June 06, 2021

Kerala Assembly Urges Centre to Recall Lakshadweep Administrator

N S Sajith

THE legislative assembly of Kerala has become the first state legislature to adopt a unanimous resolution expressing solidarity with the people of Lakshadweep. The resolution demanded the central government to recall its administrator Praful Khoda Patel. It also demanded the central government’s immediate action to protect the life and livelihood of the people of Lakshadweep.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, moving the resolution, stressed on the unique historic and cultural bonds between Kerala and Lakshadweep and said that the centre is trying to destroy democracy in the islands.

The resolution pointed out that the administration is imposing a saffron agenda on the islanders thereby destroying their rich cultural heritage. The administration is promoting corporate interests at the cost of the islanders. The responsibility of protecting the lives of the people of Lakshadweep is vested on the central government, it stated.

The new regulations passed by Praful Patel will allow the Lakshadweep administration to easily attach the assets of the people. The resolution noted that many people have lost their livelihood resulting in financial problems for the people. Further, the culture of the island was also being destroyed on the pretext of promoting tourism. Many attempts were made earlier to destroy the diversity of the people in different regions.

The administration has even started painting saffron colour on the coconut trees on the pretext of beautification and their forceful intervention has now grown to an extent that it is threatening to destroy their habitat, life and relationship with nature. Banners that have been put up on the island against the Citizenship Amendment Bill were removed and those who wrote it were arrested.

Kerala CM said that the people of Lakshadweep live peacefully and shower love on their guests. He said that the new administrator has taken steps to enact the Goonda Act in Lakshadweep, where crime is rare. “Such measures have been taken in anticipation of protests and to silence voices of dissent. Authoritarian governance is being imposed through these measures”, he said.
Further, “the aim of Lakshadweep’s administration is to destroy fishing which is the foundation of people's livelihood. The sheds where fishermen's boats and nets are kept have been destroyed. Steps are also being taken to eliminate beef which is an important component of the staple food of the people. Measures are being taken to ban cow slaughter and beef – an agenda of the Sangh Parivar – and to close dairy farms. The administrator is now taking the lead in gradually destroying the life and culture of the people of Lakshadweep”, Vijayan said.
Continuing, Pinarayi Vijayan stated that steps are being taken to abolish all existing democratic systems in Lakshadweep and to impose bureaucratic domination. Powers of the district panchayat and the village dweep panchayat have been transferred to the administrator. Departments of fisheries, health, education, animal husbandry and agriculture are also being removed from the purview of the district panchayat. An administrator who does not have the authority to directly intervene in these departments was empowered to do so by an order. In doing so, the central government has undermined democracy.

Vijayan criticised the administrator for issuing a bizarre order related to elections. They are trying to implement this undemocratic order that bars those with more than two children from contesting in the panchayat elections. This will deny a vast majority of the islanders to exercise their democratic rights, he said.

As part of protecting the island community's habitat, culture and security, the existing law states that no one outside the island has the right to purchase land there. Similar laws prevail in many parts of India too. Reforms are being implemented to change such a law. A directive was issued stating that the ownership of the land and the building should be renewed every three years. Failure to do so will result in a fine of Rs 2 lakh and a fine of Rs 20,000 per day. This is increasingly becoming impractical for those who work and live in far off places.

Vijayan said that Kerala and Lakshadweep are regions that have been intertwined for centuries. Many of the islands were under the administration of the Arakkal dynasty of Kannur prior to the British occupation. Until November 1, 1956, Lakshadweep was part of the then Malabar district. Lakshadweep has a way of life and culture that is closely associated with Kerala. Malayalam is their main language. There are Malayalam and English medium schools on the island. Major institutions including the High Court are functioning in Kochi. Freight arrivals and departures are based on the ports of Kochi and Beypore. Attempts are now being made to break this historically inter-dependent relationship, he said.

He stated that the encroachment on the culturally unique features of Lakshadweep and its distinctive way of life cannot be accepted. In many parts of the world, strong resistance rose wherever there have been attempts to undermine the living conditions of the people. That should be the lesson and such heinous acts should not be allowed to happen in India. All sectarian separatist movements are carried out in the interests of the forces that oppose the unity of the country. Seen from that historical context, the future of Lakshadweep is worrying. There are concerns that it will go unnoticed by the Indian people and Kerala shares that concern. It is an attack on the cultural identity that people value, a step that was not even taken by the colonial rulers. This is completely against democracy and pluralism. Therefore, anyone who upholds constitutional values must register a strong disagreement with the actions of the Lakshadweep administrator.

The activities taking place in Lakshadweep today should be seen as a practical lab of the Sangh Parivar agenda, Pinarayi said. “They are trying to change the culture, language, way of life, and food of the people in a way that suits them. They are also taking steps to disrupt the livelihoods of the people and give a red carpet welcome to corporates. Strong opposition must be raised against this attempt to enslave people to corporate interests and Hindutva politics. Only then can the vision of ‘unity in diversity' that underpins the very existence of the Indian nation as envisioned by the national freedom movement would be preserved,” he said moving the resolution.

The central government has a responsibility to ensure that the unique character of the union territory of Lakshadweep and its people is preserved. The administrator who tries to destroy it should be removed from his responsibilities. Opposition leader V D Satheeshan, E Chandrashekharan (CPI), P K Kunhalikutty (IUML), Mathew T Thomas (JDS), Mons Joseph (Kerala Congress-J) and Dr N Jayaraj (Kerala Congress-M) spoke in support of the resolution.