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Campaigning at night: Politics active in sleepy Lakshadweep islands

In the month of Ramadan, life starts to wake up on these sleepy islands of Lakshadweep only after the fast breaks. The activities peak after 10 pm, after the night prayers in the mosque.
Last Updated : 28 May 2024, 09:08 IST
Last Updated : 28 May 2024, 09:08 IST

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Agatti (Lakshadweep): In the serene tranquility of Agatti Island, nestled within the Lakshadweep Archipelago, the night had long fallen.

Yet, far from the silence one might expect, the air crackled with fervour as a group of enthusiastic workers from the Nationalist Congress Party (Sharad Pawar), staunch supporters of their candidate, sitting MP Mohammed Faisal PP, traversed the island's lanes.

Clutching a model Electronic Voting Machine (EVM), they embarked on a nocturnal campaign, knocking on doors, and spreading their message of support.

In the month of Ramadan, life starts to wake up on these sleepy islands of Lakshadweep only after the fast breaks. The activities peak after 10 pm, after the night prayers in the mosque.

In the smallest parliamentary constituency in terms of electorate size, residents of Lakshadweep, dominated by Muslims, emerge for their daily activities on the streets and beaches after 10 pm during Ramadan.

This night time window becomes crucial for political parties, as it offers the only opportunity for campaigning ahead of the upcoming general election.

Despite the late hour, all workers of NCP(S) were brimming with energy as they cheered enthusiastically for their leader, 'Moothon', as Faisal is affectionately referred to here. They kept shouting 'Piranna Manninu Vendi' (For the Motherland), while displaying his posters and notices.

"He only stood for the people of Lakshadweep when the present administration brought in several new rules to torment the people of Lakshadweep. We need him as an MP to continue his fight for us," Mysha, vice president of the NCP (S) Agatti unit, told PTI.

They believe that if the INDIA bloc fails to capture power at the Centre, they need Faisal to raise his voice for the people of the islands.

"The fight here is between Congress and the NCP (S), both members of the INDIA bloc. If the INDIA bloc wins, our MP is going to be part of the ruling front. But if NDA retains power, we need a strong leader like Faisal to stand up for us," Abdul Jabbar, president of the NCP (S) Agatti unit, said.

The voters on the island, who know each other well, were receptive to the party workers' messages. Some of them engaged in conversations with the Congress candidate, Hamdullah Sayeed, who arrived there on a two-wheeler.

As Sayeed passed through the lanes, one of Faisal's enthusiastic supporters booed at him, but Sayeed happily waved his hand in response. Immediately, a senior NCP(S) worker stopped the youth who booed, issuing a stern warning against behaving inappropriately.

"We should never drop our decency," the elderly warned him.

The polls are scheduled in the Lakshadweep constituency in the first phase, which is on April 19.

There are 55 polling booths spread across 10 human inhabited islands in the archipelago and a total of 57,594 voters for the 2024 elections.

"Spanning several hundred kilometers, Lakshadweep presents a significant challenge for campaigning candidates," said Sayeed, who is also a former MP.

He is also the son of the late PM Sayeed, who held the record for being the longest-serving MP of Lakshadweep. "By the time we connect with these voters, exhaustion sets in," he told PTI.

The unique topography of the Lakshadweep Islands, along with its troubling connectivity issues, compounds the challenges faced by the candidates.

"Now we have hired a boat on our own to reach other islands. It is very expensive, but we have no other option," Sayeed said.

Considering all these difficulties, the two rival candidates had started their campaign much ahead of the election notification, as there was no confusion in naming the candidates.

Sayeed, sporting a greasing beard and modest-looking attire, alleged that the two-time MP of this constituency has failed miserably to fight for the cause of the people of Lakshadweep.

"With his support, the central government brought in a political appointee as the administrator of this island, for the first time in its history. Now the people of the islands are suffering," Sayeed said.

He said it was imperative for the INDIA bloc to come to power at the Centre, and his victory would strengthen that shift in government for the benefit of Lakshadweep.

"This is essential for the survival of people on these islands. We are now being pushed to a corner as our lands are being snatched away from us," the former Congress MP said.

He said the 'anti-secular party' ruling the Centre might have problems with the islands having a 100 per cent Muslim population.

The islanders have been experiencing connectivity issues, particularly over the last few years. There are no regular vessels connecting the islands in Lakshadweep. Some islands have a ship connecting them to others only once a week or so.

"When UPA was in power, we had 10 vessels connecting the mainland with the islands. It means each island had at least one ship daily. Now we have only one ship from the mainland," Sayeed said.

Faisal, who is campaigning in Androth, is confident of retaining his seat. "This is not just an election but the fight for our existence. We are all supportive of development, but not at the cost of people's lives or the culture of the islanders. We need to throw the NDA out of power," Faisal said.

He said the voters have confidence in him to let him continue the good work that he has done for the last two terms as an MP.

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Published 28 May 2024, 09:08 IST

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