Opposition parties have sought the removal of Lakshadweep administrator Praful Khoda Patel, accusing him of harassing local people and destroying the heritage of the island territory.
Patel has introduced a slew of regulations in the first five months of his tenure, triggering a massive outcry on social media. This includes a proposed cow slaughter ban, a preventive detention law in the Union Territory with one of the lowest crime rates in the country and a draft law proposing sweeping changes in land development regulations.
Patel, who had served as Gujarat home minister and is known to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah, is carrying out the political agenda of the Bharatiya Janata Party to target Lakshadweep’s largely Muslim population, the Congress alleged.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi hit out at the administration in Lakshadweep on Wednesday, saying that “ignorant bigots in power” were destroying the Union territory. “I stand with the people of Lakshadweep,” he added.
Meanwhile during an online press conference on Tuesday, Congress General Secretary and senior party spokesperson Ajay Maken said the people of Lakshadweep were opposing the administrator’s action of allowing liquor on the islands and the proposed Prevention of Anti-Social Activity Act.
“Normally bureaucrats or retired bureaucrats are appointed as administrators [of Union Territories], but this is the first time a politician has been appointed who reports to a joint secretary of the Union government,” Maken added.
The Congress leader claimed that Patel has taken away the powers of the panchayats and has carried out demolitions of houses of locals engaged in fishing activity under the new rules.
Congress leader Priyanka Gandhi Vadra also criticised the new proposals. “The people of Lakshadweep deeply understand and honour the rich natural and cultural heritage of the islands they inhabit,” she tweeted. “They have always protected and nurtured it. The BJP government and its administration have no business to destroy this heritage, to harass the people of Lakshadweep or to impose arbitrary restrictions and rules on them.”
Gandhi questioned why the people of Lakshadweep were not consulted before Patel introduced these proposals. “Dialogue sustains democracy,” she wrote. “Why can’t they be asked what they believe is good for them and for Lakshadweep? How can someone who knows nothing about their heritage be allowed to use his power to destroy it?”
Another Congress leader, KC Venugopal, has also written to President Ram Nath Kovind seeking his intervention in the immediate removal of the administrator, PTI reported. “The local people fear that all these unilateral and anti-people decisions would ultimately lead to the destruction of traditional livelihood and unique culture of Lakshadweep,” Venugopal said. “This has created huge unrest and protest among the local population there.”
Kerala-based Congress leader VT Balram, among the first to publicise the discontent that is simmering in the Union Territory, said it was part of the “Sangh Parivar’s mission to turn the islands into another Kashmir”, The Telegraph reported. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological mentor of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and its associated organisations are called “Sangh Parivar [family]”.
On August 5, 2019, the Narendra Modi government revoked Article 370 that stripped Jammu and Kashmir’s statehood, scrapped its separate constitution and removed inherited protections on land and jobs. To forestall any public protest, authorities imposed a security clampdown and total communications blackout.
Lakshadweep MP and Nationalist Congress Party leader Muhammed Faizal said that Patel had enforced the Goonda Act, which allows arrests without warrants and facilitates long detentions, to make residents insecure and stop them from protesting against his “dictatorial regime”.
Meanwhile, BJP’s Lakshadweep unit General Secretary HK Mohammed Kasim said in a letter to Modi that Patel did not support or appreciate the efforts of the saffron party to reach out to people about the new regulations, The Business Line reported. He has demanded a review of the decision taken by the administrator.