Thiruvanathapuram: In the wake of the furious protests registered by state BJP leaders, Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Teeka Ram Meena has made a nuanced clarification of his decision to prohibit political parties from invoking the Sabarimala issue during the poll campaign.
“Some of the political leaders have misunderstood our position. I have only said that votes cannot be solicited in the name of a temple or a church or a mosque. They are free to speak of any social issue. The entry of women into Sabarimala is a social issue, and they can discuss it in public,” the CEO told Onmanorama on Tuesday.
Teeka Ram Meena somehow wants the women's entry issue to be delinked from the temple. “Religion and politics should not be mixed. Leave faith alone,” he said.
According to him, God and religion are roped in for the narrow interests of political parties that have no issues worth taking up.
Though the CEO's argument is sound, there is still a problem. If a political party publicly objects to the entry of women into Sabarimala it automatically becomes a call to protect Sabarimala traditions. This, in turn, can be considered electioneering in the name of a temple.
Teeka Ram Meena conceded the tricky nature of the issue. “I have a meeting with political leaders tomorrow (Wednesday). I will ask the leaders themselves to draw the line. I will ask them to come up with a set of guidelines on what can and cannot be spoken about the Sabarimala issue,” Teeka Ram Meena said.
He said he would be essentially laying down three points in the model code of conduct before the leaders of political parties during the meeting. One, no appeal on the basis of caste or communal feelings of the people should be made. Two, no activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or causes tension between different castes, communities and religious and linguistic groups should be attempted.
It is the third point that is relevant to the Sabarimala issue. It states that temples, mosques, churches, gurudwaras or any place of worship should not be used for election propaganda. “It is my responsibility to warn them. If they expect me to keep quiet and let them do whatever they want, what would be the future of democracy,” the CEO said.
Further, he said that the model code of conduct has no legal sanctity. “The code has been evolved by the parties themselves. It is a pact among political parties and so I expect the leaders in the state to uphold its sanctity,” he said. Moreover, he said it was Kerala that had led the way. “We were the pioneers. It was in Kerala, in 1960, that such a model code of conduct was put in place for the first time in the country,” the CEO said.
BJP leaders and potential candidates Kummanam Rajasekharan and K Surendran, in what was seen as a direct challenge to the CEO, had said they would raise Sabarimala as a campaign issue. The LDF had supported the CEO's decision.