Actor and candidate of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from Thrissur Lok Sabha constituency in Kerala, Suresh Gopi, appeared to have found himself in a spot on Sunday.
District Collector, Thrissur, T.V. Anupama, who is the returning officer, has submitted a report to the Chief Electoral Office, CEO, Kerala, Teeka Ram Meena, that she has found that Mr. Gopi had prima facie violated the model of conduct (MCC) by allegedly using religious motifs to garner votes.
Mr. Meena told The Hindu that he had received the Collector’s report and it indicated that the candidate had on the face of it breached the poll code.
Ms. Anupama has sought an explanation from Mr .Gopi. She said the candidate could appeal against the returning officer’s action, if he found it unsatisfactory, to the CEO or the Election Commission of India (ECI) directly.
Mr. Meena took strong exception to attempts to intimidate poll officials who enforced the poll code. “It is a criminal offence, and we will ask the police to prosecute the offenders. It not as if there is no law. There is one, and none is above it”, he said.
Mr. Gopi had found himself at the centre of a controversy after his political rivals accused the actor of having invoked the name of Sabarimala deity to garner votes at a campaign meeting in Thrissur on April 5.
Religious motifs and names to seek votes
Ms. Anupama issued a notice to the candidate after verifying the video recording of the campaign. She has sent the evidence for forensic analysis and voice sampling.
Mr. Gopi denied the accusations on Sunday and said he had not invoked the name of the deity to seek votes. The BJP slammed Ms. Anupama’s action as partisan.
Mr. Meena said political parties had formulated the poll code and agreed to play by the rules. It was not as if the ECI has arbitrarily imposed the rules on them arbitrarily.
Another official attached to his office said it was okay to discuss the Sabarimala issue objectively and how the Government handled it. However, the ECI had banned political parties from using religious motifs and names to seek votes lest it divides society
Mr. Meena had clarified earlier that the Election Commission of India had explicitly banned political parties from raising contentious and divisive issues relating to religion and places of worship lest it increases prejudice in society and makes it difficult for the electorate to dial down their emotions and reason before they vote.