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Friday, June 2, 2023

Run Lakshadweep with velvet gloves

If the Congress MP of Muslim-dominated Waynad in Kerala, Rahul Gandhi (nee Raul Vinci), thought it necessary to shoot off a letter to the prime minister asking him to withdraw the slew of proposed regulations in Lakshadweep, we can be reasonably sure that is just what the doctor ordered.

The doctor happens to be the unassuming new administrator of the Union Territory (UT), Prafulla Khoda Patel, a former MP and minister from Gujarat, and deductively a Modi confidant. Patel has also been administrator of the merged UTs, Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu since 2016. Lakshadweep came under his wing in January 2020 following the demise of his predecessor, Dineshwar Sharma, an IPS officer of the Kerala cadre who retired as chief of the Intelligence Bureau (IB).

Patel’s background is enough to indicate why a Save Lakshadweep Campaign (SLC) has been drummed up. He is the first political appointee to run the UT in place of career bureaucrats, and that too hailing from a party seen as Hindu nationalist. Predictably enough, those behind it are mostly Muslim politicians from other parties. They smell a chance to create a communal divide.

Heading the pack is the sitting Communist MP (Rajya Sabha) from Kerala, Elamaram Kareem, followed by his twice elected counterpart from the NCP, M. Faizal, and his co-religionist from the Muslim League, M. Basheer. And if there is an anti-Bharat Hindu, the person cannot but be from the Congress: T N Prathapan. Together they have petitioned President Ramnath Kovind to recall Patel.

Kareem is specially unhappy at the primacy given to Mangaluru port over Muslim-dominated Beypore. Why-o-why? The grapevine says his fiscal interests would be majorly affected.

That the SLC is a mere ruse to mask the anti-Hindu gang-up is also evident from the remarks of Wajahat Habibulah, a retired IAS officer. Mr. H, who was administrator between 1987-90, said reforms and changes in the interest of the UT’s development were welcome so long as they were not carried out to suit the BJP’s political narrative. Quintessentially Muslim, and usually uttered after their careers in government were done and dusted. M. Hamid Ansari, the ex-vice president, was merely following in his footsteps.

Lakshadweep is a scenic 96 per cent Muslim majority archipelago comprising 36 atolls off the Kerala coast. Its politics is remote controlled by Islamists in Communist-ruled Kerala. The decision of the PM to appoint Patel was well taken in view of the growing activities of jihadi outfits like the Popular Front of India (PFI), and its political arm, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) in the southern mainland.

The Centre has been dragging it feet on banning the bodies despite glaring evidence of its role of complicity in Break-Bharat activities to evict the Modi government, be it Shaheen Bagh or the 2020 Delhi riots.

There is also a security worry which has emerged in a region which has largely been an oasis of peace. With China having taken over the Hambantota port in Sri Lanka on a 99-year lease, there is clear and imminent danger that Beijing may not restrict its activities to the economic. Given the CCP’s global ambitions, it is almost certain that Beijing will sooner or later convert it into a naval base, meddle in regional affairs, thus opening another friction front for Bharat.

Hambantota is barely 290 kms from Kanyakumari. The port, spread over 156 acres, will have all the trappings of a permanent Chinese colony. Entering the Dragon’s enclave will require a special passport with the Yuan rather than the Lankan rupee the official currency.

What then are the issues of the SLC campaign? Numerically they make a longish list ranging from altering the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for Covid, thereby causing a surge in infections; ban on cow slaughter, transporting, buying and selling beef products; lifting the ban on alcohol consumption; demolishing sheds where fishermen stored their nets and other equipment citing violation of the Coast Guard Act; executing a new Goonda Act; disqualifying panchayat members with more than two progenies from contesting elections; making Mangaluru port a freight transit point in place of Beypore; and termination of casual and contractual laborers’ jobs in government. Only two or three deserve attention.

Lakshadweep UT Administrator Prafulla Khoda Patel

Man in a hurry

Patel can, with some justification, be faulted for trying to accomplish too much too soon. A few ticklish issues like the ban on the sale of beef in a Muslim zone should have been left for a later day. Key proposals impacting law and order like the Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation 2021 (called the Goonda Act by wags on social media) ought to have been prioritized.

Preventive detention

Amusingly enough, BJP critics have been raising the Titanic when none of the regulations — barring the beef botch-up — have yet acquired the status of law. Comments on the planned ‘goonda’ law were invited, the deadline for which expired in mid-February. It is still gathering dust on Patel’s table. Failure to implement the draft bill will cause more damage. The BJP’s record of bringing in legislation and then putting it on indefinite hold is eroding its credibility.

An asinine argument lobbed against the anti-ruffian bill is that there is no need of it since there is no crime in the UT, thereby also implying that there can never be a spurt in the future. Tomorrow some smartie pants may turn around and say that since Lakshadweep is a virtual Shangri-La, and its denizens angels, it does not need an administrator, and even if it does, he/she must be a servant of Allah.

The draft bill is nothing but what is already in existence in other states, including God’s own country. Only the nomenclature is different. Kerala calls it the Anti-Social Activities (Prevention) Act which was enacted in 2007. Preventive detention laws fall in the concurrent list, and hence are not ultra vires the Constitution which the SLC backers would have us believe.

Nowhere in the bill is the term goonda used though it gives examples of those who could be held under its provisions: bootleggers, depredators (plunderers) of the environment, drug offenders, property grabbers, and “cruel persons”.

The last is a generic category targeted at anyone who habitually commits, attempts to commit or abets the commission of an offence punishable under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. It is difficult to think why anyone should object to a proposed law which does not criminalize offenders nabbed under it. So much the better if none are sinning on any account.

More booze, more tourists

Lifting the ban on alcohol consumption is a positive move aimed at roping in more tourists. The Lakshadweep Prohibition Regulation, 1979, is a ridiculous law which bans liquor, except in one island unpeopled by locals. This was supposedly done to assuage dominant Muslim sentiment. None of the erstwhile administrators had the guts to overturn it.

There is a simple point at stake: why should tourism be confined to just one of the 36 islands when the income which accrues is the UT’s main money spinner? The ban on booze has been the main stumbling block in improving tourism prospects. This was specifically highlighted in a 2003 report by the Tata Economic Consultancy Services. The changed norms will benefit hotels and resorts in all islands.

The ethical standards of the local Muslim populace cannot but baffle. They do not mind spilling the blood of animals, with a marked preference for the humble cow, but are grievously offended by the sight of someone sloshing in liquor.

Two-child norm

Another gutsy piece of legislation is the Draft Lakshadweep Panchayat Regulation, 2021, which compels panchayat poll aspirants to practice birth control. Those with more than two issues stand disqualified. Lakshadweep has a population density of 2,149 every 2 kms, and that too according to the outdated 2011 Census.

An overcrowded tourist destination is the surest way to dampen the spirits of holidayers seeking solitude and relaxation. States like Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Assam, Odisha, Rajasthan and Telangana have willingly adopted a two-child norm. Three of them have sizeable Muslim numbers.

How any of the above will destroy the “unique culture of Lakshadweep” as alleged by SLC adherents is a mind-numbing claim. Unless the culture is limited to slaughtering cows and calves, gorging beef, breeding babies, but walking unsozzled.

Patel will need to hide his claws in velvet gloves to deal with Islamists out to upset his applecart.

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Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh
Sudhir Kumar Singh is an independent journalist who has worked in senior editorial positions in the Times Of India, Asian Age, Pioneer, and the Statesman. Also a sometime stage and film actor who has worked with iconic directors like Satyajit Ray and Tapan Sinha.


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