We cannot survive here: Lakshadweep locals on administrator Praful Patel’s executive siege

Residents of Lakshadweep on hunger strike against Patel’s proposed regulations, on 7 June. There have been widespread complaints that Patel’s style of functioning is unilateral, there have been no consultations with the islanders and that he is not accessible to any representatives of the locals. COURTESY ABDUL RAHIMAN
10 June, 2021

On 5 December 2020, Praful Khoda Patel, a senior politician of the Bharatiya Janata Party, took charge as the administrator of the union territory of Lakshadweep. Patel, who already oversees one other UT, was appointed to a position that has been traditionally reserved in the archipelago for retired bureaucrats. In what was to set the tone for his controversial tenure in Lakshadweep, six days later, Patel flouted the UT’s mandatory home-quarantine protocols of COVID-19 for those coming from outside, in order to inaugurate an ice plant at the Bitra island. The UT had not seen a single case of the virus till then due to the previous administration’s rigorous standard operating procedure. “People couldn’t accept that he didn’t comply with quarantine rules that they had been following for months,” Saajid Mannel, a resident of the Kalpeni Island, told me. “So, they organised a few small protests from 9 December, but mostly put up posters against him not observing the quarantine rules, which he didn’t like.”

On 22 December, the Lakshadweep administration did away with the mandatory quarantine rules for those arriving from outside. Mannel told me that many in Lakshadweep believed that Patel had removed the COVID-19 restrictions simply to divert criticism. “He did not like this [the protests], so he ordered the removal of the standard operating procedure,” Mannel said. Just over three weeks later, Lakshadweep reported its first case of the novel coronavirus and as of 10 June 2021, the UT had recorded 8,874 cases and 42 deaths in a population of just over 66,000.

The protest was the first of a series of flashpoints between Patel and the residents of the islands. In the months following his appointment, Patel has taken several executive decisions which have caused unrest and sparked massive concern among the population, a majority of whom are Muslim and categorised as belonging to the Scheduled Tribes. Local activists and journalists told me that Patel removed COVID-19 precautions allowing for the spread of the virus in the islands, and subsequently reduced the locals’ access to tertiary medical care. In January, Patel introduced the draft Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation—commonly called the Goonda Act—which residents and local politicians told me was an attempt to stifle dissent in the UT. The administration has already started cracking down on protests against Patel’s decisions.

In addition, Patel drafted the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation in April, which allows the administration to seize land for a wide range of uses with minimum protection for the landowners, among other contentious provisions. The administrations’ decisions over the months have severely impacted the livelihood of locals, while encouraging large-scale commercial tourism with policies that seem arbitrary and tipped against the locals. There have been widespread complaints that Patel’s style of functioning is unilateral, there have been no consultations with the islanders and that he is not accessible to any representatives of the locals, including the sitting member of parliament, Mohammad Faizal. Patel’s decisions have sparked widespread anger and protests in both Lakshadweep and neighbouring Kerala.

Locals told me that there had been concerns about Patel right from the beginning because his deputation was viewed as an explicitly political appointment. On 4 December 2020, Dineshwar Sharma, a former Indian Police Services officer who was serving as the administrator of Lakshadweep, passed away. The very next day Patel was given additional charge as the new administrator of Lakshadweep—he is the administrator of Daman and Diu and Dadra and Nagar Haveli since 2014 and 2016, respectively. The two territories were fused into a single administrative unit on 26 January 2020. Patel had already cut a controversial figure in the post. He had been publicly criticised for illegally attempting to aid the BJP in the 2019 general election, and even accused of playing a role in the suicide of the seven-time member of parliament Mohan Delkar. Patel also served as Gujarat’s minister of state for home affairs during the prime minister Narendra Modi’s third tenure as the chief minister of the state.

Activists and politicians in Lakshadweep told me that knowing Patel’s track record, they had been worried since the date of his appointment. “If you look at his past, you can see that he is not someone who will back off easily, especially as a powerful politician of the BJP,” PP Raheem, a member of Lakshadweep’s local committee of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), said.

Patel’s decision to relax the standard operating procedure, which was strictly followed by Sharma’s administration to prevent the spread of COVID-19, was the first sign of the fast-unravelling situation in the island. Till then, the health department was testing every person returning to Lakshadweep from Kochi, in Kerala and Mangaluru, in Karnataka, which are connected to the islands by ferries. Even those who tested negative had to compulsorily be in home quarantine for 14 days—the rule that Patel ignored and then removed.

