The word of caution issued by state Chief Electoral Officer Teekaram Meena to the political parties against using the issue of Sabarimala in electoral campaigns, merits serious consideration. Seeking votes in the name of god, religion and caste is a serious violation of the model code of conduct. In the event of an allegation on that count against a candidate, the court will declare his election null and void, and he will be disqualified for contesting elections for six years. Teekaram has also reminded that the Election Commission will closely watch any campaign focusing on issues including Sabarimala leading to social polarization. What he has emphasized is that at any rate he will not allow one political party making gain over another through violation of the code. The matter is also to be discussed with political parties on Wednesday morning. However, the BJP which has dismissed the CEO's warning outright, has responded that the Commission does not have any authority to decide the subjects of election campaigns, with the contention that it is upto the political parties to decide what the campaign issues should be. BJP's state secretary K Surendran went a step further and said that the role of Election Commission is limited to preventing fake votes alone. And the BJP is going to demand removal of Teekaram Meena as CEO, too. On the Congress side too, the party's campaign leader K Muraleedharan has made it clear that the party will raise as an election issue the manner in which the state government handled the Sabarimala situation. In fact, the CEO's caution came in the light of the recent uproar all over the state by the sangh parivar and allied outfits against the Supreme Court order granting women entry into Sabarimala.
Free and fair elections form the corner stone of democratic system. It is the task of Election Commission to ensure that it remains so. And it is to perform that task without let or hindrance that a model code of conduct is put in place. If it comes to a situation where any one can carry out any kind of campaign, certainly the polls will not be free and impartial. Especially if votes are sought in public in the name of religion and caste, that is sure to create religious hatred and communal polarization. Further, in constituencies where members of a certain religion or caste form the predominant population, it will make life difficult for those not belonging to that religion or caste which in turn will generate only mutual ill-will and enmity. Hence the legal position that in secular democratic India, elections are not to be held invoking matters of god, religion and caste and the clear provision that violating it will lead to disqualification from contesting elections. In spite of efficient performance of the Election Commissions with stringent provisions to scrutinise the electoral process, each election passes with floating of black money and liberal use of illicit means dodging the monitoring by the Commission.
All that said, it also remains a fact that fixing of candidates is done even by secular parties, on the basis of caste, community or religion. Given the background of the verdict of Supreme Court's constitutional bench granting women entry to Sabarimala temple a few months ago, of the furore and unpleasant controversy it created within the state and outside, the EC's caution that it should at least not influence election campaign, cannot be viewed by sensible minds as unjust or unreasonable. In the election for the 17th Lok Sabha, which will decide who is to rule our great nation for the next five years, if corruption, unemployment, collapse of law and order, deteriorating rich-poor gap and similar issues that are crippling the country, will cease to be election issues, and parties run away from these vital matters and focus on the sole issue of women's entry into Sabarimala, that is the agenda only of those who want to use it as a 'golden opportunity'. If the EC firmly decides that it cannot be allowed, all peace-loving people will only be glad to welcome it. If all campaign revolves around Sabarimala, reconstruction of flood-hit Kerala, economic recession, unemployment or problem of waste-management without which life turns hard, will fail to receive the attention they deserve. Secular groupings like the UDF should not lose sight of this dark flip side for the sake of temporary vote gains.