Friday, May 28 2021

Dive In

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Big Story

The island dictator of Lakshadweep

The TLDR: The BJP administrator of the islands, Praful Khoda Patel, took his post in December. But in the space of just six months, he has managed to enrage and alienate pretty much everyone—including members of his own party. We look at what is happening in Lakshadweep and why.


Lakshadweep: Some quick background

  • It is an archipelago of 36 islands off the coast of Kerala, and only 10 are inhabited. The total population: 64,473.
  • Also this: “The biggest islands are no more than 4.5 km across. As coral atolls, their highest elevation is no more than 3 m above sea level. Most of them stand no more than 0.5 m higher.”
  • 97% of the islands are under forest cover—the highest in the country.
  • It is the smallest Union Territory in India, formed in 1956 when it was separated from the Malabar district in Kerala. 
  • There is only one district which elects one member of Parliament. And it is part of the jurisdiction of the Kerala High Court in Kochi.
  • There is no legislative assembly and the UT is ruled by an Administrator appointed by the President (i.e. the ruling party at the Centre).


Important demographic data: Patel’s actions have to be understood in the context of who lives on these islands: 94.8% belong to Scheduled Tribes, 96.5% are Muslim. Also this: 65% of the residents consume beef, but only 7% of the men drink alcohol. Lakshadweep also has the lowest crime rate in the country. 


Point to note: All the above facts have now gained great significance because of a spate of new rules and regulations—which “are perceived to be a threat to the cultural identity of the inhabitants and the sensitive ecology of the region.” Hence the hashtag #SaveLakshadweep.


Meet Praful Khoda Patel

Political career: Patel first became an MLA from Gujarat in 2007. His fortunes peaked in 2010 when he was made state Home minister under then CM Narendra Modi—with whom he has close ties: “Saheb (Modi) was very inspired by his decision-making, and meticulous and tough politician image.” 


Administrative career: But Patel lost his seat in 2012, and has since been sidelined within the party establishment. In 2016, he was appointed as administrator, and given joint charge of the UTs of Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Daman & Diu—a post typically given to a senior IAS officer (i.e. bureaucrat). In December, he was given additional charge of Lakshadweep. Yeah, so we have one guy ruling over multiple Union Territories.


The big controversies: Patel’s stint as administrator has not exactly been low-key. He was named in a suicide letter written by Dadra and Nagar Haveli MP Mohan Delkar—whose family accused him of trying to frame him in a false criminal case. In March, he was charged with criminal conspiracy and abetment to suicide by the Mumbai police. 


A tinpot personality: A lot of what’s happening in Lakshadweep has to do with Patel’s modus operandi—which kicks in on any job he takes. For starters, he is a big fan of total obedience. Patel famously sent a show cause notice to the Dadra & Nagar Haveli’s collector Kannan Gopinathan for “not complying” with his instructions—which eventually led to Gopinathan’s headline-making resignation. An IAS officer told The Wire:


“When Patel reached [Diu], he found himself surrounded by multiple power centres – the local MP, the municipality, panchayats. He took away powers from all of them – be it funds or functionaries… He doesn’t realise there are second, third and fourth level reactions to decisions. He thinks orders should just be obeyed.”


Demolition man: And most of those orders are driven by his biases and values. For example: He ordered the Diu anganwadis to stop serving eggs. But as a former road contractor, his biggest priority on any job is development: “The first thing he does on reaching a new place is ask: ‘What are the pending construction projects?'” In Diu, he mowed down homes of fishermen, Portugese-era buildings etc. When the fishing community protested, they were thrown into temporary prisons. Needless to say, he isn’t a big fan of any kind of dissent either. 


Patel’s raj over Lakshadweep

Since December 2020, Patel has run roughshod over the island’s residents and their daily lives. Here’s a quick roundup of the many sins of arrogance.


In today’s edition

Headlines That Matter

  • Naomi Osaka says ‘no’ to pressers
  • The travails of Mehul Choksi
  • A super-duper ‘blood’ Moon
  • A 'flying’ dog 


Weekend Advisory

  • A must-read essay titled ‘Ask Yourself Which Books You Truly Love’.
  • Did you know putting hot sauce in your coffee is a thing?

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