Mannel told me that “There were many projects that were supposed to be inaugurated at the time of the previous administrator’s death.” He added, “When Praful Patel came here, he wanted to visit as many places as he could to lay the foundation stones bearing his name.” Mannel said that Patel went to almost all the islands to inaugurate projects. “That was his agenda.” He added, “If a person is supposed to come and govern a place, he should not have taken such a big decision over a petty issue.” Mohammed Faizal PP, Lakshadweep’s member of parliament said he too had asked Patel to follow COVID guidelines. “My office tried to convey to him multiple times that there is a quarantine system in place here,” he told me. “But then we let it go. But it was the decision he took later that was strongly opposed by the islands' people.” Six days after the 22 December notification, there was a large protest started in Kavaratti and the administration responded by cracking down on it. But Patel’s questionable decisions regarding the pandemic’s management continued.  

On 24 May 2021, the department of health services issued a new circular which has worsened the UT’s health situation. The new rules mandate that patients requiring an ambulance from the outlying islands to Kavaratti island, the capital, Agatti Island, and Kochi will have to submit their documents for scrutiny by a four-member committee. The committee will then recommend whether or not the case is fit for evacuation. But the order does not provide for a time period within which each request should be processed. The Deccan Herald noted that strong protests were organised by locals against this move and that the Kerala High Court demanded that the Lakshadweep administration frame guidelines to evacuate COVID patients within ten days.

Patel’s decisions on COVID-19 and the protests that followed may be linked to his next major policy move, the introduction of the Goonda Act. Mannel told me that when Patel relaxed the COVID-19 guidelines, students, panchayat members, civil society and activists from political parties organised a protest outside the secretariat in Kavaratti. Abdul Rahiman, the secretary of the central committee of the Lakshadweep Students’ Association, confirmed this. The LSA is a 50-year-old student union that has represented students from Lakshadweep in colleges in mainland India. “They held a major protest after 22 December,” Mannel told me. Rahiman said the LSA, along with the Nationalist Youth Congress, the youth wings of the Nationalist Congress Party, other parties and panchayat members protested outside the secretariat and demanded that the quarantine protocol should be restored. “I led a delegation to meet the collector and apprise him of the situation,” Faizal told me. “He assured us that he will consult the administrator. On 29 December day, the Kavaratti panchayat called a meeting of the gram sabha and all the people took out a march to the secretariat. Now Lakshadweep has turned into an area with the highest COVID test positivity rate.”

However, as the protests continued, the police stepped in. “On 30 December, a week into the protest at Kavaratti, a few people were arrested. They were remanded the next day and denied bail,” Mannel told me. Videos show that some protestors set fire to a waste bin in the administrative department. Mannel and Rahiman told me that several protestors were arrested following this. Both of them told me that the people were granted bail by the Kerala High Court around two weeks later and had to pay hefty bail amounts.

Soon after, on 28 January, the Lakshadweep administration introduced the draft Lakshadweep Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Regulation which calls for “preventive detention of bootleggers, dangerous persons, drug offenders,” among other categories of offences, which will all be treated as non-bailable. The administration and representatives of the BJP have argued that the Goonda Act is required because of the drug trade in Lakshadweep. But a look at Lakshadweep’s crime statistics belies this claim. According to the 2019 report of the National Crime Records Bureau, the UT has the lowest crime rate in the country with only 13 cases related to liquor and drugs and 16 violent incidents reported in the islands in the year. There were no major crimes such as rape, murder and kidnapping.  

The administration, however, has persisted with the narrative of the UT being a drug haven. On 27 May, Asker Ali, the collector of Lakshadweep, told the media in Kochi, “A misinformation campaign has been unleashed by vested interests against the Lakshadweep administration’s efforts to bring in reforms.” He referred to an incident on 15 March, when weapons and drugs worth Rs 3,000 crore were seized from Sri Lankan boats off the coast of Minicoy Island. Ali used that as an instance of rising criminal cases in Lakshadweep. Mannel told me this was an attempt to falsely associate Lakshadweep with international terrorist and drug smuggling organisations. “The Indian Coast Guard seized the drugs from Sri Lankan boats on international waters,” he told me. “We saw many articles that are trying to connect this to Lakshadweep saying that we are drug peddlers or linking us to ISIS.”

