By: Abu Huda Al-Hendi*
Even as India has been undergoing unprecedented health crisis as thousands of people are dying every day due to covid-19, Narendra Modi government did not forget its anti-Muslim agenda. The Central government continues to implement its Hindutva agenda one after one brushing aside all opposition and criticism. This time, it has laid its eyes on an island of south India – Lakshadweep. Lakshadweep fits into the government’s Hindutva project because the island has 97% Muslim population.
So, the government wants to do with Lakshadweep what it has done with Kashmir: It is to impose Hindutva and fascist agendas in the region without taking into account the opinion of local people, it is to take away or disregard all the opinion of local people about their resources, land and governance. The way present administrator Praful K Patel is making changes and introducing draconian law gives impression that the government is poised to implement its Hindutva project in the shrewd way it had done in Kashmir in order to remove its special status and downgrade it into union territory.
The Central government first broke the tradition of appointing a bureaucrat as the administrator of Lakshadweep. Earlier, a bureaucrat used to be elected as administrator of Lakshadweep. This time, Central government appointed Patel, who is a BJP leader and was the home minister of Gujarat when Modi was chief minister. Patel, whose father was a RSS leader, is said to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Hence, the appointment of Patel as the administrator of Lakshadweep suggests that the Central government would have any plan which it wants to implement with the help of Patel.
So, soon after taking charge in December 2020, Patel introduced draconian law Goonda Act or PASA (Prevention of Anti-Social Activities). According to the act, a person can be arrested without charge and public disclosure for up to a year. What is the purpose of introducing Goonda act in an island which has the lowest crime rate? It certainly could not be for sake of law and order maintenance. The purpose behind the introduction of Gooda Act seems to be political ones. The Act can be used to suppress rising opposition and dissenters against the draconian policies adopted by the government.
The second Hindutva agenda which the administrator is trying to implement is beef ban. The Animal Preservation Act seeks to ban beef in a place where more 95 per cent are Muslims. How does it make sense in a democratic country that the government is trying to ban a food item in an area where 97 people eat it? This is purely from the playbook of fascists.
Another draconian move of the government is to take away powers of local civic bodies and put a condition that a person who has more than two children cannot be member of Panchayat. Zilla Panchayat has been made powerless with the administrator taking all power from them. This is a powerful attack on the power of local people deciding about their areas. It’s government-appointed administrator who will decide about the civic works of the local area. In the island where large number of people’s livelihood depends on fishing, the government seized the nets and sheds of fishing community in the name of coastal protection. Government-run- dairy farms and milking cows are being sold off while Amul dairy has been brought in to provide milk.
This is not enough. Local employees in the government jobs are also being removed. 200 high school teachers, 190 employees from the tourism department and subdivisional magistrates were dismissed from their job. Hindi-speaking officers are being put in charge. What’s wisdom behind removing local people from government duties? Does the Central government have plan to occupy the island?
The draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR), 2021 is another move which shows government’s ill intention about the island. The LDAR gives sweeping power to the administrator, and by extension the Central government threatening the existing land ownership and usage in Lakshadweep by giving arbitrary and unchecked powers to the government (and all its bodies) to directly interfere with an islanders' right to possess and retain their property. It empowers the government to choose any land for “development” activities. Under this regulation, the acquired land can be used as the government sees fit, with no regard to the will of the land-owner.
All these plans and moves adopted by the Administrator Patel clearly shows that the Central government wants complete control over Lakshadweep and make decision about it according to the government’s corporate and ideological interests. This goes completely against all fundamental values of the constitution, liberty, secularism and democracy. This is the very reason it is being opposed by all sections of the country. Prominent opposition leaders Rahul Gandhi, Sarad Pawar and others have registered their opposition against Patel’s moves.
* An Indian writer
**Opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of “al-Mujtama” magazine.