Over the last few weeks, Lakshadweep has been the focus of national attention after its administrator Praful K Patel floated a number of proposals aimed at ensuring the safety and well-being of residents, along with promoting the islands as a tourist destination on par with the Maldives.
The draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation (LDAR) 2021 proposed a new law to ban cow slaughter and beef, which is in line with the prevailing law in an overwhelming number of states in India. The draft also included a two-child policy to educate people about the importance of family planning. In order to deter people from having more than 2 children, the law proposed preventing such people from becoming a member of the gram panchayat.
Another provision in the draft authorised the sale of alcoholic beverages on the islands, strictly to the resort owners, in a bid to boost tourism in the archipelago. Currently, prohibition is in place on all inhabited islands, with liquor served only at resorts on the uninhabited Bangaram island. The new regulation is aimed at attracting more tourists by allowing liquor sale in resorts on the inhabited islands of the Lakshadweep archipelago.
Besides, the draft regulation also accords the administrator the authority to “declare any area to be a planning area” on the islands, for the purpose of development, and will also allow the administrator to acquire any land required for a public purpose under the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013, commonly known as the Land Acquisition Act.
The plan was to develop the Lakshadweep Islands like any other state to increase its revenues and boost its tourism. However, soon after the new regulations were introduced, a seemingly benign effort to steer the islands towards growth and development was politicised by the detractors, who resorted to fear-mongering and making wildly illogical and unreasonable assertions to oppose the changes proposed by Patel.
Critics site significant Muslim population in Lakshadweep to rubbish the reforms
A host of critics, who are also inveterate Modi haters, took the opportunity to vilify the Lakshadweep administrator and raise aspersions on his intentions to bring reforms to the archipelago. While some of these incorrigible fault-finders proffered spurious reasoning such as threats to livelihood and environment as reasons to oppose the new regulations, many others linked their disapproval to the demography of the Island, alleging that the Modi government's new directives in the Lakshadweep Islands are yet another attempt to target its Muslim majority population.
Journalist Rana Ayyub shared a motivated article published in Al Jazeera to whip up fear among the Muslim community living in the Lakshadweep Island.
Similarly, Congress functionaries also tweeted against the administrative reforms proposed by Praful K Patel for the Lakshadweep Islands.
The Print founder and the former President of the Editors Guild of India, Shekhar Gupta also pontificated on the regulations proposed by the Lakshadweep administrator to catapult the islands towards the path of growth and development.
Rahul Gandhi, a senior leader and former party president of Congress, a party that is accused of brazenly indulging in minority appeasement, posted a tweet alluding that the proposed reform laws are detrimental to the people of Lakshadweep, 97 per cent of which are Muslims.
The Kerala government went a step ahead and tried to deprive the Lakshadweep Islands of the much-needed reforms by passing a resolution in the state assembly. On Monday this week, the Kerala Assembly unanimously passed a resolution moved by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan over the proposed reforms in the Lakshadweep Islands. The resolution demanded the removal of new Lakshadweep administrator Praful Khoda Pate, and CM Pinarayi Vijayan accused the Centre of “trying to implement saffron agenda and corporate interests in Lakshadweep”.
The modus operandi of the opposition to keep the Muslim victimhood narrative alive
However, ginning up fear among Muslims has been the modus operandi of the Modi detractors, right from the start. Be it the judgment on the Ayodhya dispute, when the Modi government was unnecessarily criticised as anti-Muslim even though the Supreme Court gave its verdict in favour of the Ram Temple. Later, when the government passed the Citizenship Amendment Act, its critics peddled misinformation about the bill, alleging that the Act was discriminatory against Muslims and was aimed to disenfranchise them. Contrary to their suppositions, the Bill was not intended to deprive Muslims of their voting rights but was designed to naturalise minorities from the three neighbouring countries who fled persecution and were living in India from or before December 2014.
Even the abolition of depraved practices such as Triple Talaq by the Modi government was met with scepticism by the detractors. Intellectual responses and elaborate opinion columns were published, arguing how the Modi government was interfering with the personal laws of the Muslims, notwithstanding the grave atrocities endured by the victims of the abhorrent practice. Whenever the government has tried to legislate reforms for the Muslim community, journalists who are viscerally against the Modi government and the opposition parties have come together to peddle victimhood narrative, so that an average Muslim perpetually lives under fear and does not gravitate towards the BJP and PM Modi.
The motivated propaganda of the opposition and its pliant supporters to vilify the reforms proposed in the Lakshadweep Islands
In this case, it is important to mention that reforms and legislations are not implemented based on one's whims and fancies. There are several factors at play and not just the religion of the majority that the so-called journalists and opposition party leaders usually point towards to oppose the well-intentioned reforms forged by the Centre.
It is worth noting that Lakshadweep Islands hold special significance, both historically and geographically. It is, therefore, a Union Territory and directly under the control of the central government. It also has crucial importance from the security point of view, given the maritime threats posed by hostile nations and Islamic terrorists from Pakistan. Considering these aspects, if the centre-appointed administrator wants to bring in new regulations regarding administrative reforms, one must acknowledge that there must be profound reasons behind his actions. The new regulations were not the on the spur of the moment decision. Deep thought, extensive deliberations would have gone behind framing the regulations that are in the best interests for the development of the Islands as well as for the welfare of its people.