Several local activists told me that rather than crime, the Goonda Act was aimed at cracking down on dissent in Lakshadweep. A government employee from Lakshadweep, who wished to remain anonymous, told me that the administration’s response to the protests had been very heavy handed across the islands. “There is a large presence of the forces in the islands including reserve battalions, navy, coast guard,” the government employee said. “Panchayat representatives in our island who took part in the agitation were jailed.”

In addition, Patel’s administration seems to be cracking down even on those who participated in other protests that occurred before Patel took office. More than a year ago, during the peak of the nationwide protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act of 2019 and the National Register of Citizens, Lakshadweep’s residents too had organised a protest against the laws. The CAA facilitates citizenship procedures for non-Muslims and the NRC, a proposed national register requiring Indian residents to prove citizenship, can together threaten the citizenship of India’s Muslim community. “Around five thousand people, including students, had participated in the agitation,” Raheem, the CPI(M) worker, told me. He had participated in the protests. “A couple of flex boards from the time of the protest were still up in the Kavaratti island. There were no issues during all this time including when the president visited in January 2020.” Raheem told me that things quickly changed when Patel took office. “When Praful Patel took charge as administrator, he ordered an inquiry and further action against those who organised the anti-NRC protests here,” he said.

Raheem, another CPI(M) representative and a local Congress leader were arrested on 16 December, on the allegation that they published slogans criticising the BJP and Modi. “We spent four days in the jail in Kavaratti,” Raheem said. “We were granted bail by a sub court here on the condition that we would not venture out of the island. Now, they have foisted sedition charges against us.” The case is pending in the district court in Kavaratti.

Residents said that alongside a crackdown on dissent, Patel was also trying to starve the people of Lakshadweep of their livelihoods. In February 2021, the Lakshadweep administration fired 193 employees of the tourism department and 103 employees working under the mid-day meal scheme, without prior notice. Several people from the UT’s agriculture department were also fired. The agriculture department, along with four other departments, were previously under the purview of the district panchayat. But on 12 May, they were brought under the control of the central administration. “I was employed in the agriculture department as casual labour,” Shajahan TK, from Kavaratti, told me. “Seventy five of us were employed from ten islands and all of us have worked for over two decades. We were dismissed without prior notice on 30 March.” Shahjahan added, “Our families have no means of survival. We were told that everything is going to be privatised. We were not provided with any written communication.”

Shajahan said they were paid the wages for the past month and asked to leave. Everyone I spoke to said that employment in government services in the UT was mostly done on a contractual basis. “Since there is lockdown all over India, we cannot go looking for other jobs,” Shahjahan said. “We have spent a quarter of our lives serving this department. The well-off are helping us now. But we have not received any benefits from the government.” Shajahan told me that the employees of the agriculture department were considering approaching the Kerala High Court to appeal for their reinstatement. “We cannot even go to the doorstep of a court because the department have deliberately not provided us with documentary proof of dismissal,” he said. “Our jobs would have been safe if the agriculture department was still under the panchayat’s control, like it was before Patel.”

In February, Lakshadweep’s animal husbandry department notified a draft law concerning the preservation of animals which prohibits the slaughter of cows, bulls and bullocks. The slaughter of cows is seen as taboo in upper caste Hindu households but has long been a part of the traditional diet of Muslims and lower caste communities in India. Alongside the ban on cow slaughter, the Lakshadweep administration is also scaling back the UT’s animal-husbandry department.

On 21 May, OP Mishra, the secretary of the animal-husbandry department ordered that all dairy farms owned by the department be closed after auctioning all the animals in them. The department runs two major diaries. Less than ten days before that Mishra had ordered that Amul, a Gujarat-based milk cooperative, set up shops at various islands. On 24 May, the administration gave Amul space to set up a shop in Kavaratti. The online news portal Maktoob Media quoted Abdul Khader, the panchayat chairperson of Kavaratti as saying, “There are attempts to reduce Lakshadweep as a colony of Gujarat. They are importing everything from Gujarat.” The closure of diaries has also unemployed many locals.

On 23 April, the union territory government also closed down several schools in the islands run by the UT’s directorate of education and ordered mergers of other schools. This led to the unemployment of many members of the teaching staff. Residents were already upset about the administration’s decisions regarding mid-day meals in schools. On 28 February, Dweep Diary, a Lakshadweep-based online news portal reported that the education department had prohibited the inclusion of all meat from the mid-day meals in the islands’ schools. “Even though schools are under the purview of the district’s panchayats, the list of permitted food was published by the education department,” the report said.

