Protesting under the blue: Voices intensify in Lakshadweep to save the archipelago!

Lakshadweep, the serene Indian water-bedded archipelago on the Arabian Sea, has been witnessing unprecedented protests and unrest with the sold demand of withdrawing the administrator who the protests say would slay the unique culture and tradition of what has been a wonderful and fascinating chain of islands, attracting the Indians and beyond as one of the top tourist destinations.

Apart from the waters of the Arabian Sea, the archipelago has been surfaced with unrest for the past few weeks and the long-simmering protests have their root in the outrageous governance rolled out by Praful Khoda Patel, the administrator of the islands who was appointed recently to the post. His entry to the islands had opened the gateway for appalling factors which the residents express worry and distress that they would adversely be affecting the fabric and traditions. 

The protests have been for weeks now with demand to the Center to withdraw the administrator has been getting fueled through the intensifying voices from the residents and from the activists and opposition parties in the mainland. The archipelago with a population of around 65,000 had brought most of the people to the streets to demand the withdrawal of Praful Patel. To draw more attention, the protests had fueled the agitations in various forms. 

On Monday, several people in the islands held an underwater protest and staged a 12-hour hunger strike demanding the Union government to recall Praful Patel and to repeal his anti-people measures and his legislation on development. Protesting under the blue, the people had held placards with slogans like 'Save Lakshadweep', 'Justice for Lakshadweep', and 'Revoke LDAR' (Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation).

The people who took to protest came under the banner of 'Save Lakshadweep Forum' and shared the visuals of protests on social media. Kerala is India's close mainland with Lakshadweep and the state maintains a fruitful and intimate relationship with the Union Territory with Malayalam being the most speaking language in the Arabian archipelago. The island has more people who follow Islam. 

Kerala has joined hands with the people of Lakshadweep and the opposition parties in the state and in the Union territory have slammed Patel for unilaterally lifting restrictions on the use of alcohol, banning beef products, and mulling to damage the culture under the guise of development. The draft LDAR 2021 introduced by Patel has been branded by the residents and opposition parties as 'anti-people'.

The draft regulation gives power to Patel to declare any area as a planning area for the purpose of development and the regulation will also grant 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. However, Patel has said that his aim is to develop Lakshadweep like neighbouring Maldives.

Apart from the Land Regulation bill, Patel has also introduced the 'Anti-Social Activities Regulation Bill', which comes in a form of threatening the activists and people who oppose the government. The administration has introduced a draft detention law called the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities, which if implemented can give authority to the administration to detain anyone without public disclosure for up to one year. 

In Kochi, United Democratic Front MPs from Kerala had staged a protest in front of the Lakshadweep Administrator's Office to express solidarity with the protests on the island and demanded the complete withdrawal of the anti-people bills. All the MPs of Kerala, apart from Rahul Gandhi, had participated in the protests. Apart from the protesters, social media was flooded with the hashtag #SaveLakshadweep with islanders posting pictures of their protests. 

Earlier, the Kerala Legislative Assembly had unanimously passed a resolution, demanding the recall of Patel and urging the Center's immediate intervention to protect the lives and livelihood of the islanders. Lakshadweep is a Union territory that comes directly under the jurisdiction of the Union government. The administrators of the island would usually be IAS or IPS officers, but this is the first time that the Center has appointed a politician as the Administrator of Lakshadweep. 

Praful Khoda Patel was appointed as the Administrator of Lakshadweep following the demise of Dineshwar Sharma in December last year. Patel had served as the Home Minister of Gujarat when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister of the state. His administration on the island had met with outrage for destroying the unique lifestyle of the islanders. However, BJP has backed Patel and claimed that the protests were a result of Patel's efforts to end corruption involving local politicians and pour developments in the islands.