protest at the meeting of political parties he has convened on Wednesday.
The CEO has now slightly toned down his stand saying “They (political parties) can raise the Sabarimala issue, but they should not seek votes in the name of Sabarimala”.
Now what is that, wonder political parties.
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