Sweeping changes in the administration of India’s Lakshadweep islands has caused widespread resentment and fear among its residents.
Lakshadweep is an idyllic archipelago of 36 islands spread over a 32-square-kilometre area in the sea, about 200 km off the southwestern coast of the Indian Peninsula.
Residents in the smallest among India’s eight “Union Territories” (UTs), with a population of 65,000 people, 97% of them Muslims are fearful of a series of moves by its right-wing administrator appointed by the federal government.
Praful Khoda Patel, who belongs to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is the first non-bureaucrat administrator of the Lakshadweep Islands. Patel once served as the home minister of Gujarat state when Modi was its chief minister.
Since he took over the Lakshadweep administration in December last year, Patel has pushed through a slew of new laws and regulations without consulting locally elected representatives in India’s only Muslim-majority territory apart from Indian-administered Kashmir.
Residents say the proposals threaten their livelihoods, land ownership, culture and even the fragile ecology of the tropical islands.
The controversial proposals range from a ban on beef, disqualification of people with more than two children who wish to contest the village council elections, to taking over land belonging to the locals for the purpose of development without safeguarding the interests of the landowners.
Several opposition parties, including the Congress, are demanding they should be dropped and the 63-year-old administrator recalled.
Lakshadweep is India’s jewel in the ocean.
The ignorant bigots in power are destroying it.
I stand with the people of Lakshadweep.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) May 26, 2021