Women hold a hunger strike in Lakshadweep calling for the central government to remove Patel and Asker Ali, on 7 June. Several people in Lakshadweep fear that the primary goal of many of Patel’s decisions is to make Lakshadweep a haven for tourism and that the administration perceives the presence of the locals as an obstacle to this. COURTESY ABDUL RAHIMAN

The decision to shut and merge schools did not go down well with the residents. “You may ask what the need for so many schools is when you look at Lakshadweep’s population,” the government employee from Lakshadweep, said. “But how can children travel from one island to another? There is quite some distance between islands.” The government employee added, “People here are highly dependent on government jobs. Patel has introduced this decision without considering these factors.”

Besides government jobs, a significant portion of the population is dependent on fishing, a traditional occupation for many families in the islands. In a video from 28 April that has been widely circulated, a fisherman standing by the shore of Kavaratti island gestured at demolished sheds in his background as he spoke. “All of you need to see this,” he said in the video. “They have destroyed Kavaratti. They have destroyed the lives of fishermen. Tomorrow, they will come to your land and destroy it. They have done this in the holy month of Ramzan.” The sheds were used to store fishing equipment and stock diesel for refuelling boats.

A fisherman from Kavaratti, who wished to remain anonymous, said that because of COVID-19 restrictions the beach would have been empty. “The collector and others took advantage of the situation and destroyed our sheds.” He added that after the sheds, he lost his boat in the recent cyclone Tauktae, which passed the islands on 15 May. “That is our only source of income. We fishermen should have a coast to ourselves to go fishing, to tether our boats and to build the sheds.”

Mohammed Sadique KP, a leader of the Lakshadweep wing of the Janata Dal (United), and the coordinator of the Save Lakshadweep Forum, told me that fishermen in the islands had been hit hard by cyclone Tauktae. The SLF is a cross-party pressure group formed on 30 May, in opposition to Patel’s recent orders. It includes local leaders of the Communist Party of India, the CPI (M), two former members of parliament and even a member of the local BJP unit. “The chances of finding self-employment is very less in Lakshadweep,” Sadique told me. “Now, the monsoon is here. The last cyclone has already caused difficulties for the fishermen. They also lost the place where they repaired their boats. I received information that approximately 107 boats suffered complete or partial damage. When we say 107 boats, each boat carries ten people. The ten people have ten families depending on them. This means that a thousand families are going to struggle financially.” He told me that following a cyclone in 1977, the Morarji Desai government had provided free ration for two years. “We are demanding they do the same now,” Sadique said. “As of now, the central government has provided fishermen with ration for two months. There has been no declaration after that.”

Raheem, the CPI(M) worker, told me that the most contentious of Patel’s actions has been the drafting of the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, or LDAR on 28 April. The draft law permits the government, identified as the administrator, to constitute Planning and Development Authorities to plan the development of any area identified as having “bad layout or obsolete development.” The PDA will issue a one-month notice to the owner of the land asking to hand over its possession “and if such possession is not delivered within the period specified in the notice, the Planning and Development Authority shall forcibly take over possession of the land and such land shall thereupon vest absolutely in the Planning and Development Authority free from all encumbrances,” states a provision in the draft.

The draft law’s phrasing is ambiguous at best—for instance, it defines “development” as “the carrying out of building, engineering, mining, quarrying or other operations in, on, over or under land.” It also empowers the UT’s authorities to imprison anyone for obstructing the development plan’s work. Only cantonment areas are exempt from the draft law. Rahiman, the student union leader, told me they had been protesting since the draft was published. “The draft land regulation is completely unacceptable to us because it proposes that we have to leave our own land whenever they ask us.”

Raheem told me that the primary goal of many of Patel’s decisions was to make Lakshadweep a haven for tourism and that the administration perceives the presence of the locals as an obstacle to this. Plans to develop the tourism potential of Lakshadweep were in motion much ahead of Patel’s takeover. In July 2018, Mohammed Faizal, Lakshadweep’s MP had raised a question in parliament about the union tourism ministry’s plans for the UT. Responding to the question, KJ Alphons, the then minister of state for tourism said, “The holistic development plan includes the aspects of hotel accommodation, connectivity and other tourist facilities as per the carrying capacity of these islands. Further, an airport at Minicoy has been proposed for construction by Indian Air Force which would also be for use by civilian aircrafts.”

