Kerala Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Teeka Ram Meena’s announcement on Monday that the commission will “book case” against those who use Sabarimala controversy in the election campaign, courted controversy.
“In the name of God, or by citing religious things or misinterpreting the Supreme Court judgement, if somebody is trying to do that, it is a clear violation of model code of conduct. We are going to book a case, (sic)” he said.
The BJP and Congress, who spearheaded the protest against the state government over the Supreme Court verdict allowing women of all ages into the Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Pathanamthitta district, vociferously reacted against the CEO’s comments.
BJP state general secretary K Surendran on Monday said BJP will use Sabarimala in the elections. “No one has the right to say Sabarimala issue should not be used in the election campaign,” he said.
KPCC working president K Sudhakaran said that the Congress will seek legal solutions if CEC does not change its stand.
Former BJP president Kummanam Rajasekharan also came down heavily on Election Commission over its comments.
CPIM state secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, however, said that the commission was only reminding about the Model Code of Conduct.
What does MCC say?
The restrictions on invoking religious sentiments during elections are described at several places in “Manual on Model Code of Conduct (For the guidance of political parties and candidates) & other related guidelines,” published on March 2019.
In chapter four, section 4.3 ‘Advisory to Political Parties and Candidates’ reads:
“4.3.1 Model Code provides that political parties and candidates shall refrain from criticism of all aspects of private life, not connected with the public activities of the leaders and workers of other parties. It also provides that no party or candidate shall indulge in any activity which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes and communities, religious or linguistic, and there shall be no appeal to caste or communal feelings for securing votes.”
In Dos and Don’ts section, two points listed under ‘Don’ts’ are relevant to this context.
“(ii) No appeal on basis of caste/communal feelings of the electors.
(iii) No activity, which may aggravate existing differences or create mutual hatred or cause tension between different castes/communities/ religious/linguistic groups, shall be attempted.”
Not just political parties and candidates, campaign by any person or organisation on religious grounds are restricted.
“Subject: Election related campaign activities undertaken by persons other than political parties and candidates-reg.
“Complaints are being received by the Commission from various quarters that some social, cultural or religious organizations, associations, formations etc., are making appeals to electors amounting to election campaign in favour of, or against, certain political parties or candidates, by holding congregations, yoga shivers, conclaves, meetings, processions, etc. These complaints also point out that some of these organizations/associations, in their campaign, are also invoking religion and are playing on the religious sentiments of electors to whom such appeals are addressed.”
The commission warns action against violation under Section 125 of the Representation of the People Act, 1951 (offence of promoting enmity between classes in connection with the election).