AS THE Opposition steps up protests against Lakshadweep Administrator Praful Khoda Patel over his proposals for the Union Territory, the BJP is divided on the matter. While leaders in neighbouring Kerala and the Lakshadweep BJP president have backed Administrator Praful Patel, other leaders have questioned his decisions, criticised as unilateral.
At the central level too, at least two senior leaders disapproved of the developments in Lakshadweep. “Patel should have taken people into confidence,” said one of them. “His actions are damaging the party’s interests, and will affect the Central government’s image too.”
A former BJP leader, Patel served as home minister of Gujarat when Narendra Modi was the chief minister, and is considered close to the party leadership.
Recently, he had been caught in a controversy after Mohan Delkar, a seven-term Lok Sabha MP from Dadra and Nagar Haveli, committed suicide. Dalkar’s son had accused Patel, the Administrator of Daman and Diu, and Dadra and Nagar Haveli, of harassing his father. Patel took over as Lakshadweep Administrator in December last year.
In the BJP Lakshadweep unit, president Abdul Khader Haji backs Patel, while general secretary Mohammad Kasim calls him “authoritarian” and says his proposals are not in the interests of people on the islands. He wrote to Prime Minister Modi on Tuesday raising his objections.
Some BJP leaders in Lakshadweep have also quit in protest against Patel’s proposals. While Khader claimed they did not belong to the BJP, Kasim said they included some office-bearers.
The measures by Patel that have run into a controversy include a ban on beef in the Muslim-dominated Lakshadweep, introduction of a Goonda Act though the crime rate on the islands is very low, a proposal to disqualify panchayat poll aspirants with more than two children, and establishment of a development authority with powers to acquire land.
In Kerala, which has strong social and cultural links with the islands, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has slammed the proposals, while MPs from the Left and Congress have written to President Ram Nath Kovind and the PM seeking their intervention.
Kasim told The Indian Express, “Patel’s measures will lead to job losses and harassment of people. He is running Lakshadweep like a king. He has not discussed the measures with the leaders here nor taken anyone into confidence.”
Kasim added that with the BJP trying to get a foothold in Lakshadweep, “it cannot afford to support the Administrator”, and feared that Patel’s moves would “pour water over the party unit’s efforts”. He also said he does not believe the Central government supports such “anti-people, anti-Lakshadweep proposals”.
The BJP incidentally put up a poorer performance than it expected in the recent Assembly polls in Kerala, after running a highly polarised campaign.
In Lakshadweep too, the BJP’s support has slipped. Once a strong Congress Lok Sabha seat, it elected the NCP’s Mohammad Faizal P P in 2014 and 2019. The BJP candidate got 245 votes in 2009, 187 in 2014 and 125 in 2019.
Khader, the BJP candidate in 2019, said Patel’s measures would help develop the islands. Asserting that the Modi government’s welfare measures and development initiatives have got the people’s support in Lakshadweep, Khader said, “Patel has been sent by the Centre and he won’t take any steps to harm the islands.” The Congress and Left had “joined hands to prevent the BJP’s growth” in Lakshadweep, he claimed.
At the same time, Khader conceded that some of Patel’s measures were not “appreciated” by the people. “In a Muslim-dominated place, there cannot be a ban on beef. Some land rules proposed are not good either. But we always have the option of rejecting such proposals. There should be talks over them,” he said.
Kasim said the question was not about the BJP appointing Patel. “We have had Administrators in the past, including those sent by BJP governments. No one has ever done damage to this region. But this Administrator is hell bent on destroying it.”
In Kerala, Patel’s actions have the support of the state BJP, with president K Surendran justifying them citing “terror links” on the islands.
However, other parties in Kerala have denounced such claims. Congress MP Hibi Eden, who held protests along with fellow MP T N Pratapan on Tuesday on the issue, called Patel’s measures “a cultural invasion” and said they were “destroying the social fabric of the islands”. “He is doing it at a time when Lakshadweep that was Covid-free has 7,000 cases.”
Eden added, “Patel has slapped charges against people for taking part in anti-CAA protests that happened months ago, and branded them anti nationals. In the name of the Coastal Regulation Zone, he has got landing centres for poor fishermen removed. In a place that has the lowest crime data, he is introducing the Goonda Act… He must specify what development he is bringing in.”