The political upheaval in Kerala over Lakshadweep is intensifying. From preparing to send party-level delegations to the island group to protests, almost all sections of the state’s polity are up in arms against the sweeping administrative changes being brought about in the Union Territory.
Such bipartisan support against the new Lakshadweep administrator Praful Khoda Patel’s tweaks are important since it is increasingly difficult to hear local voices, given the permit system in place and the stringent lockdown norms imposed since a major breakout of COVID-19 infections.
“We have had 36 administrators before and we never had any issues with anyone. Now all democratic principles are being ignored for the liking and wishes of one person. We will not accept this,” said T Abdul Kader, the Panchayat Chairman of Lakshadweep’s capital, Kavaratti.
Some of the changes introduced — or in the draft stage — by Mr Patel include the implementation of the ‘Goonda Act’ in a region almost bereft of crimes, and restrictions on animal slaughter. Then there is the proposed ban on people with more than two children from contesting panchayat elections. Locals are also reportedly upset over layoffs amid the pandemic.
A sign of Kerala’s anger against these developments is the universal support for a resolution, likely to be passed in the state Assembly on May 31, against the ‘reforms’.
“Kerala will have strong objections to what is happening in Lakshadweep. They are our brothers. It will be correct to have a resolution in Assembly in this regard,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said, referring to the state’s centuries-old socio-cultural ties to the Union Territory.
Both the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) and the opposition United Democratic Front (UDF) have decided to send their delegations of MPs to Lakshadweep to study the ground situation. This could also be viewed as a show of support for the locals, a major section of whom have been voicing their opposition to the tweaks over the past many months.
However, neither front’s team has got the administrative permit to visit Lakshadweep yet.
“We have asked them to move (an application). How long can they deny us permission?” asked VD Satheesan, Congress leader and the state’s new Leader of the Opposition.
The CPI(M), which heads the LDF, will hold protests before the Lakshadweep administration’s offices in Kochi and Beypore, Kozhikode on May 31. Another will be held before the Raj Bhavan in Thiruvananthapuram on June 2. The next day, the party’s protests will spread to the various central govt offices in the state.
Besides the state’s leaders, opposition has also come from Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin, and NCP chief Sharad Pawar.
Like the Kerala veterans, they have demanded the recall of Mr Patel as administrator and sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention to end the agitation.
Lakshadweep Collector Asker Ali, meanwhile, rebutted all allegations against the administration, calling them “targeted misinformation”.
“Lakshadweep is very peaceful. Very few law and order cases are emerging. We are planning on holistic development like in Maldives,” Mr Ali said during a press conference in Kochi yesterday.
However, he also obliquely justified the controversial changes saying the island group must be prepared for emergent situations.
“From strategic situation, Lakshadweep is very important. And we cannot go only by past experience. We have to also go by present emerging situations and future expectations,” he said.