THE BROCHURE writes itself: a scattering of coral ringlets, every encircling its personal turquoise lagoon inside the Arabian Sea, Lakshadweep is India at its most alluring. These 36 islands, collectively totalling simply 32 sq. kilometres of land, are peopled by a matrilineal, largely Muslim society the place households make their dwelling via seafaring and coconut harvests.
Previously fortnight this drop within the Indian bucket, simply 70,000 folks amongst 1.4bn, has come to exemplify a kind of controversy that’s turning into incessant. The nationwide authorities of Narendra Modi and his Hindu-first Bharatiya Janata Celebration (BJP) is flexing little-tested government muscle tissue to push via a bundle of reforms for the far-off islands. They’d open up the archipelago to improvement, of tourism particularly. Locals are dismayed.
In principle “union territories” equivalent to Lakshadweep are shielded from a few of the vagaries of electoral politics, since they aren’t a part of any state. However that leaves the central authorities with sweeping energy over them, which it more and more employs, as Delhi and Jammu & Kashmir have recently found. Lakshadweep has an administrator—in impact, picked by the prime minister—who might rule with out regard for native opinion. Nowadays, that’s simply what he’s doing.
Earlier than the newest administrator, Praful Okay. Patel, arrived in December, the job had been held by profession bureaucrats. Mr Patel is a politician, a BJP man from Mr Modi’s residence state, Gujarat, the place he was residence minister. As administrator of Daman, a former Portuguese enclave north of Mumbai, he enraged tribal fishermen by demolishing 90 houses alongside a stretch of seashore seized for improvement. Lakshadweep is even riper for such schemes.
Earlier this yr Mr Patel revealed a slew of far-reaching draft legal guidelines that will give the administrator the proper to amass any land for “a public function”. Different modifications are putting on condition that 97% of the folks of Lakshadweep are Muslim. Mr Patel would ban the sale of beef and develop liquor permits, the higher to draw vacationers from the remainder of India. A Prevention of Anti-Social Actions Act, modelled after an analogous regulation in Gujarat, would permit locals to be jailed with no listening to for as much as a yr—supposedly needed as a result of smugglers have been caught in Lakshadweep’s waters. Sundry guidelines would displace a standard port, substitute native dairy with imports (from Gujarat) and disqualify politicians with greater than two youngsters from contesting native elections.
A few of the proposed modifications are worthy of debate. Many in Lakshadweep are interested by fostering tourism. Few, nevertheless, appear to love Mr Patel’s plans to take action. Lakshadweep’s sole member of parliament, Mohammed Faizal, says that probably the most incendiary proposals, regarding liquor and beef, are diversions. Seizing land is the ability the federal government actually intends to train, he reckons.
On mainland India, the talk about Lakshadweep has tended to skirt the query of locals’ needs. A spokeswoman for the BJP defined how, “with correct planning, Lakshadweep can thrive and grow to be the jewel in India’s crown!” That is odd language to listen to 74 years after India extricated itself from one other nation’s crown. ■
This text appeared within the Asia part of the print version underneath the headline “Run the jewels”