Political parties in Kerala were warned by the Election Commission on Monday against using the contentious issue of Sabarimala temple in political campaigns ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, even as the directive drew a sharp reaction from the BJP which termed the move as "illogical".
With the poll dates being announced, Kerala Chief Electoral Officer Teeka Ram Meena said "citing or invoking" religious propaganda on the "Sabarimala issue" would be a clear violation of the model code of conduct.
"Inviting religious feelings, using any kind of Supreme Court judgment, invoking or soliciting the votes in the name of religion or by inciting religious feelings is a clear violation of the model code of conduct," he told reporters at Thiruvananthapuram.
The CEO also said the commission would not allow any kind of violation that puts a particular political party at an advantage over another.
Reacting to the directive, BJP state general secretary K Surendran said the stand taken by the state government on Sabarimala issue would be an election issue.
"It is 100 per cent that the stand taken by the (state) government on Sabarimala issue will be discussed in elections.
No one can interfere in it... It is illogical to say that the Sabarimala issue should not be discussed in the election," Surendran told the media at Kottayam.
Addressing the media in Thiruvananthapuram, the CEC said "inviting religious feelings, using any kind of Supreme Court judgement, invoking or soliciting the votes in the name of religion or by inciting religious feelings is a clear violation of the model code of conduct."
The CEC also said the commission would not allow any kind of violation that puts a particular political party at an advantage over another.
"Citing or invoking or doing something of religious propaganda on the Sabarimala issue by invoking the name of Sabari God, etc., will be a clear violation of the model code of conduct," Meena said.
He added that the Sabarimala issue was a controversial matter as far as Kerala was concerned and political parties "need to draw a line to what extent they have to use it".
"Tomorrow, I am holding a meeting with political parties in this regard and I will be requesting them not to unnecessarily use this religious feeling or religious traditions to solicit votes as this may create some religious tensions among people.
If that happens, action will be taken against those responsible," Meena said.
Surendran said as per election rules no one can speak against the Supreme Court order on the Sabarimala matter and no stand can be taken against other religions during the elections.
Kerala witnessed widespread violence by devotees and right-wing activists after the state government decided to implement the Supreme Court's September 28, 2018 verdict allowing women of all ages into the Sabarimala temple.
The BJP has already pinned its hope on the Sabarimala issue as it believes that it was able to create a momentum among its workers.
The saffron 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 the state.
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.