Lakshadweep BJP chief joins protests against new regulations
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s Lakshadweep unit president Mohammad Kasim on Tuesday joined the chorus of protests against the island’s administrator Praful Khoda Patel’s controversial new regulations a day after Communist Party of India (Marxist) and Congress members of parliament aired their reservations about these. Kasim said people should be taken into confidence before announcing sweeping changes.
“It seems some of the grievances of the island people are genuine. It is always good to seek the opinion of people and their elected representatives before taking decisions. I have written to both PM Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, about this.”
The issue has snowballed into a major political controversy with all parties closing their ranks . Strangely, the second in command in the BJP’s island unit said the charges were a mere “misinformation campaign” and said he was not aware of Kasim’s latest position.
In Delhi, the Congress demanded the recall of Patel and the withdrawal of all unilateral and “anti-people” orders issued and promulgated under his tenure. It accused Patel of attempting to “destroy the cultural heritage” of Lakshadweep.
Administrator Patel’s recent reforms have attracted widespread resentment among the local populace with many believing the changes are aimed at “destroying the unique culture and tradition” of the islands. About a dozen MPs including Mohammed Faizal, who represents the Island, sent letters to the President seeking his immediate recall.
Patel, the administrator of the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli and Daman and Diu, was given additional charge of Lakshadweep in last December following the demise of administrator Dineshwar Sharma.
The MPs alleged that the administrator unilaterally decided to introduce norms on mandatory acquisition of private property for development, passed anti-goonda rules that gave police powers to detain anyone, removed beef from the mid-day meals served in schools, cut trees for road expansion projects and introduced the two-child norm for candidates contesting local body elections. None of these changes were discussed with the people. The Congress, CPI(M) and Muslim League joined hands to oppose the decisions, saying Patel was trying to “saffronise the island” where almost 95% population is Muslim.
Congress General Secretary Ajay Maken claimed in a press conference in Delhi that the rationale behind Patel’s appointment was two-fold: one, to fulfil BJP’s ideological objective in the Islands and two, to ensure the presence of a BJP representative in Lakshadweep.
But the BJP strongly defended Patel, who was the home minister when Narendra Modi was Chief Minister of Gujarat. Party vice-president in charge of the island A P Abdullah Kutty said he is not aware of Kasim’s latest position. “These moves are aimed at the overall development of the island. Usually administrators become pawns in the hands of local leaders. But this time it is not happening so all have ganged up against him,” he said, adding that the ongoing “save Lakshadweep campaign” was politically motivated.
BJP’s Kerala state unit president K Surendran has also criticized the move. “These MPs are spreading canards. Beef was not banned in the island at all. Some of the uninhabited islands are becoming a haven for anti-national forces. Development of the island is the need of the hour”.
But more MPs have joined the protest seeking the recall of the administrator. “The Congress will send a team to the island to study the situation soon,” said AICC general secretary K C Venugopal adding the “BJP is trying to make a peaceful island another Kashmir.” On Monday, Venogopal also wrote a letter to President Ram Nath Kovind seeking the recall of Patel
Mohammed Faizal, who is a two-term MP from the island, said the new rules are an insult to local people. He added that according to the National Crime Records Bureau, the island has “lowest crime rate in the country and its small jails are almost empty”. He said some of Patel’s decisions went against the recommendations of Justice Raveendran Commission appointed by the Supreme Court in 2012 to look into allegations of some private resorts being allowed in violation of coastal zone regulations.
“His moves to widen roads, and develop inner areas are against the integrated island management plan mooted by the commission. You can’t develop it (Lakshadweep) as a major tourism hub by hurting sentiments of local people. All elected representatives are kept in the dark,” he said.
Many film personalities and artists have also joined the # ave Lakshadweep campaign. Meanwhile Lakshadweep police have arrested four people including two students for allegedly sending threatening message to the administrator.