May 30, 2021

Lakshadweep; an Agenda beyond Praful Khoda Patel

John Brittas

THE coercive moves of Lakshadweep’s administrator, Praful Khoda Patel in the archipelago are in sync with the RSS’s political Holy Grail: repression of minorities and the insidious plan to implement the Hindutva agenda. The similarities in CAA, the decision to scrap provision of Article 370 that granted a special status to Kashmir, criminalising divorce among Muslims alone, arbitrariness over Ayodhya, and such moves of the Narendra Modi-led government with this latest raft of measures are inescapable. The objective is stark and violent and is meant to upend the values enshrined in the Indian Constitution. 

Praful Khoda Patel, a BJP leader, who was appointed the administrator of Lakshadweep in December 2020, has over the past few months set in motion so-called reforms, which are, in fact, a euphemism for repressive and unilateral moves, to turn the archipelago, comprising 35 islands, into yet another laboratory for devious political experiments that form the critical worldview of the RSS, much similar to the concept of Lebensraum (living space) for the Nazis. The motive is simple and total: to demoralise, discredit and criminalise people and practices that do not conform to their narrow interpretation of nationalism.

The narrative that was applied over Kashmir has been co-opted in the case of Lakshadweep with minor changes. The BJP leadership (Kerala BJP leadership has been vehemently supporting the administrator) has brought in ISIS and narcotic trade to slap the hapless people of Lakshadweep with charges of anti-nationalism. As usual, anyone who supports the Lakshadweep people, is harbouring the anti-nationals, according to BJP.  An incident of recovering heroin worth Rs 3,000 crores from a Sri Lankan vessel in Lakshadweep sea on March 15th this year is been projected to dump the island as a den of anti-nationals. However, BJP will never clarify the point as to why contract employees are terminated,  aganwadis are closed down, dairy farms are wound up, and sheds for fishing activities are dismantled! Still, everything is done in the name of fighting the anti-nationals!

The dangers the people of Lakshadweep are facing should not be seen as their problem alone, although there is a tendency among Indians to see each state or incident as separate from another. In fact, this is not even a case of a standoff between the ruling BJP and the opposition. Let’s not misconstrue the changes being carried out in the archipelago through a prism of political rivalries and competition alone. There is more to it than meets the eye. Time is now ripe for upholding the essence of the Constitution of India. The Concept of union territories was first introduced in the State Reorganisation Act, 1956. It refers to those territories that are too small to be independent or that are too different – economically, culturally and geographically - to be merged with the surrounding states.

The 7th amendment of the Constitution had clearly laid down the fundamentals of a union territory and the incendiary steps of the administrator are, in fact, assaults on the culture, economy and even the geography of the island.  The move is clearly to thrust on it a culture that the RSS, in its vulgar interpretation of India and Hinduism, sees as suitable to the whole of India. To call the slew of measures, including cow slaughter ban in Lakshadweep, as anything less than saffronisation of the region would be a blunder considering how the RSS and its political arm have meticulously preyed on the so-called insecurities of Hindus to destabilise this country.

The policies introduced by Patel in the union territory located in the Arabian Sea are also designed to discriminate based on faith. In a region that reports low crime rates to the extent that people leave the doors of their homes and shops open when they are away for a lunch break, he has gone ahead with the anti-social Activities Regulation bill, 2021, or the Goonda Act, with the politically motivated target of arresting people without trial. His despicable acts don’t end there. He has also encroached onto the local administrative powers of elected zila panchayat in various sectors, including education, health care, agriculture, animal husbandry and fisheries with the sole aim of destroying local economies and to line the pockets of potential corporate sharks who will now find it a sanctuary for quid pro quo deals with the government in power at the centre.

Strangely, the new policy proposals of the administrator will mean that alcohol will flow freely in the archipelago where the majority are Muslims (98 per cent of the population) and therefore do not consume alcoholic drinks. At the same time, he wants to enforce a ban on beef, the staple food of the people there. The administrator has already got rid of non-vegetarian food from the menu of school children, much to the shock and anguish of the people there. Another proposal being effected is a law for ‘population control’, a contrived approach of Hindutva elements who often raise the bogey of Muslims ‘multiplying’ and growing in numbers.

Although over 79 per cent of India is Hindu, this concerted campaign to drive home the false message of ‘the Hindu is in danger’ has earned them dividends elsewhere. Hindus are soon going to be dominated by Muslims is a slogan that is zealously churned out through social media and messaging platforms. It is laughable and yet epitomizes RSS’s Hindu victimhood politics that are a big lie being told non-stop. In line with this fake argument, the administrator also proposes to bring in changes in panchayat regulations so that no person with more than two children will be eligible to contest panchayat polls.

The slew of measures unleashed by the administrator has a huge impact on the future life of the people too.  A provision has been deftly crafted whereby the people will have to renew their ownership of the land every three years. If they failed to obtain NOC regarding the occupancy of land, hefty penalties will be imposed. The proposed Lakshadweep Development Authority (LDA) with members appointed by the administrator will have sweeping powers to change the usage of the land. This proposal is skewed in favour of the tourism and real estate investors who are waiting in the wings. There is a diabolic attempt to divest the people of their land rights.   It is heartening that the people of Lakshadweep have come out in large numbers to protest this move to make them second-class citizens and tenants in their own land.

Alongside, there are reports of a whimsical bid to shift Lakshadweep from the jurisdiction of the Kerala High Court to the Karnataka High Court, which reeks of politics of hate of divisiveness and smacks of a conspiracy to cut off the region with Kerala with which it shares great cultural and linguistic proximity. All this certainly suits the political interests of those in power at the centre whom the people of Kerala and the government are fighting tooth and nail over the RSS’s agenda. Besides, there are apparently plans to shift the Kozhikode-based Lakshadweep Authority to Mangalore in BJP-ruled Karnataka.  The administrator wants to shift interconnect between the island and Beypore port in Calicut from where goods are being ferried to the island. He has picked up his convenient location, Mangalore in Karnataka. All these measures are designed to cut off the umbilical cord between the island and Kerala.

Putting the island under Praful Khoda Patel, the first politician to be the administrator was an explicit act of pushing the agenda of sanghparivar. He is a prominent BJP leader and served as minister of the state of home under Narendra Modi’s chief ministership in Gujarat for two years. His father Khodabhai Patel was an RSS leader who shared a close relationship with Narendra Modi during his early political days in Gujarat.    

It is time to wake up and resist the wicked moves of small-minded men who are in power before it is too late. Our lethargy and inclination to see these as other people’s problems may cost us a nation that we are proud of and a Constitution that champions our right to coexist with people of all caste, colour, and creed. We will end up paying a huge price for our inaction.