For the past few days, Lakshadweep has been in news for all the wrong reasons. Some of the reform measures undertaken by the administration led by Administrator Praful Patel are being fiercely opposed by a section of people. But interestingly, most of the so-called protestors were not the actual inhabitants of Lakshadweep but were from Kerala. This ‘protest’ from the very beginning had the religious colour, which even forced the communist and congress party leaders to jump into the issue. Hence, the reforms, which were introduced to improve the basic infrastructure of Lakshadweep, has now become a bone of contention between the administration and people.
Organiser weekly, to know the reality of the issue, tried to establish contact with the common people of Lakshadweep and finally, a man who had stayed in islands for decades had expressed his willingness to talk to us. Under one condition, his identity shouldn’t be revealed, which was a very genuine request seeing the violent turn these protests are turning.
From the very beginning, Mohammad (name changed) was clear about one thing! These reforms are very important to improve the living standards of people and it's all politics in the name of protests. He spoke about the tourism issues, the increasing number of drug-related cases and the ‘beef issue’ which has become an important talking point in Kerala. Mohammad also expressed his hope that the reforms will move ahead at the same pace and would not slow down due to the protests.
We started our conversation from the ‘Amul issue’. The administration had decided to shut down its two dairy farms whose cost of maintenance was not at all feasible and a decision was made to import Amul milk and other dairy products. There are also plans to start Amul outlets in all the 10 inhabited Islands of Lakshadweep. The propagandists took only one side of the story and started a campaign against Amul. When asked, Mohammad said that he was excited and happy that Amul outlets were to be opened on the Islands.
“There is always scarcity of milk,” he said, adding that “sometimes I have to go to 10 shops to get a pack of milk.” A similar shortage is also felt for other edible commodities. When we were talking, a shipment of Amul products had reached Lakshadweep.
I asked Mohammad about the present law and order situation in Lakshadweep. Media outlets were going gala about the low crime rates and in spite of that the administration imposing the goonda act. He was quick to tell me that the crimes were under-rated. Many of the small disputes were settled in the nearby ‘Mosque committees. He also raised his concerns about the rising drugs and illegal alcohol smuggling in the Union Territory.
Mohammad found no problem in the administration’s decision to give a permit to the hotels to provide Alcohol to the tourists. “Tourism can provide employment to a large section of people, look at the Maldives,” he said. “Bringing culture to the narrative is totally wrong”, he added.
The administration’s decision to ban been from the school menu was widely criticised in Kerala. When asked about this, Mohammad said that he also supported the administration’s decision. “I have a serious problem regarding the quality of beef provided. What they mean by beef is ‘cow meat’. These people bring aged cows from Kerala and slaughter them here and feed children. It has serious health issues. Why cant the children be provided with egg and fish?” He asked.
Later, when asked about the allegation of fishermen’s tents being forcefully evicted by the administration, Mohammad said that these tents were erected on public lands and no private individual had the right to erect tents there. The administration had initially asked the people to remove it by themselves. When they hesitated the administration didn’t have another option.
Administrator Praful Patel is accused by certain organisations of being responsible for the current COVID-19 situation in Lakshadweep. Mohammad refuted these charges by saying that the COVID cases rose in the Islands since the people started to come to Lakshadweep with fake COVID negative certificates. “They were paying Rs 1,600 for obtaining fake certificates”, Mohammad said.
Later, he explained the political reasons behind the protests. Currently, NCP and the Congress parties are the main political outfits in Lakshadweep. Since they are power in Kerala, both the CPM and CPI are trying to capture the political landscape of Lakshadweep. Now, they are trying to generate fear among the people of Lakshadweep. “It is just the dance of politics. We had enough of it,” he said.
“What we need is hospitals, better schools, availability of essential commodities, better connectivity and more employment opportunities. I feel that Praful Patel has a developmental blueprint for Lakshadweep. Hopefully, it will happen”, Mohammad said with great confidence.
The people who peddle propaganda and fake allegation against the Lakshadweep administration get a lot of press coverage and political parties try to make them feel like heroes. But people like Mohammad, who can’t express their opinion in public due to the fear of attack by the hardliners, expect that the administration will improve their living standards. ‘Lakshadweep issue’ is not a fight between two communities, this is a propaganda war launched by the outsiders with ‘vested interests’ against the government of India and the people of Lakshadweep.