Kannur (Kerala): Lakshadweep leaders have called for a ‘black day’ on Monday, when administrator Praful Patel, who is facing unprecedented protests on the islands, begins his seven-day visit to the union territory.
“We have decided to observe Black Day on Monday,” said Koya Komalam, spokesperson of the Save Lakshadweep Forum (SLF), a joint platform of six Lakshadweep political parties that demands both Patel’s removal and withdrawal of controversial draft laws and executive orders of his administration.
“We will observe ‘black day’ in all the islands on Monday, to register our protest,” said U.C.K. Thangal, convener of the SLF and former head of the Lakshadweep District Panchayat, the topmost elected body in the union territory.
“We will raise black flags, wear black clothes, and protest without violating the existing COVID-19 protocol,” said Komalam, who is also a leader of the CPI(M). In Kavaratti and five other islands, a complete COVID-19 shutdown is in effect.
Save Lakshadweep Forum has leaders of the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party, Janata Dal (United), CPI, CPI(M), and also Bharatiya Janata Party as its members. All constituents unanimously demand the withdrawal of four draft regulations and various executive orders of the administration.
All the parties, except the BJP, also demand the removal of Praful Patel from the post of the administrator. K.N. Kasmi Koya, a member of the SLF’s core committee and a district panchayat member from the BJP, said he supports all the objectives of the SLF “except the removal of Praful Patel”. Dweep Diary, an independent news website from Lakshadweep, reported that the BJP may be expelled from the joint platform as the party fails to respond to popular sentiments.
Patel is scheduled to land at Agatti airport on Monday (June 14) afternoon and will soon leave for Kavaratti, the capital island. From June 15, he will attend a number of discussions and meetings at Kavaratti, including on smart city projects, power privatisation and eco-tourism projects. Patel is expected to clear several files during the visit.
Thangal said the people of Lakshadweep will boycott all the events attended by Patel, including the traditional welcome ceremony. The boycott will be practised by elected representatives, including the district and village panchayat members, said the Congress leader, who is one of the senior-most politicians from Lakshadweep.
Monday’s ‘black day’ protest will be the second significant protest against Patel in eight days. On June 07, the residents of the archipelago observed a hunger strike in which nearly all the residents took part.
Patel, a Hindutva politician from Gujarat who was appointed to Lakshadweep by the Narendra Modi government, is facing criticism after his administration has proposed four draft laws and issued a number of executive orders – all contain provisions challenging the cultural practices, food habits, land rights, livelihood, right to dissent and electoral rights of the local population.
Lakshadweep leaders allege Patel is acting like a “dictator” as he doesn’t consult with them before introducing new measures.
SLF spokesperson Komalam said the administrator’s draft laws could take away all the historical and legal protections enjoyed by Lakshadweep and its people.
SLF will support Aisha Sultana in her legal fight
SLF leaders said the collective has decided to support Aisha Sultana, a young filmmaker from Lakshadweep, in the sedition case filed against her.
The Lakshadweep Police on June 10 charged Sultana, a vocal critic of the Patel administration, with sedition after she referred to the administrator as a ‘bioweapon’ while criticising his policies in Lakshadweep. The FIR was filed following a complaint by the BJP’s Lakshadweep unit president, Abdul Khader.
Lakshadweep leaders and civil society members said they stand with Sultana, and several BJP leaders form Lakshadweep resigned from the party to express solidarity with the activist.
Thangal said the SLF will provide all the support to Sultana, including legal support. “She should not be allowed to be harassed,” he said, adding that “those who are targeting her are those who have no answer to her questions”.
Komalam, who was also a panelist in the television debate where Sultana made the ‘bio-weapon’ remark while criticising the unpopular measures of the Patel administration, said the SLF has decided to support her in her legal fight, even though her remarks were her personal opinion.
Even though she continues to receive solidarity from various corners including ministers from Kerala, reports suggests that Sultana is a victim of a planned effort to manipulate discussions on Lakshadweep. Islamophobic, misogynistic videos available online reveal a coordinated attempt to file suits against Sultana in different states.
“We survived cyclones, will survive this too”
Thangal, who is respected across the region, said islanders have survived “many cyclones” and will survive the current crisis too. Speaking about the growing public concerns in the archipelago regarding the administration’s controversial moves, he said, “We are helpless. Our resistance has limitations. But we believe that Allah will help us.”
The senior politician said people of Lakshadweep are the “soldiers of India”, as they “guard the borders”.
Patel’s Lakshadweep visit comes amid criticism against the administration for denying permission to others, including parliamentarians, to visit the region. Citing the spread of COVID-19, the administration has denied entry permission to Congress and Left parliamentarians who applied to visit the islands to understand the ground realities. However, the administration is reportedly allowing a suspicious foreigner to stay in the islands even when the parliamentarians are being denied entry permits.