How BJP intends to use its outreach in Muslim-dominated Lakshadweep to find a toehold in Kerala

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Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit to Lakshadweep not only generated headlines in neighbouring Maldives with prominent ministers of the Maldivian government taking a dig at the Indian premier for promoting the island region as an ‘alternative’ tourist destination over popular international ones, but has also put the islands and people’s concern at the forefront of electoral discourse.

PM’s glitzy promotion of the islands is in line with his pitch for choosing Indian destinations for weddings and tourism. In November last year, he questioned the trend of organising weddings abroad as noticed among various “big families” and urged such events to take place within the country as part of ‘Wed in India’.

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Additionally, the saffron party’s outreach in Lakshadweep has to be seen in the context of BJP’s southern push – more specifically in its continued effort to make inroads in the politically significant state of Kerala.

An archipelago consisting of 55 polling booths spread across 10 human inhabited islands with a voting population of 58,000 may not have immediate electoral ramifications, but is crucial in BJP’s ‘Project South’.

In projecting PM Modi as a national leader cutting across the North-South discourse, to reinforcing BJP-led dispensation’s message of ‘Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas’ in a territory that is almost entirely Muslim, Lakshadweep is a crucial link.

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The centrality of politics and geo-strategic pivot in BJP’s Lakshadweep push?

During his visits to the archipelago, the Prime Minister reached out to the Muslims of the region. He spoke about steps adopted by BJP-led dispensation for Haj Yatris that have benefited the people of Lakshadweep. He added that the ease of Haj visa and digitization of the process and permission for women to go on Haj without ‘Mehram’ have resulted in a remarkable increase in the number of Indians going for ‘Umrah’.

This not only signifies the PM’s Muslim outreach in Lakshadweep ahead of the Lok Sabha elections but also in Kerala. Lakshadweep is highly  dependent on Kerala for economy and commodities and the two regions share a close relation as well.

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Political observers view PM’s address to the Muslim-dominated population of Lakshadweep may be indicative of wooing Muslim voters from both the Union territory and Kerala ahead of the polls.

The imagery of Muslim outreach is further reinforced in Kerala with video footage of Modi’s interaction with people of Lakshadweep, especially Malayalam-speaking Muslim women, are being circulated on social media by BJP activists and supporters in Kerala.

Though majority of its inhabitants are Muslim, the Islam practised in Lakshadweep is unlike that followed anywhere else in India, with islanders sharing ethnic, linguistic and cultural links to Malyalis, Arabs, Tamils and Kannadigas alike.

Social media posts by eminent personalities of Lakshadweep hailing Modi’s efforts to boost Lakshadweep are also being pointed out by BJP workers to reject concerns that the Praful Khoda Patel administration was initiating reforms that affect the Muslim-dominated region.

Why recent measures have run into problems with locals?

Lakshadweep administration’s  recent measures have run into problems with locals. The measures include a ban on beef, the draft Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021, which gives the Administrator the power to remove or relocate islanders from their property for any developmental activity; the Prevention of Anti-Social Activities Act, under which a person can be detained without any public disclosure for a period of up to one year; and the draft panchayat notification, disqualifying a member with more than two children from becoming a member.

How the BJP is using its outreach in Lakshadweep to establish a toehold in Kaerala?

Despite failing to make an electoral impact in Kerala, the BJP remains determined to win over one of the country’s last citadels when it comes to the party. Lakshadweep could be a crucial gateway to the state.

The Kerala mainland is the closest territory to Lakshadweep, and the UT is dependent on it for most of its needs. The people of the two territories have close social and cultural links, and Malayalam is the most common language spoken on the islands.

Though majority of its inhabitants are Muslim, the Islam practised in Lakshadweep is unlike that followed anywhere else in India, with islanders sharing ethnic, linguistic and cultural links to Malyalis, Arabs, Tamils and Kannadigas alike.

Revisiting 2014 and 2019 mandate:

Sitting MP Mohammed Faizal PP of NCP (Sharad Pawar) is seeking re-election. In 2019, 46,909 voters cast their votes and Muhammed Hamdullah Sayeed of Congress lost by a mere 823 votes. In 2014, Faizal beat Sayeed by a margin of 1,535 votes. Sayeed is contesting again for Congress. With NCP splitting, Yousuf TP has been fielded by the official faction while Faizal is contesting as a candidate of NCP (Sharad Pawar).

Apart from the two main parties — NCP and Congress — candidates contested under the banner of CPM, CPI, BJP, and JD(U) in 2019. These parties secured a total of 2,030 votes, more than the victory margin.

But this year, only three political parties are in the fray, apart from an independent; and these 2,000-odd votes could very well decide the winner.

The BJP has extended support to Ajit Pawar’s NCP faction, which has fielded Yusuf TP in the Lakshadweep seat. Meanwhile, Congress has once again nominated Hamdullah Sayeed as the candidate in the Lok Sabha seat.

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