Pic of Christian priests at Pinarayi campaign violates code of conduct: Congress to EC

Congress MLA Anil Akkara filed a complaint against Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and CPI (M)’s Alathur candidate in Palakkad PK Biju.
Pic of Christian priests at Pinarayi campaign violates code of conduct: Congress to EC
Pic of Christian priests at Pinarayi campaign violates code of conduct: Congress to EC
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Ten priests in clerical clothing, sitting in the front row and listening to the Kerala Chief Minister, who is addressing a gathering at a political event in Palakkad - this picture, according to the Congress, stands in violation of the Model Code of Conduct. Pointing this out, Congress MLA from Vadakkanchery Anil Akkara has filed a complaint with the Chief Electoral Officer of Kerala, Teeka Ram Meena. The model code of conduct has been in force since March 10. 

Pinarayi Vijayan was speaking at the Left Democratic Front (LDF) meeting at Rolex Auditorium in Vadakkanchery, in Palakkad district, on Tuesday. In addition to CPI (M)’s Alathur candidate PK Biju, the event was also attended by a group of priests from a Christian denomination. The picture of the priests at the function was published in newspapers and shared on social media platforms as well. 

“The priest attended the event in their robes, which is a religious symbol. At the election convention, the Chief Minister appealed to extend support to the LDF candidate to ensure the latter's victory. The priests attending and acknowledging a political campaign is a religious symbol and violates the election code of conduct,” Anil Akkara, who represents the Vadakkanchery constituency, said in his complaint.

According to the MLA, a few members from a Jacobite church in Vadakancherry wanted to meet the Chief Minister to submit a request regarding a church-related issue. “A few CPI (M) leaders in Vadakkanchery and in particular Minister AK Balan told the church members to meet the Chief Minister directly at the LDF convention and submit the request. When the priests arrived at the venue, they were made to sit in the front row. Instead of letting them meet the CM at his office, they were asked to come to a political event," Anil Akkara told TNM.

In his complaint, Anil Akkara has asked the CEO to take action against Pinarayi Vijayan and PK Biju as prescribed under the law and as per the Representation of People Act 1951, which calls for the disqualification of lawmakers for offences in connection with elections.

TNM asked N Gopalaswami, former Chief Election Commissioner of India, if religious leaders attending a political event is a violation of election code of conduct. “This can be interpreted in two ways,” he said.

"Somebody can take the view that the very presence of a religious leader sends a message to the followers that he is for the party and that the party is for them as well. Another way to look at this is that as an individual, you have every right to attend any political party’s event. This is a little dicey scenario; let the Commission decide,” explained Gopalaswami.

Incidentally, in 2014, the LDF and the BJP filed a similar complaint with the Election Commission against United Democratic Front’s (UDF) candidate Shashi Tharoor for violating the model code of conduct. The complaint was filed based on a video recording released by a regional news channel, which said that more 60 pastors and Shashi Tharoor had met at the latter’s residence and offered money for votes.

The report claimed that the Congress leader appealed to the religious leaders to convince the people in their community to vote for him. The channel also released an audio clip of a pastor saying that he attended the meeting and that the priests were given money, although he did not take money.

Shashi Tharoor, however, refuted this. He said that the channel had previously made false accusations against him, which prompted him to file a complaint about them to the Election Commission.

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