Lakshadweep, known for its scenic beauty and tranquillity, is currently in the news due to political controversy. Social media is awash with posts with the hashtag #SaveLakshadweep calling for the removal of Praful Khoda Patel, the Union Territory's administrator.
Patel is being held responsible for the Covid-19 surge in Lakshadweep. He is accused of inciting social unrest in India's smallest union territory. Lakshadweep literally translates as a 1 lakh-island archipelago. However, it is actually a group of 36 islands, 12 of which are atolls, three reefs, five submerged banks, and only ten of which are inhabited.
On the Internet, there are numerous focal points for protests, including social media platforms. Local residents, politicians such as Lakshadweep MP Mohammed Faizal, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan and Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, footballer CK Vineeth, and actor Prithviraj Sukumar are among those speaking out against him.
Praful Khoda Patel
Praful Khoda Patel has emerged as the pivotal figure in Lakshadweep's political squabble. He is the administrator of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu. After the death of the island's previous administrator, Dineshwar Sharma, in December 2020, he was given additional charge of Lakshadweep.
Patel is a BJP leader who served as Gujarat's minister of state for home affairs for two years. Khodabhai Patel's father was a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) leader who was close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his early political days in Gujarat.
The appointment of Khoda Patel as an administrator of Lakshadweep was met with opposition, with island leaders alleging that he was furthering the RSS's communal agenda. He is said to be the only politician to have been appointed as Lakshadweep's administrator. Officers of the Indian Administrative Service have previously held the position (IAS).
Measures or reforms introduced or proposed by him have been opposed by his critics ever since he took charge of Lakshadweep's administration in December 2020.
The surge in COVID cases
During the first wave of the pandemic in India, Lakshadweep was a Covid-19 green zone. Protesters claim that Patel's relaxation of quarantine and travel rules has made Lakshadweep the location with the "highest positivity" for Covid-19.
Covid-19 has infected over 7,000 people in Lakshadweep. Lakshadweep reported its first Covid-19 cases on January 18 of this year, when 14 people were found to be infected with the coronavirus. Lakshadweep has a population of fewer than 65,000 people, according to the 2011 Census. Its positivity rate has mostly been less than 10%, occasionally exceeding 20% on certain days.
Protesters claim Covid-19 entered the island after the Praful Khoda Patel administration eliminated mandatory quarantine of travellers in Kochi, Kerala. The quarantine rules were strictly enforced under Dineshswar Sharma. To enter Lakshadweep, a visitor only needs a "negative" certificate.
Beef Ban in Lakshadweep
The Lakshadweep Animal Preservation Regulation 2021, proposed by Patel, prohibits the slaughter of cows, bulls, and bullocks. This proposal is being fiercely opposed, with protesters alleging that he is carrying out the RSS's agenda of banning beef. In India, however, beef is mostly made up of buffalo meat.
Muslims account for nearly 97 percent of Lakshadweep's population. The majority of them are Scheduled Tribes. Lakshadweep's tribal population is approximately 95%. The protesters claim that beef is a regular part of their diet.
Another controversial decision has been the removal of non-vegetarian food from the menus of school lunch programmes. Those in favour of Patel point to a constitutional provision that requires the state to enforce a ban on cow slaughter.
Start of Alcohol sales in Lakshadweep
Praful Khoda Patel has proposed allowing bars in Lakshadweep as a tourism-boosting measure. Lakshadweep, like Gujarat, has a prohibition law that prohibits the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. Surprisingly, India's Constitution provides for prohibition.
Local residents and political leaders are vehemently opposed to the move. The opposition to liquor is puzzling given that the majority of Lakshadweep's population speaks Malayalam and has close ties to Kerala, which has one of the highest liquor consumption rates in the country.
Anti-Social Activities Regulation
Another point of contention is the Anti-Social Activities Regulation Bill proposed by the Patel administration in Lakshadweep. The proposed law allows for the detention of a suspect without the need for a warrant from a court.
Protesters have dubbed it the "Goonda Act" and have stated that Lakshadweep has the lowest crime rate in the country, according to National Crime Record Bureau (NCRB) data. His argument has been that drug-related crimes have increased in Lakshadweep.
Diversion of Cargo to Karnataka
Previously, cargo bound for Lakshadweep would dock at Kerala's Beypore port, with which the islanders have strong cultural ties. The Patel-led team is accused of diverting the cargo to Karnataka's Mangalore port in order to benefit the BJP-ruled state while disrupting Lakshadweep's ties with Kerala.
Development Authority Regulation 2021.
The most contentious issue, however, is Patel's proposed Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation 2021.
If implemented, the regulation would give the government, designated as the administrator, the authority to form Planning and Development Authorities for the development of any area in Lakshadweep identified as having "bad layout or obsolete development" infrastructure.
Only the cantonment areas have been exempted from this regulation. When established, the authority would be in charge of development planning.
Protesters claim that the draught regulation bill is aimed at serving "real estate interests" and usurping the small landholdings of Schedule Tribe people.