All the major political parties in Kerala allege that the authoritarian rule of Lakshadweep’s new administrator, Praful Kodha Bhai Patel, is causing unrest in the island.

Lakshadweep Island with a few coconut trees and blue water in front of itImage for representation/ WikimediaCommons
news Politics Tuesday, May 25, 2021 - 11:40

A people’s protest has been brewing in the Union Territory (UT) of Lakshadweep, with all the major political parties in Kerala except the BJP speaking up against the UT’s new administrator, Praful Kodha Bhai Patel. They all allege that his authoritarian rule is causing unrest in the island. In a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s leader in the Rajya Sabha Elamaram Kareem demanded that the administrator be called back urgently due to his “anti-people policies” which has led to widespread protests among the people. Praful Patel, a former Home Minister of Gujarat, was appointed the Administrator of Lakshadweep after the death of erstwhile Administrator Dineshwar Sharma in December 2020. Since then, he has brought in a slew of changes which the local residents have said are harmful not only to the livelihood of the islanders, but also to the environment in Lakshadweep.

The biggest trigger, perhaps, is the draft of the Lakshadweep Development Authority, which the residents have said is an attempt to usurp their land in order to pander to ‘real estate interests.’ The new draft empowers the government to take over any areas that are deemed to have a ‘bad layout’ or ‘obsolete development. ‘ The residents, as well as political leaders, have pointed out that the islands, which are ecologically sensitive, may be at risk if unnecessary highways and large developmental projects are allowed to be built. Apart from this, Patel has been accused of unilaterally lifted restrictions on the use of alcohol in the Muslim-majority islands, banned beef products, citing Animal Preservation and demolished fishermen's sheds built on the coastal areas, saying they violated the Coast Guard Act. He is also accused of exposing the islands to COVID-19 due to his ‘wrong policies.’ From having zero cases till December 2020, Lakshadweep has now reported over 6,500 COVID-19 cases and 24 deaths so far.

Congress leaders alleged that the BJP-led NDA government is trying to implement its communal agenda in the UT through the administrator. The Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) too has echoed similar sentiments. Elamaram Kareem alleged that in the name of reforms and schemes the new administrator is trying to completely destroy the traditional life of the people of Lakshadweep.

Read: An assault on culture and nature: Why Lakshadweep is against Administrator Patel

“Many of the existing laws are being amended unilaterally and new legislations are being drafted without any consultation with the people or their elected representatives,” he said. “There was restriction on the use of alcohol in the UT due to cultural and religious reasons. But the administrator unilaterally lifted the restrictions despite repeated requests from the people not to do so,” Elamaram added.

“Fishing is the main source of income for a majority of the people living on the Island. The sheds where fishermen used to keep their nets and other equipment were demolished by the new administration on the grounds that they violated the Coast Guard Act. The administration has also decided that the islanders should no longer rely on Beypore port for freight transit. Instead, they should depend on Mangaluru port for this purpose. It is alleged that the decision is aimed at severing Lakshadweep’s ties with Kerala,” he said.

Congress leader and former MLA VT Balram alleged that the appointment of Praful Patel as administrator was a part of a well-planned project of the Sangh Parivar to ethnically marginalise the people of Lakshadweep. “The unilateral decisions made by the administrator are a threat to the indigenous culture of the island. The latest move of the Centre can also be seen as an effort to prepare the ground for big tourism projects on the island by big business groups,” he said.

Meanwhile, the state committee of the Kerala Students Union (KSU) alleged that its Twitter account was suspended for tweeting a note protesting against the UT’s administrator. ET Muhammed Basheer, MP and IUML leader, alleged that the BJP is currently sowing poisonous seeds in Lakshadweep, which has a more than 99% Muslim population. “It is believed that Praful Patel, who was appointed by the Central government as the Lakshadweep Administrator, was given the task of communalising the island. The government is now trying to implement the Goonda Act. They think things will be easier if they have the draconian law in place to suppress the voices of protest,” he said.

The island has a rich historical and cultural heritage. Attempts have been made to ban meat consumption. Locals, including Anganwadi and health workers, have been sacked. Fishing is their main livelihood. It has become common practice to file cases against fishermen on flimsy grounds, Basheer alleged.

Basheer pointed out that though Beypore is the nearest port to Lakshadweep, there are efforts to implement rules to change the island’s trade through only Mangaluru. “There are no snakes in Lakshadweep. There are no crows. But with the support of the Union government, the spread of communal venom is more than the venom of snakes. This move is highly objectionable,” he said.

Meanwhile, on Monday a few celebrities also expressed solidarity with the people of Lakshadweep. Popular Malayalam actor Prithviraj Sukumaran said that for the last few days he has been getting desperate messages from the island’s people. “I’m not going to go on and write an essay about the islands and why the new administrator’s “reforms” seem completely bizarre. What I do know for sure though, is that none of the islanders I know, or none of those who’ve spoken to me are happy with what’s happening. I strongly believe that any law, reform or amendment should never be for the land, but for the people of the land,” he said.

“I have faith in our system, and even more faith in our people. When an entire community is unhappy with decisions taken by a nominated authority, upon whose posting the people there had no say, and they vociferously bring it to the attention of the world and their government, I would like to think there is no way other than to act on it. So please, to whomsoever it may concern, do listen to the voice of the people of Lakshadweep, trust them to know what is better for their land,” he said in a Facebook post.

“The complete disregard for the Lakshadweep people, their beliefs and livelihood is scary,” said actor Rima Kallingal in a Facebook post. Footballer Vineeth CK also expressed solidarity with the protest against the UT’s administrator through his official Facebook account.

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