Image Source: PMO India
By Aparna Sanjay

We can see from Delhi to Kashmir, the reduction in the powers of the union territories through central government puppet governors and administrators. The latest to fall into the list is the island of Lakshadweep.

Lakshadweep, an archipelago in the Arabian sea, 200 to 440 km off the southwestern Malabar coast of India is a union territory and district of India.

Most people of Lakshadweep are descendants of migrants from the Malabar Coast of southwest India and the islanders are ethnically and culturally similar to coastal Kerala’s Malayali people. More than 95% of the indigenous population are Muslims and speak Malayalam. The main occupation of the people is fishing and coconut cultivation, with tuna being the main item of export.

The island has been seeing a series of protests against the regulations brought in by the administrator, Praful Patel.

The recent protests on the island of Lakshadweep have erupted after the administration of Lakshadweep proposed the implementation of the Draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021 (LDAR, 2021). The proposed legislation will bring change in the existing provisions related to the ownership and usage of land along with handing arbitrary powers to the state actors on the island.

Praful Patel has brought in a slew of laws targeting Muslims on the island who form 95% of the population that include Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation 2021 under which any individual with more than two children will not be allowed to contest panchayat elections.

Patel has been accused of implementing Hindutva agenda in a Muslim dominant island. Patel has brought in legislations to prohibit beef and cow slaughter and remove meat from midday meals in an island where 95% population is Muslim.

Alcohol is banned in Lakshadweep in consideration of the religious sentiments of the local Muslim population. Patel who hails from Gujarat where also alcohol is banned has plans to deregulate alcohol on the island to promote business.

Another contentious legislation brought about by the new Administration is the Lakshadweep Anti-Social Regulations, 2021 that open the possibility of misuse by the state actors against the locals.

As an administrator Patel’s track record in Daman and Diu has also been controversial.

Background of Praful Patel

An MLA on BJP’s ticket from Himatnagar and known to be a close aid to Modi, Praful Patel became the Home Minister of Gujarat with Narendra Modi as the state’s Chief Minister in 2010. He replaced Amit Shah after the latter resigned from the position in the wake of his arrest as the prime accused in the alleged extra-judicial killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh Shah.

Following BJP’s election in the center, in 2014 Patel was appointed as the Administrator of Daman and Diu, becoming the first politically appointed Administrator in the history of Indian Union Territories (UTs). Prior to this, the position of an Administrator in a UT was held only by officers from Indian Administrative Services. In 2016 he was appointed as the Administrator of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and later on when the two UTs were merged into one, he became its inaugural Administrator.

As an Administrator, Patel’s rule appears to have followed a pattern of sanctioning undemocratic regulations and violating the rights of indigenous people. In 2019, during the election period in Dadra and Nagar Haveli following a complaint against intimidation filed by the then collector of the area Kannan Gopinathan, Patel was reprimanded by the Election Commission of India for violating the guidelines of the model code of conduct by sending the officer a “coercive” request, the Caravan reported.

In November 2019, under Patel’s administration, almost 120 existing structures along a 700 m long stretch between the Mato Daman Lighthouse to Jampore beach were demolished by an order given by the collector without any consideration of its effect on the lives and livelihoods of those living there. The structures were cited to be “illegal”. Huge protests against the forced eviction erupted in Daman by the Adivasi fishing communities who had traditionally lived there. The police under Patel’s rule had resorted to lathi-charge, water cannon, and later on the detention of the protestors.

Later, orders were passed prohibiting every kind of gathering and dharna. Most of the families forcefully evicted during the demolition were not rehabilitated by the government.

In March 2021, Patel was also named along with eight others an FIR filed by the Mumbai Police in the suicide case of Mohanbhai Sanjibhai, a seven-time Lok Sabha MP of Dadra and Nagar Haveli who advocated for tribal rights. The case has been registered under IPC sections 306 (abetment of suicide), 506 (criminal intimidation), 389 (putting a person in fear of accusation of offence in order to commit extortion), and also under the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. Sanjibhai’s son Abhinav said that his father was “tortured and humiliated” because he was from a Scheduled Tribe, and the accused also wished for him to stop contesting elections the Indian Express reported.

Politicians Write to the President Demanding Patel’s Termination

Following the draconian legislations and dictatorial attitude of Praful Patel there are calls for his resignation.

The recent addition to that opposition has been D. Raja, the General Secretary of CPI, and Loksabha MP Elamaram Kareem of CPIM. Both of the politicians have written to the President of India, Ramnath Kovind, asking him to consider the termination of the current Administration’s tenure given the widespread opposition he is facing by the native population for his authoritarian moves.

Currently, Lakshadweep with a population of around 70,000 is battling the second wave of COVID-19. The island had successfully managed to secure itself during the first wave of the pandemic and the first case of the virus emerged as late as January 2021 and since then the number of active cases has reached mover 6000 along with the death of 24 people. People took to Twitter to highlight the overburdening of the health care facilities on the island due to the surge in the number of cases.

Both Kareem and Raja have accused Praful Patel, the Administrator of relaxing the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and quarantine guidelines in the region which has till then managed to keep the health crisis at bay.

Kareem has also pointed towards the arbitrary termination of contract workers including 38 Anganwadi workers, 190 people from the tourism department, school lunch makers, sports teachers, and staff from the Department of Animal Welfare and the Department of Agriculture since Patel assumed the charge as the Administrator.

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