Union Home Minister Amit Shah would do well to honour his promise that no changes in law will be made in Lakshadweep without taking the islanders into confidence. The situation in the archipelago has deteriorated to such an extent that nothing less than a change of the administrator will do. Within six months of getting the additional responsibility of Lakshadweep, Administrator Praful Khoda Patel has totally antagonised the people. There is so much turmoil in the islands that the people expect Shah to appoint someone who is more sensitive to their sentiments and needs. Patel was given the additional responsibility on December 5, 2020, on the death of Dineshwar Sharma, a former IB chief, whom the people saluted for keeping the islands safe from corona thanks to the strict Covid-19 protocol he introduced. Lakshadweep was one of the few inhabited places in the world which did not record Covid-19 cases.
On assuming charge of Lakshadweep, the first thing Patel did was to liberalise the Covid protocol so much that a large section of the people there are today victims of corona. The liberalisation was justified on the ground that the quarantine rules were harming the economic interests of the people. In sharp contrast, strict lockdown conditions are now prevalent on the islands. Patel should have been recalled the moment coronavirus began to spread in Lakshadweep. He appeared to have taken charge to unleash an agenda of his own or his party’s. He introduced what is known as the Goonda Act in the Union Territory which, incidentally, has the lowest crime rate in the whole country. In retrospect, he probably knew that there would be a mass protest against his reform measures.
Patel’s enthusiasm to introduce the two-child norm to anyone wishing to contest panchayat elections did not take into account the fact that the fertility rate in Lakshadweep, at 1.4 per woman, is less than the national average of 2.2. Similarly, the sudden removal of meat from the mid-day meal served in government schools and the ban on beef could not but evoke suspicion in the minds of the people, who have grown up eating beef. Similarly, the decision to allow liquor shops on the islands did not gel with the aversion most islanders have for the heady stuff for reasons of their religious belief. This was done in the name of encouraging tourism. The question that arose was why Patel, who was once the home minister of Gujarat, did not object to the ban on sale of liquor in his own home state. Small wonder that many compared it to the British promoting the use of opium in China.
What’s worse, Patel sought to introduce measures that would have made him an autocrat. For instance, the administrator could have acquired any plot of land in the name of development. Anyone who protested against it would have gone to jail and paid a hefty fine too! The blueprint of development that he prepared appeared to have been copy-pasted from some document, for it promises six lane-roads, metro services, malls and large airports. He did not take into account the limited land and other resources in Lakshadweep to make such extravagant promises. If Patel, finally has his way, the panchayati raj system will become a thing of the past, as the powers vested in the elected representatives of the people will pass on to the administrator.
An idiotic decision Patel took was to constitute a four-member committee to decide whether a patient should be provided a helicopter to shift them to a hospital in Kochi. This would delay the process of shifting, with disastrous consequences to the patient. Significantly enough, he took all these decisions within six months. It is no wonder that the islanders have stood up as one man against Patel’s Acts, comparable to the Rowlatt Act of the British. Even one of his predecessors thought it necessary to write to Amit Shah to warn him against his ill-advised steps.
When the Partition occurred, the people of Lakshadweep stood solidly with India, for they realised that they had little in common with Pakistan except their religion whereas they had everything in common — food, dress, culture, language — with those in what is now Kerala. It is against this backdrop that the unusual step the Kerala Assembly took on Monday to pass a resolution demanding the recalling of Patel should be seen. Let it be clarified, the people of Lakshadweep are not against development. They only want to be involved in the process.