Lakshadweep Unrest Explained: Union Territory or Union's Pawn?
From allegations of “Saffronisation” to protests asking the administrator to resign, all while having a 66% positivity rate for Covid-19, the once peaceful, serene and virus free tourist safe haven of Lakshadweep is now in complete turmoil.
The Cultural Identity of Lakshadweep
Lakshadweep is made up of 36 tiny islands and has population with a 90% Muslim Majority, with some of the highest rates of literacy and the lowest crime rates across the country. A pretty simple system of governance exists in the smallest UT of the country, at the local level you have Panchayats, then you have an elected MP, and finally, a Union appointed Administrator. The administrators are generally bureaucrats belonging to the Indian Administrative Service but in December 2020, this norm was broken as Praful Patel, a Politician and the former Home Minister of Gujarat, was appointed as the Administrator for the UT.
Changing the law of the Land
Skepticism existed about Praful Patel’s appointment ever since he was December, but the real effects of that appointment would take a few months to show themselves as a slew of controversial changes were made threatening the cultural identity of the people of Lakshadweep. The sweeping changes made include a ban on beef (Which is a staple food in the Muslim majority region), a ban on non-vegetarian food in schools, a law legalizing the sale of alcohol, an establishment of an authority with powers to acquire any private land for development, and an anti-goonda act.
A ‘Goonda Act’ for islands of peace.
The Anti-Goonda Act gives immense powers to the administrator including the ability to detain a person without legal representation for up-to a year. Such a law makes sense in a run of the mill Indian State where crime stats paint a grim and harrowing picture, but Lakshadweep is different. The UT had Zero cases of murder, kidnapping, rape or robbery in 2017, 2018 and 2019, as per the latest NCRB stats. So the question arises, is such a law necessary for such a peaceful region? What is its actual purpose?
“They are intending to scare people, other laws which can cause public outrage are being framed and they don’t want anyone to protest against them.” said Mohammed Faizal, the MP of Lakshadweep.
Threatening the identity.
Of the contested changes, the bans like the ones on beef and non-vegetarian schools in schools have brought about accusations of “saffronisation” in the region at the hands of the Union. Leaders of the CPI in Kerala and NCP in Lakshadweep have said that the Muslim Majority of the region has acted as an incentive for the Centre to “Impose its RSS ideologies” as stated by Binoy Biswam, an MP for CPI in neighbouring Kerala.
The allowing of the sale of Alcohol and the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 signal a very clear focus geared towards tourism and real-estate while threatening the cultural sentiment of the People of Lakshadweep. This becomes even more evident when one realizes that the sale of alcohol is banned in the Administrator Praful Patel’s home state, Gujarat.
The man behind it all
A name on the lips of every protester, largely responsible for the “reforms” being introduced in Lakshadweep, Praful Patel, a BJP leader, the Administrator for the UT and the former Home Minister for Gujarat. His father Khodabhai Patel was a RSS leader, who shared a close relationship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his early political days in Gujarat. Praful Patel has had requests filed against him to the president asking for his recalling from the Administrator role. This is not even the first time that such a request has been made to the President. He is also the administrator for Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu and has been shrouded in controversies throughout his political career.
Dadra and Nagar Haveli parallels
When Praful Patel was made the administrator of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, a similarly polarising set of changes were proposed, and what followed was an incident of the bleakest proportions, as Mohan Delkar, a seven-time MP for the UT of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, was found dead in his Mumbai hotel room on the 22nd of February, 2021. In his suicide note, the name of Praful Patel, along with other high ranking officials was found. Praful Patel was accused of extortion bid by Delkar’s family.
The Virus running rampant.
During the first wave of the Pandemic, Lakshadweep was a green zone reporting no cases of the virus, but that seemed to change in 2021, as the UT reported its first cases of the Virus in January. Protesters have alleged that the relaxation the quarantine and travel rules by Praful Patel have made Lakshadweep the place with the highest positivity rate for Covid-19 in the country. Praful Patel has maintained that the changes were brought to boost tourism, the mainstay of Lakshadweep's economy.
Future of Lakshadweep.
The hashtag #SaveLakshadweep has gone viral on social media, as local protesters and politicians, members of the CPI and Congress, celebrities from the South, and the general public from around the country have rallied against the “reforms” proposed by Praful Patel.
The reforms in question while “morally ambiguous” and “Unnecessary” are still legal under the rule of law in India. The Anti-Goonda Act is applicable throughout all the other states in India, and as for the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021 which empowers the administrator with taking private land away for development, is also legal as the right to property does not exist as a fundamental right in the Constitution, which allows the union to take away private land by providing fair compensation.
Whether the draft aims to promote the economy of the UT or establish more control for the administration, one thing is for certain, the cultural sentiments of the people of Lakshadweep are not to be played around with.
~ Prabhpreet Singh