Moreover, the administrator of the Lakshadweep Islands is constitutionally authorised to carry out such reforms. The regulations floated by Patel are subjected to intense scrutiny. Every aspect of the proposed reforms is debated threadbare before they are finally implemented. Therefore, the argument that the reforms are being legislated to serve a particular ideology or to meet some hidden purposes is not only unwarranted but grossly misleading.
It is not that those who are opposed to the reforms in Lakshadweep are unaware of the governmental process that goes behind in the formulation and implementation of new laws and regulations. They are intimately aware of all the specifics and considerations that the state governments and the Centre have to factor in before passing new laws. However, they are constrained by their ideological shackles, which compels them to oppose the BJP government, even if the reforms brought in by them are just and appropriate.
For the last several years, the opposition is trying to corner the central government, but to no avail. They have consistently failed in their endeavour to wrongly paint PM Modi and his government as anti-Muslim. Normally, consistent failures provoke a radical rethinking. But, it is conspicuously missing in this case, where the opposition has refused to heed the writing on the wall as it continues with its agenda of using Muslims as pawns in its strategy against the Modi government.
The glaring loopholes in the opposition to the new regulations in Lakshadweep When the sole aim is to defeat PM Modi, Amit Shah and the BJP, there is no curiosity to objectively analyse the central government's push for new reforms in the Lakshadweep Islands. The allure of using Muslim victimhood to consolidate minority votes in the country, persuade them away from the BJP and present themselves as their saviour is too potent a reason for the opposition to simply squander it away by having an unprejudiced evaluation of the reforms proposed by the Lakshadweep administrator.
Out of the total thirty-six islands of Lakshadweep, only ten are inhabited. If the government wants to bring reforms for those islands which are inhabited, how is it an ecological disaster? Change is the force of life. All governments legislate laws and administrative reforms based on the needs and requirements. The existing laws are not set in stone. They are not immutable, nor are they sacrosanct that they cannot be changed. The Indian Constitution grants power to the elected administration to bring in changes that are beneficial for their state or the union territory.
As such, this is not the first time that reforms are being implemented in a union territory. The Kerala state administration has passed a resolution against the new reforms that includes authorisation of liquor sale in the resorts on the islands. It is noteworthy to mention that Kerala had the highest per capita alcohol consumption, according to a report published in October 2019. Kerala state govt owned Kerala State Beverages Corporation sells alcohol in the state, and alcohol sale earns a significant amount of revenue for the state. Considering its geographical proximity to Lakshadweep Islands, Kerala should have been hailed the reforms, rather than opposing them.
The uncanny parallels between the Jammu and Kashmir and Lakshadweep Islands
The objections to the proposed reforms in Lakshadweep Island do not hold water. They are raised only because an overwhelming section of the population residing on the islands are Muslims. In this respect, the Lakshadweep Islands bear a stark resemblance to Jammu and Kashmir, another union territory with a Muslim-majority population. And the resistance to the reforms in Lakshadweep is similar to the protestations witnessed against the abrogation of Article 370 in Jammu and Kashmir.
In August 2019, when the Modi government hollowed out the partition relic of Article 370, the same detractors who are opposing reforms in Lakshadweep rallied against the abrogation and termed the move as an attempt to effect a demographic change in Jammu and Kashmir. The invalidation of Article 370 brought new administrative reforms, which included allowing women to buy lands in Kashmir and transferring their property to their children, permitting Indians living in other parts of the country to buy land in Kashmir, removal of discriminatory erstwhile laws and unlocking new opportunities in terms of jobs and businesses for the Kashmiri residents.
However, the abrogation was opposed tooth and nail by this set of critics, arguing that the move was designed to strip the Muslim-majority state of its separate status. The reforms that came in its wake were given short shrift, with the critics contending that saffronisation of the state was underway under the pretext of implementing reforms. Incidentally, these are the same set of reasons and justifications that were offered at the time of India's independence in 1947, which prevented greater integration of Jammu and Kashmir with the Union of India and turned it into a festering problem.
What ensued in Jammu and Kashmir in the intervening decades since the independence is for everyone to see. Islamic radicalisation slowly gained its hold in the state, with the inter-community tolerance diminishing and terror incidents increasing. The radicalisation reached a crescendo with the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits in the early 90s.
Kashmiri Pandits were a sizeable population in Kashmir, albeit a minority in the state. But they were driven out by terrorists and Islamic radicals harbouring supremacist ideology. Those who chose to remain back were brutally murdered. Hindu pilgrims on their visit to Vaishnodevi and Amarnath Yatra were attacked and killed.
The Islamic radicalisation reached such dangerous levels that Kashmiri terrorists started carrying out terror activities across the length and breadth of India. The attack on India's Parliament in the early 2000s was the culmination of the decades-long radicalisation that had continued unabated in Jammu and Kashmir. More recently, a brainwashed Islamic Kashmiri terrorist killed 40 CRPF soldiers in a dastardly attack in Pulwama. A recorded video was released later in which the terrorist said he would carry out an attack to kill Hindus.
Clearly, the laissez-faire policy of not instituting reforms in Jammu and Kashmir and allowing the situation to fester had a detrimental impact on not just the region's security but that of the entire country. It appears that the opposition Congress party, which is largely responsible for the current predicament of Jammu and Kashmir, have a similar plan drawn up for the archipelago of islands in the Arabian Sea. Therefore, the Modi government must carry out the reforms it has envisioned for Lakshadweep Island s and pay no heed to the motivated criticism, lest the Lakshadweep plunges into the abyss of Islamic radicalisation and concomitant terrorism that Jammu and Kashmir endured for decades.