Why Lakshadweep must choose leap of progress over dark agenda of faith

·4 min read

Let us begin with the story of Malda and Lakshadweep, two places on the eastern and western extremities of India.

When Malda burned in 2016 after Hindutva activist Kamlesh Tiwari made a controversial remark on Prophet Mohammed, India's 'liberal-secular' media and intelligentsia were largely mum, barring a few pro forma noises of condemnation.

But when Lakshadweep €" a tiny island of 66,000 inhabitants which is 60 times smaller than Malda's 40 lakh population €" got a Hindutva-leaning administrator who wanted to develop the island, hell broke loose among that very section.

One wonders why.

Because beneath the veneer of its tertiary concerns and arguments on the island's ecology to its right to dissent is the fierce agenda to safeguard its 95.68 percent Muslim demographic dominance. The same lot has nothing to say about Malda's Muslim population rising from 37 percent in 1951 to over 51 percent in 2011, overtaking the once-majority Hindus.

Dar-ul Islam, or the dominance of Islam, cannot be upturned once established, whether it is in Kashmir, Assam and Bengal borders, coastal Kerala and Karnataka or Lakshadweep. All other reasons to oppose the new administrator, Praful Patel, is just embellishment to push this main cause.

So, social media posts with the #SaveLakshadweep hashtag revolve around Patel's decision to ban beef, for instance, which is actually in sync with the Directive Principles in the Constitution and cow protection laws in most states.

Protests also centre around a new two-child policy to be eligible to run for public office. Even this, as Lakshadweep collector S Asker Ali has clarified in the media, will take into account childbirth from now on and won't be applied with retrospective effect on candidates. Many states have this rule.

The new administrator is also being slammed for relaxing the local lockdown protocol and inviting the pandemic to the island. So enthusiastic is the propaganda that Malayalam filmmaker Aisha Sultana went on to say that COVID was being used as a bio-weapon against the island residents.

A case of sedition has been promptly slapped against her.

While making her ludicrous point, Sultana left out the fact that two two oxygen plants at Agatti and Kavaratti have been set up with the Centre's help. An independent one is coming up in Minicoy.

The other point of clash has been the introduction of the draft Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Prevention or the Goonda Act. The argument against it is that the crime rate on the island has been negligible and the law will be used to throttle dissent.

Numbers can be a chimera when judging a tiny island of 66,000 people. Lakshadweep is of great strategic interest to both China and Pakistan. Already, there have been raucous protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the proposed nationwide National Register for Citizens. Lately, such protests have intensified.

Ominously, Lakshadweep led in the rate of crime against the State, second only to Manipur, from 2017 to 2019, the National Crime Records Bureau figures show.

Some weeks ago, 300 kg of heroin worth Rs 3,000 crore, five AK-47s and 1,000 live rounds were confiscated from a boat near Minicoy islands. Several cases of marijuana and liquor smuggling have been filed too.

The fear-mongering about the approved Integrated Island Management Plan (IIMP) has a deeper agenda. Islands like Mauritius, Maldives and Seychelles have been developed to earn millions from tourism, and the self-appointed saviours of Lakshadweep seem to have no ecological or other concerns about those.

On the horizon are a nursing and paramedical college in Kavaratti and a polytechnic college in Minicoy. The reforms include 50 percent reservation to women under the Panchayat Act.

The Lakshadweep administration is also developing three water villa projects in Minicoy, Kadmat and Suheli in collaboration with NITI Aayog on the lines of Maldives. Work will start from August. The Agatti airstrip is being expanded so that Boeing and Airbus planes can land here.

Locals are bound to get a fresh catch of jobs and business. But their leaders are bothered by liquor permits for select establishments to boost tourism, citing it as un-Islamic.

In the cross-currents of development and a dark agenda floats Lakshadweep's future. Its moment to choose has come.

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