Maldives Minicoy Mahl Dhivehi
Pallichapura Pookunhikoya

Dr. Pallichapura Pookunhikoya, M.P. meets the press

13 May 2004 was a memorable day in the political history of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep. The territory's long-serving member of parliament and deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha Shri P.M. Sayeed was unseated. This was one of the biggest electoral upsets in the history of the Lok Sabha- the lower house of the Indian parliament.

Pookunhikoya as a young medical student

The person who precipitated this was a medical practitioner, Pallichapura Pookunhikoya, a native of Amini island in the Aminidives group. He stood for the Janata Dal (United) Party.

Lakshadweep had long been a stronghold of the Indian National Congress. Dr Pookunhikoya defied the union-wide swing in the 2004 general elections that saw the Congress swept back into power in a surprise electoral win, ousting the Indian nationalist Baharatia Janata Party government from office.

Dr Pookunhikoya's electoral win brought home a salient message to long-standing politicians all over the world who rest on their laurels in the presumption that their right to power is independent of the needs of their constituents.

At a press conference in Cochin two days after being elected, Dr Pookunhikoya said that the Lakshadweep islands faced many pressing problems including a lack of adequate medical facilities and insufficient means of transportation. He put the blame on his predecessor who had been the member for Lakshadweep for most of the period since 1967.

Dr Pookunhikoya noted that since 1997 there have been no gynaecologists in either of the two hospitals in the union territory. Occasionally Dr Pookunhikoya himself have had to perform unscheduled deliveries in order to help women in labour.

Pookunhikoya (right) with a fellow student in Andra Pradesh

When medical complications arise, including in childbirth, islanders were left with no option other than to be evacuated to the Indian mainland.

Gross misallocation of resources: Referring to the anomalies in the development plans for the union territory, Dr Pookunhikoya cited the case of the Director of Forests appointed for the low-lying coral islands where there were no forests.

Dr Pookunhikoya highlighted the poor transport infrastructure and shipping used to ply passengers and cargo between the islands and to and from the sub-continent. He pointed out the need to have the Coastal Regulation Norms modified to make them more relevant to the conditions of the narrow Lakshadweep atolls.

Shri P.M. Sayeed with Shrimati Sonia Gandhi, March 2004 when Sayeed was the member of parliament for Lakshadweep and deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha. Shri Sayeed is now Minister of Power in the federal government of India

Lakshadweep islanders had long enjoyed the status and associated benefits from their classification as a Scheduled Tribe, as defined in the Indian constitution. In a recent move, the children born to islanders outside the union territory were deprived of this status. Dr Pookunhikoya regards it as one of his priorities to address the problems related to this issue.

Dr Pookunhikoya graduated from Gundoor Medical College in Andra Pradesh. He is married with a daughter and two sons. His daughter is married and settled in the Lakshadweep Islands.

Feedback from a writer in New Delhi received minutes after the page was uploaded

"Dear Majid,

"Perhaps you could have added a bit about Saeed, and his position in the cabinet. As I noticed, his name came 9th in the order of precedence in the list of cabinet ministers. (there are 29 cabinet ministers in a list of total ministers.) . Earlier, for the past term of parliament (just under 5 years), he was the deputy speaker of the Lok Sabha. This was a hotly contested position, with the congress party fighting tooth and nail with the ruling BJP to get him elected to the post. For the last one year, Saeed had been the acting speaker, after the speaker C.M. Balayogi died. Saeed had done a good job there, taking courageous decisions particularly during the debate on Gujarat riots. This is partly the reason why despite the election defeat, he is in the cabinet. His portfolio “Power” is also an important portfolio in the cabinet, with electricity a very high political priority and billions of dollars worth of contracts involved in mega projects. This makes P.M. Saeed, the most powerful Dhivehi person on the planet, far above President Maumoon."

Sayeed as Acting Speaker of the Lok Sabha

Amini is situated at 11° 7' north latitude and 72° 44' east longitude. It is about 3 km long and 1.6 km wide. It is oblong in shape. The island lies about 320 km north of Kuluduffurhi in Tiladummati Atoll.

Amini was one of the first to be inhabited in the Laccadive Aminidive (or Amindivi) Islands. The nearby islands were inhabited by people from Amini island and they were mainly tenants of the landlords of Amini.

Since 1799 until 1947 the island had been under British rule (East India Company and then Indian Empire) and was the seat of the Monegar or tax collector and magistrate. Amini still retains its importance as the seat of the Tehsildar for the Aminidive group of islands. Vasco da Gama visited the island on his second voyage and noted the superior quality of coir prepared by the islanders.

In 1530 the Portuguese established their authority on the Aminidive Islands. Sheikh Zeinaddine records that the Portuguese slew a vast number of islanders and made captives of more than 500 inhabitants. They burnt everything and greater part of the mosque and houses. The Muslims of the time were mortal enemies of the Portuguese and the Spanish- the result of a grudge arising from the loss of Spain for the Muslims a few years earlier.

In Amini there are talented craftsmen who make beautiful walking sticks with tortoise and coconut shells. The island is also known for its stone masons who carve beautiful flower motifs on coral stone.

The Amini islanders have a rich tradition of folk song. Boat songs peculiar to Amini begin at a low pace and gather tempo as the oars strike the water more and more rapidly.

Backwardness and reaction catch up with another paradise. Veiled women in Lakshadweep (MInicoy)
Click here to read an Indian nationalist viewpoint

Imposing the veil over the Maldives

June 2004