While interacting with Ravindra Vaishnav, 80, an old hand from Amul, he told an interesting story which gave a pleasant surprise to my mind on how India took over the Territory of Lakshadweep, a Muslim majority group of islands of just 32.69 Sq. Kms. It is not only a strategically important territory but does attract global tourism even today. Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the then Deputy Prime Minister of independent India in charge of Home as well as States Ministry, had sent an SOS message to Mudaliar brothers to convey the collector of Travancore to instruct the police officials and the employees to go to Lakshadweep with whatever arms were with them. His instruction was to take possession of the islands closer to the border and hoist the national flag there. “If the police forces no firearms with them, they can take lathis with them but somehow take possession of the area.”
Sardar Patel was farsighted. When the people from Travancore Police reached Lakshadweep and hoisted the Triranga, they found a ship with Pakistan flag sailing towards Lakshadweep with the intention to take over the Muslim majority area in the Arabian Sea. The Pak dream to capture Lakshadweep was shattered after they watch the Indian National Flag and preferred to take U-turn. But for promptness in the action on Indian side, the strategic area of Lakshadweep must have been part of Pakistan forever. The incident took place immediately after India got independence in August 1947 when British left and Pakistan took a shape of a Muslim State.
Lakshadweep is a group of about 36 islands. Kavaratti is the capital township. Andrott, Amini, Agatti, Bitra, Chetlat, Kadmat, Kalpeni, Kavaratti, Kiltan and Minicoy are only ten islands inhabited and a total land area of 32.69 Sq. Kms. which is scattered over 30,000 Square Miles of Arabian Sea is of great importance for the national security. It has only one Jilla Panchayat, languages i.e. Malayalam with Arabic, Jeseri (Dweep Bhasha) and Mahl. It has only 10 village panchayats. The total population of Lakshadweep, according to 2011 census, is 64,473 of which male and female are 33,123 and 31,350 respectively. Earlier the Member of Parliament was nominated in the Lok Sabha but since 1967 the voters have been electing the MP. The Administration is run by the Administrator, the Collector and the Police Chief, normally they have been IAS or IPS officials.
One of world's most spectacular tropical island systems, Lakshadweep is tucked away at 220-440Kms off the Kerala Coast. The islands offer a precious heritage of ecology and culture. The unique feature of the Islands is its coral reef, making it a pristine leisure spot to come back to 4200 sq. kms. of lagoon, rich in marine wealth, is spread over 36 islands in an area of 32 sq. kms. The underwater view at Lakshadweep is kaleidoscopic and breathtaking. The lagoon offers excellent potential for water sports like swimming, wind-surfing, diving, snorkeling and kayaking. Each island is fringed by snow white coral sands. The crystal clear water and the abundant marine life enhance the beauty of these islands. Against the vast expanse of the blue sea, the island look like emeralds. The huge shallow calm lagoon on one side with wall like reef made of marine live coral boulders blocks the incoming swells of the outer sea. The islands are linked to the mainland by ship, helicopter, Indian Airlines, Kingfisher Airlines and mechanized sailing wooden vessels.
Early history of Lakshadweep is unwritten. What now passes for history is based on various legends. Local traditions attribute the first settlement on these islands to the period of Cheraman Perumal, the last king of Kerala. It is believed that after his conversion to Islam, at the behest of some Arab merchants, he slipped out of his capital Cranganore, the present day Kodungallor – an old harbour town Kochi, for Mecca. Even after the conversion of the entire islands to Islam, sovereignty remained in the hands of the Hindu Rajah of Chirakkal for some years. After the battle of Seringapattom in 1799 the islands were annexed to the British East India Company and were administered from Mangalore. In 1847, a severe cyclone hit the island of Andrott and Raja of Chirakkal decided to visit the island in order to assess the
damages and for distributing relief. An officer of the East India Company Sir William Robinson volunteered to accompany him. On reaching Andrott, the Rajah found it difficult to meet all the demands of the people. Sir William then offered the Rajah help in the form of a loan. This was accepted. This arrangement continued for about four years but when the interest started mounting, the English asked the Rajah to repay them which he could not. In 1854 all the remaining islands were handed over to the East India Company for Administration. so, came the British rule. After India became independent in August 1947 and Lakshadweep, which was known as Laccadive, Minicoy and Aminidivi Islands, was merged with India, the Union Territory was formed in 1956 and it was named Lakshadweep in 1973.
Mudaliar brothers contributed a lot to take over Lakshadweep in time under the instruction of Sardar Patel. Mudaliar brothers, as T. Ramkrishnan prefers to call them, “the twin stars of Arcot”. They were born as twins brothers becoming leaders in their chosen field, vying with each other in accomplishments and contributing enormously to public policies in a variety of areas. “This summarises the life history of Arcot Ramaswami (A.R.) Mudaliar (1887-1976) and Arcot Lakshmanaswami (A.L.) Mudaliar (1887-1974). Famously called the twin stars of Arcot, the brothers had long innings in public life, spanning over 50 years. Both were educationists and vice-chancellors, one still holding the record of having the longest tenure of 27 years as V- C in any Indian university. Both occupied several positions at the national level, before and after Independence and were seasoned parliamentarians. They received honours both from the British Government and the post-freedom Indian regime. Despite not belonging to the Congress school of political thought, they protected and promoted the interests of the nation. Even in death, they were pretty close: A.R. Mudaliar lived about two more years after his brother A.L. Mudaliar died. And they were institution-builders and visionaries.”
It is the right time to pay tribute to not only the Sardar, but also to the Mudaliar brothers, the then Collector and police personnel of the Travancore ( now Kerala) thanks to their timely efforts India could save Lakshadweep, the heaven on the earth, from being grabbed by Pakistan. Today Lakshadweep is one of the global destination for tourism.
Next Column: India too a Country of Immigrants
(The writer is a Socio-political Historian. E-mail: [email protected] )