In August 2018, NITI Aayog—a think-tank which replaced India’s planning commission—organised an investors’ conference titled “Incredible Islands Of India” inviting private players to build projects in Lakshadweep and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. For Lakshadweep, the government body announced that two water villa projects in Minicoy and Suheli islands are ready to be launched. The NITI Aayog also earmarked many other islands for infrastructural projects, including the airport in Minicoy Island and the modernisation of the existing Kavaratti jetty. The presentation that was shown to potential investors promised approvals for alcohol and bar licences even within coastal regulation zones. It additionally promised “Consent to Establish” approval for tourism activities. It also noted that critical approvals would be “provided upfront by the Concessioning Authority with an objective of de-risking the development period substantially.”

In at least one executive order, it is clear that Patel is attempting to fulfil the NITI Aayog’s plans for tourism in Lakshadweep. Lakshadweep was the only UT which prohibited the sale and consumption of alcohol, except on the uninhabited island of Bangaaram, where a resort and a bar is located. On 23 February, the administration effectively lifted this ban by permitting liquor licences to resorts on three inhabited islands, Kavaratti, Kadamat and Minicoy, with the stated intent of opening up the islands to tourists. Gujarat, where Patel is from, has strict prohibition laws. Mannel told me that the removal of Lakshadweep’s ban on alcohol, while at the same time banning beef, was widely seen as a move against Islamic customs in Lakshadweep.

Raheem said that the crackdown on dissent in the islands was part of the process of making Lakshadweep a haven for tourists. “Sedition cases over petty matters, bringing in the Goonda Act, among other decisions, is a way to lead the people to believe that we cannot survive here and to force our exodus,” he told me.

Sadique, the politician, told me that he had attempted to meet Patel to discuss the concerns of the Save Lakshadweep Forum. “I met Praful Patel in January. He had not released the rules yet,” he told me. “After the laws were public, I sought an appointment to meet him but I did not get one. When the Goonda Act was released, I studied it in detail and submitted my objections to the Superintendent of Police. I have also filed objections concerning the Lakshadweep Land Development Authority.” He said that he had submitted other complaints, including one on fishermen’s issues, “but from now on, all actions will be through SLF.” The SLF also held a hunger strike on 7 June. “People will participate from their homes, holding placards,” he said. “We will continue with democratic methods of protest going forward. At the same time, we will take the legal route and move the Kerala High Court and approach the Supreme Court if need be.”

Like Sadique, Rahiman told me that they had not been able to meet Patel. “He doesn’t set aside his time to meet anyone, not even the member of Parliament. There is no intention to listen to anyone’s views or to initiate a communication.” Rahiman said that after being ignored by Patel several times they decided to protest. “The LDAR is unacceptable, the Goonda Act has a similar pattern,” he told me. “If we raise our voice on any issue, it can send us to jail for a year without any trial or evidence. These two laws compelled us to protest. We cannot stay silent while this continues.”

Faizal, the MP, was equally frustrated about not being able to have a clear conversation with Patel. “When he first visited Lakshadweep, panchayat members and I had a meeting with him,” he told me. “After these issues cropped up, I went to Daman to meet him and convey the problems in the draft notifications. A public interest litigation was already in court by then. He used that as an excuse to avoid a conversation. He said let the court decide. The meeting was around 15 January. After that, I have not been able to meet him so far.”

On 21 May, the LSA, the student’s union, started a veetu padikkal samaram—protests with posters outside every household—against the LDAR and the Goonda Act. “We were thinking of ways to protest,” Rahiman said. “We had to consider the factors of COVID-19 and the lockdown. At the same time, it also had to have an effect on the administration, so we decided to amplify it online.” He said that they got a good response when they released the posters and promotional videos. “Political representatives and civil society members participated in it. We also circulated documents with details on the problems in the new regulations. After the veetu padikkal samaram, we organised a cyber strike which involved using hashtags on Facebook and Twitter to amplify our issues. #savelakshadweep was the most prominent hashtag. We were able to create quite an impact across India.”

The protests in Lakshadweep have remained largely online. “Many people from outside call and ask why we don’t we organise protests in Lakshadweep?” the government employee from Lakshadweep told me. “If a protest takes place in any other place, there will be a court to safeguard it. The local political parties may safeguard it.” He added, “I doubt if anybody in the islands has such a belief. They don’t know whom to approach for help if they are arrested or fired from their jobs.”

