Political parties in Kerala were on Wednesday asked by the poll authority to refrain from soliciting votes in the name of Lord Ayyappa, the presiding deity of Sabarimala, in the coming polls.
Sabarimala had witnessed frenzied protests over the women's entry issue after the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Democratic Front government had decided to implement the September 28, 2018 Supreme Court verdict, allowing women of all age groups to offer prayers at the hill shrine.
The parties must not use the name of Lord Ayyappa for soliciting votes and creating disharmony, Chief Electoral Officer Teeka Ram Meena told an all-party meeting in Thiruvananthapuram.
"Sabarimala is a religious place. If somebody is using the name of a temple or a mosque for soliciting votes, it is a clear violation of the model code of conduct," he said.
Meena said political parties should be responsible enough to decide to what extent they should use the Sabarimala issue during the campaign in the April 23 Lok Sabha polls.
"I cannot ban any action by a particular political party. I cannot ask any political party not to use the name of a particular religious institution.
"But if anyone uses any picture, poster, video of any religious institution to solicit votes, it will be considered as an act against the model code of conduct," Meena told mediapersons after the meeting.
The ruling Left Democratic Front, Opposition Congress-led United Democratic Front and Bharatiya Janata Party took part in the meeting.
A political slugfest ensued after the poll authority allegedly gagged parties from raising the Sabarimala issue in the run up to the elections.
The BJP and Congress had opposed the move, while the ruling CPI-M had backed it.
Meena said he had asked political parties not to use the pictures, videos or statements which could create disharmony as it was a violation of the model code of conduct.
BJP state president P S Sreedharan Pillai,who attended the meeting, said the CEO had said 'the Sabarimala issue must not be used to create hatred or disharmony in society. But we can use the issue related to the stand of the government, police, atheists', Pillai told reporters.
He also said political parties can discuss Sabarimala during campaign in the manner the Babri Masjid, Ayodhya, triple talaq issues were being raised.
The BJP chief also said his party workers know the 'lakshman rekha' while campaigning about the Sabarimala issue in the state.
The CPI-M, however, said the BJP wants to focus on the Sabarimala issue alone as the party lacked any other topic to discuss in the polls.
"We are not against any religious institutions. The BJP, which talks about faith, had asked the devotees not to give offerings to devaswom board temples, thus paving the way for their destruction.
"Our focus will be highlighting the failures of the Modi government at the centre," CPI-M leader Anathalavattom Anandan said.
The UDF, however, said it wanted the people to discuss all the issues faced by society.
The UDF leaders said their party would not violate the model code and Sabarimala was one among the various subjects to be discussed in the state ahead of the Lok Sabha polls.
The Opposition Congress, which had extended support to Ayyappa devotees at the time of the Sabarimala agitation, came out against Meena's directive, asking how such a grave issue should not be raised during the elections.
Meena said on 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 said on Monday that the state government's stand on the Sabarimala issue would surely be an election issue.
Meena had on 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'.
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.
The BJP has already pinned its hopes 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.