Save Lakshadweep: Praful Patel’s ‘Anti-People’ Policies Under Fire
#SaveLakshadweep – a social media movement of sorts – is demanding that the Lakshadweep administrator be recalled.
Video Producer: Shohini Bose
Video Editor: Purnendu Pritam
Protests have erupted on the islands of Lakshadweep over the past few days against Praful Khoda Patel, the administrator of the Union territory who was appointed a little over five months back on 5 December 2020. A former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader, Patel served as the home minister of Gujarat under Narendra Modi when the latter was the chief minister in 2010.
Several students’ organisations, including the Lakshadweep Students’ Association, and political parties are demonstrating against a slew of “anti-people” and “authoritarian” policies introduced by Patel in the last few months in order to garner attention of the national media.
On the one hand, #SaveLakshadweep – a social media movement of sorts – demands the Lakshadweep administrator be recalled. On the other, several Rajya Sabha MPs from Kerala have written to President Ram Nath Kovind, urging that all the orders issued by Patel had an “ulterior motive to destroy the traditional life and cultural diversity of the people of Lakshadweep.”
What are these orders – and why is there widespread discontent against Patel?
COVID Rules Changed
Soon after his appointment, Patel changed the SOP that was in place to prevent COVID from spreading on the islands. Earlier the SOP stated that people coming from Kochi were to observe a mandatory quarantine. However, the administration “unilaterally” changed the SOP to state that anyone who had obtained a negative RT-PCR test 48 hours before travel could enter the islands. In his letter to the President dated 23 May, MP Elamaram Kareem noted, “According to the people of the islands, this unplanned and unscientific altering of the SOP has led to the current surge in COVID cases.”
Lakshadweep saw no cases of COVID-19 last year, even when it spread throughout the country. However, all that changed when the first case was reported on 18 January in 2021.
By 23 May, Lakshadweep had reported more than 6,000 cases. The active caseload is around 1,200 cases now.
But COVID-19 is not the only thing burdening the islanders.
Beef Ban Proposed, Ban on Alcohol Use Lifted
On 25 February 2021, the Animal Preservation Regulation 2021, which intends to ban slaughter, transportation, selling or buying of beef products, was placed in the public domain to massive criticism. The Muslim community comprises 96 percent of the population.
Another Rajya Sabha MP Binoy Viswam, who wrote to President Kovind on 24 May, said, “It is unacceptable for a governing authority to have such blatant disregard for the people under its jurisdiction and continue to perpetuate decisions that cause great harm to them.”
MP Kareem said “undemocratic and anti-people” regulation in the name of animal preservation was promulgated without “an iota of consideration towards the people or their choice of livelihood and food.”
Adding that the regulation has destroyed livelihood of the islanders, the MP added that neither had any local body ever raised such a demand nor were they consulted during the framing of the regulation.
Ironically, while a beef ban has been proposed, the ban on use of alcohol has been lifted.
In accordance with the religious beliefs of the local community, MP Viswam added that the consumption of alcohol was banned on the islands.
However, “the administration has (now) begun issuing liquor licenses under the guise of promoting tourism and individual freedom thereby completely ignoring the sociocultural context of the area,” he said.
MP Kareem added that “this decision is also intended to destroy the harmony and trample the religious beliefs of the people living there.”
When asked about the beef ban and the liquor licenses, Lakshadweep Janata Dal (United) (JDU) President Dr Mohammed Siddique told The Quint, “Patel wants to create the Lakshwadeep islands into a tourist hub. But people don’t come here to drink liquor. They come to enjoy nature’s beauty. There is no justification for the beef ban. His orders are a combination of commercial greed and communalism. In the name of tourism, he is going to harass people and use PASA to silence any opposition.”
Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021
But, among the new laws, the regulation which has outraged the islanders the most is the draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021.
The regulation gives the administrator powers to remove or relocate islanders from their property, for town planning or any developmental activity, The Print reported. The draft notification states that the government has powers “to acquire, hold, manage and dispose of property, movable or immovable, as it may deem necessary.”
The Lakshadweep Students’ Association has started a protest-from-home campaign, demanding the revocation of the regulation.
Meanwhile, the Twitter account of Kerala Students Union, a wing of the National Students Union of India (NSUI), was allegedly suspended for raising its voice in support of Lakshadweep.
Siddique further said that LDAR 2021 is a cut-paste copy of other so-called development models. “How will you build railways on such small islands? How will you have national highways? There is no scope, but since Patel has come, he has been issuing such orders. These go to the Home Ministry for approval. If this continues, Lakshadweep’s ecology will be destroyed,” he said.
Despite having the lowest crime rate in the country, a reform introduced in Lakshadweep by Patel in January this year was the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act (PASA), also known as Goonda Act. Under the act, a person can be detained without any public disclosure for a period of up to one year.
Patel’s appointment as the administrator of Lakshadweep came after the sudden death of Dineshwar Sharma in 2020.
But it’s not only his policies that are under fire.
Considered a close associate of Modi, Patel was made the administrator of the UTs of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu in 2016 – in a move away from the practice of appointing only IAS officers to the post.
Earlier this year, he was booked for the suicide of Dadra and Nagar Haveli MP Mohan Delkar, who had named Patel among others in his 15-page suicide note. Delkar was allegedly found hanging in his hotel room on 22 February. Abhinav, Delkar’s son, alleged that Patel was harassing Delkar, demanding Rs 25 crore and threatening him with a false case under the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act if he failed to do so.
Rajya Sabha MP Dr V Sivadasan told The Quint, “This is an attack against the federal structure of the country. We will mobilise people and fight the BJP’s hateful agenda.” In a Facebook post, he wrote, “The administrator is holding the BJP’s flag of immense hatred and quickly turning Lakshadweep into a big jail.”
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