18:48 GMT26 July 2021
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    Thousands of inhabitants of India's Lakshadweep islands in the Arabian Sea have been protesting against controversial new reforms that include rules on easing COVID restrictions, the introduction of the Gunda (Goon) Act, and a ban on beef introduced by Administrator Praful Khoda Patel.

    At least 15 members of the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) Lakshadweep unit have resigned in protest over a sedition case filed against filmmaker Aisha Sultana, saying it was "false and unjustified and against the spirit of the islands".

    Last week, during a debate on a Malayalam language news channel, Sultana blamed union territory administrator, Praful Khoda Patel, for the surge in coronavirus cases in the islands.

    She alleged that the BJP was ruling the federal government and using Patel as a "bio-weapon" to spread COVID-19 in the archipelago. 

    She claimed that Lakshadweep, which had zero COVID-19 cases until mid-January 2021, saw a sudden rise due to new reforms introduced by Patel that lifted travel restrictions and eased the COVID rules.

    The first coronavirus case was reported in Lakshadweep on 18 January. As of Sunday, the union territory has registered 9,175 coronavirus cases. 

    Soon after her allegations, BJP Lakshadweep chief C Abdul Khader Haji filed a complaint against her, saying that her comments were in "bad taste and intended to create hatred and aversion".

    According to the disgruntled BJP members, not just Sultana but several BJP leaders have criticised and spoken up about various "wrongdoings" by Patel. As per local media reports, last month, eight members of the BJP youth wing also resigned over reforms introduced by Patel. 

    In a bid to develop the area as a major tourist attraction "like the Maldives", Patel introduced new reform rules called the Lakshadweep Development Authority Regulation, 2021 (LDAR 2021).

    The inhabitants of the Lakshadweep islands, which has a mostly Muslim population that is heavily dependent on fishing, have referred to it as an "anti-people reform" and alleged that Patel had unilaterally lifted restrictions on the use of alcohol, which is against their religion. They also slammed Patel for banning beef and demolishing fishermen's sheds along the coastal areas.

    The opposition parties also criticised Patel's decisions and asked for his removal. In addition, the parties accused him of harassing locals and destroying the heritage of the island territory.


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