Evoking religious sentiments over Kerala's Sabarimala temple to ask for votes will be seen as a violation of the model of conduct enforced ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, the Election Commission said on Monday. Kerala will vote for the national polls on April 23.
The Supreme Court in September had overturned a ban on women aged between 10 and 50 from entering the hilltop Sabarimala temple, but a section of offended devotees refused to accept the ruling and prevented female worshippers from entering.
News that two women had managed to enter the shrine on January 2 triggered days of violent protest, with one person killed and dozens injured in clashes with police that saw buses torched and bombs hurled. An order on petitions seeking a review of the Supreme Court order is awaited.
"Invoking or doing some religious propaganda on Sabarimala issue by invoking the name of the Sabarimala god will be a clear violation of model code of conduct... We are going to take this very seriously and we will not allow any kind of such violations that puts a particular political party in advantage, another at a disadvantage," Kerala's Chief Electoral Officer TR Meena said.
Calling it a "very controversial" issue, the officer said that he will hold a meeting with all political parties on Tuesday to discuss the issue and request them not to provoke religious sentiments while campaigning for the elections.
The BJP and its ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has fiercely attacked Kerala's communist government, saying they had completely disregarded the sentiments of the Sabarimala devotees by following the Supreme Court's order. The Left Democratic Front, however, has argued in court that "attaching impurity to a woman during menstrual period is an abrasion to entire humanity".
Sitting Parliamentarian from Thiruvananthapuram Shashi Tharoor told NDTV, "I welcome this [Election Commission] decision. Issues like this are not political issues. It is either a constitutional issue or an issue of faith. There is only one party that has tried to turn the sacred shrine cynically into a political theatre and that is BJP. Congress is also standing with devotees but we have taken this issue legally, fighting it in courts. Creating bedlam on streets is not going to give votes."
BJP Rajya Sabha MP V Muraleedharan told NDTV, "The Chief Electoral Officer has over stepped his limits. Irrespective of what the Supreme Court decision is, no party can be stopped from questioning or mentioning the order." On being asked about Mr Tharoor accusing BJP of politicising Sabarimala, Mr Muraleedharan added, "Shashi Tharoor is on sticky wicket, so he obviously will not want this issue to be discussed at all."
The Sabarimala temple -- considered among the holiest in Hinduism and set on top of a hill in a tiger reserve -- receives millions of pilgrims a year.
It is dedicated to the celibate deity Ayyappa, and followers believe letting in women of menstruating age goes against his wishes. It is one of the few Hindu temples with restrictions on the entry of women.
(With inputs from AFP)