Thiruvananthapuram: Chief electoral officer Teeka Ram Meena, even after holding a meeting with political parties here on Wednesday, has still not been able to thrash out a consensus on the use of Sabarimala during the election campaign. The CEO failed to firm up a list of what can be and what cannot be said about Sabarimala during the all-party meeting.
The BJP has agreed that the name of Lord Ayyappa or posters of Sabarimala cannot be used. The party has but insisted that it would argue that the LDF government had conspired to destroy the temple. Teeka Ram Meena, however, said they cannot. “No they should not use such a line of argument. It is a clear violation,” he said after the all-party meeting. When the point was pressed further, he was cryptic. “I have made it very clear to them and they have understood,” he said.
The CEO said there was no harm in parties referring to Sabarimala during their poll campaign. “But the way they speak of it should not have a religious connotation, and should not cause religious hatred,” he said.
BJP state president P S Sreedharan Pillai said the Sabarimala issue could be raised as long as attempts were not made to create enmity or hatred among various sections of the people. “We can speak of Sabarimala the way we speak of triple talaq, Ayodhya, church Act and Gandhi's murder,” he said and added: “Nonetheless, we don't have the right to seek votes in the name of Dharma Sastha. It is the law of the land. We have also promised that we will not do such a thing.”
But he said Sabarimala would be raised during the campaign. “Political parties have the right to create public awareness about current issues. If they are stripped of this right, it would be a denial of fundamental rights,” he said. The BJP leader said chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan had said the other day that certain wicked forces had destroyed Babri Masjid. “We respect his right to say so. But we also reserve the right to counter him in the same coin,” Pillai said. He said he had promised the CEO that the BJP would not violate the law.
The CEO has told the parties that they should look up to the sixth clause in the model code of conduct while using Sabarimala in their campaign. It states that temples, mosques, churches, gurudwaras or any place of worship should not be used for election propaganda. This means pictures of Sabarimala and Lord Ayyappa should be strictly kept out of BJP campaign posters. The CEO said he would be “ruthless” in implementing the model code of conduct.
“The responsibility lies with the parties to what extent they use these symbols. I have told them that religious connotation should not be there,” he said. The CEO said he would examine each complaint on a case by case basis. “Now, I can't predict anything. I have just told them to cooperate,” he added.
Both the LDF and UDF leaders said that they, too, would raise the Sabarimala issue without hurting the sentiments of the people. “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 in the issue,” CPM leader Anathalavattom Anandan said.
Thampanoor Ravi of Congress said Sabarimala would be one of the many issues that the party would take up during the campaign.