His apprehensions were proven right in the days following the growing social media campaign supporting the people of Lakshadweep. On 25 May, the local police arrested four people, including three children, from the Bitra and Agatti islands for sending messages to the administrator’s phone. On 28 May, 12 Youth Congress workers were arrested in Kiltan island after they burnt the effigy of Ali, the collector of Lakshadweep. The island residents told me that Ali has been unquestioningly implementing Patel’s orders.

As the protests gained momentum in early 2021, the BJP’s foothold on the island reduced. Mannel told me that the BJP’s presence in the islands was already negligible. Amidst the rising rage over the new laws, the party is losing out on the little support it had in the region. On 24 May, eight leaders of the Bharathiya Janatha Yuva Morcha—the youth wing of the BJP—quit the organisation protesting against the unilateral decisions of the administration which are “harmful to the peace in Lakshadweep”.

Politicians from Lakshadweep as well as other south Indian states have been demanding the removal of Patel from the administrator’s post. “We have only one request to the government. Give us a sensible person who understands the democratic fabric of India,” Faizal told me. “The two administrators prior to Mr Praful Patel were really people-friendly. They happened to be retired IPS officers. He was a politician. Obviously, there is a difference in that.”

Besides Faizal, leaders across party lines, except the BJP, condemned the new regulations. The Tamil Nadu chief minister MK Stalin backed a demand by politicians from Lakshadweep to recall Patel from Lakshadweep’s administration in a tweet. The Tamil Nadu based Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi—Liberation Panthers Party—has also demanded that Patel be recalled.

On 25 May, the Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan tweeted that “perpetrators should desist” from going forward with the contentious regulations. “Challenges imposed on their lives, livelihoods and culture cannot be accepted. Kerala has a strong relationship, a long history of cooperation with LD. Unequivocally condemn devious efforts to thwart it,” he said. On 30 January, the same day that three CPI(M) leaders from Kerala were going to visit Lakshadweep to speak to residents about how Patel’s orders had affected them, the UT administration introduced new travel restrictions, requiring the additional district magistrate to authorise all entry permits. All three leaders were denied entry. A day later, the legislative assembly in Kerala unanimously passed a resolution in solidarity with the islands’ people.

Raheem said that administrators in the past who would usually hold discussions with local representatives of the region before proceeding to make decisions. “Patel’s approach has been that of a person who walks into your house where you have been rightfully living for years, treats you like a stranger and drives you out of the house.”

Several people I spoke to said that Patel’s autocratic measures had reignited discussions about whether Lakshadweep needs to have a legislative assembly of its own. Currently the citizens of the UT have no say in deciding who occupies positions to enact key laws which affect their lives—the MP is their only elected representative. “Since my childhood, I have been hearing demands for a legislative assembly in Lakshadweep,” the government employee from Lakshadweep told me. “But we can see that even the views of UTs such as Delhi and Puducherry are not heard. This system is a problem.” He added, “Even if Praful Patel leaves, it is not a long-term solution. Those representing the people of Lakshadweep should have a voice in the administration.”

Sadique told me that the democratic will of Lakshadweep had been continually eroded over the decades. “Since 1968, the people of Lakshadweep have raised the demand for a mini assembly,” he told me. “So far, no government has considered it positively.” He explained that Lakshadweep previously had pradesh councils with three elected councillors, and chaired by the administrator. “But in 1994 it was replaced by the district panchayat whose chairperson was an elected member,” he said. “But even here, the government was reluctant to hand over full powers. It took several fights to secure some more authority.” He added, “Now under the new administrator, some of the financial powers and transfer powers have been taken back from the panchayat. Even the small avenue that people had to ensure that their voice reaches the right places is gone now.”

Mannel told me he feared for the future of democracy on the islands. “We are not hurting anyone,” he told me. “People here don’t even have ambitions. You get food and your life is fine here. They are trying to saffronise such a place.” Mannel was worried that when Patel would come back to the UT from the other union territory he is administering, “he is going to be even angrier. Now, we have no idea what he is going to do.” He added, “None of these orders have been implemented yet. We have a small window to express our refusal. There is a curfew here. No one can go out. They can fine us or file a case against us. That is a way of culling this movement.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that weapons and drugs worth Rs 3,000—instead of Rs 3,000 crore—were seized from a boat off Minicoy island. The article also incorrectly stated that the former Congress member Mohan Delkar was a member of the party at the time of his death. The Caravan regrets the errors.