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The Hindu Notes for 10 August 2018

The rise and rise of Boris Johnson

His popularity shows that the Trump playbook of pandering to prejudice is working across Europe

Last year, during a visit to Myanmar, Britain’s then Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, visited the Shwedagon Paya, one of Buddhism’s most sacred sites, adopting the usual freestyle, somewhat awkward, bumbling tone he had become known for. As he rang ancient bell, he recited a fragment of Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘Mandalay’, including, “The temple bells they say/ Come you back you English soldier.” The invocation of the colonial-era poem clearly caught the British Ambassador off guard: he was captured on camera firmly stopping Mr. Johnson from proceeding further with the recital, saying it was “not a good idea” and “not appropriate”. While the remark did indeed provoke criticism at home and beyond, it was dismissed by many as yet another Boris “gaffe”, one of many that he has clocked up over his political career.

History of gaffes

Mr. Johnson’s time as Foreign Secretary was peppered with controversial moments, including his remarks on boosting the whisky trade between India and the U.K. during a visit to a British gurdwara. There was a “joke” about boosting British investment into Libya. “They have got a brilliant vision to turn Sirte, with the help of the municipality of Sirte, into the next Dubai… the only thing they’ve got to do is clear the dead bodies,” he said in 2017. And there was a moment during a visit to New Zealand where he compared the traditional Maori greeting to a head butt that could be “misinterpreted in a pub in Glasgow”.

It might be easy to dismiss some of these but there were others that had to be seen in a more serious light, such as his mis-characterisation of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British charity worker imprisoned in Iran, as “teaching journalists”. His comments provoked an outcry at the time, going against her insistence she had simply been on holiday, and were seen as worsening her already abysmal plight in the country. Mr. Johnson’s typical response to these controversies has been to offer a non-apology.

His early blunders, during his time as Mayor of London served to strengthen his image, particularly beyond Britain’s shores, as the flamboyant, floppy-haired, Etonian given to faux-pas that wouldn’t be out of place in a P.G. Wodehouse novel. His later ones were the subject of more serious scrutiny, including questions around his appropriateness as the head of Britain’s Foreign Office at a time when its relations with the world outside Europe matter more than ever, but they have been by and large treated as blunders. Even at the time this was a rather na├»ve assumption given Mr. Johnson’s background: Oxford-educated, he once edited the conservative magazine, The Spectator, and savvily sensed the direction of British politics by finally leaping into the Brexit camp after he had drafted two columns, each taking a different position on Brexit.

The latest outrage

Mr. Johnson’s latest comments on the burka challenge suggest a much more methodological, deliberate approach. In the face of a public outcry – including criticism from Prime Minister Theresa May and calls for the party whip to be taken from him — he has stood firmly by his comments in The Daily Telegraph earlier this week. He described the burka as “oppressive and ridiculous” and compared women who wore them to “letter boxes”. Subsequently, he has let it be known that he viewed the calls for an apology as “ridiculous”, citing it as part of his effort to speak up for “liberal values”. It is not the only time he has caused such offence: before he became London Mayor, he once used a racist slur to refer to the people the Queen would meet on her trips across the Commonwealth.

The latest comments come at a particularly difficult time for the ruling Conservative Party, already suffering from great ideological differences within its ranks particularly on Brexit and the immigration policy. While the Labour Party has faced criticism over its treatment of anti-Semitism within its ranks, the Conservatives have been accused of tolerating Islamophobia within theirs. Earlier this year, the Muslim Council of Britain used the instance of a meeting in Parliament attended by Tapan Ghosh, the leader of the Hindu Samhati, last year, to highlight a “wider problem” of Islamophobia within party — the room had been booked through the office of a Conservative MP. Mr. Johnson’s latest comments have provoked anger from both Muslim and non-Muslim members of the Conservative Party, with one senior MP, Dominic Grieve, suggesting he would leave the party should the former become its leader. For its part, the party said it had launched a disciplinary investigation into Mr. Johnson’s comments on the burka.

However, he has had many defenders too — a recent poll for Sky News found that up to 60% of the public did not view his comments as racist, and conservatives in both Britain and the U.S. have defended him. One Breitbart commentator suggested he needed to go “full Donald Trump”. In fact when Mr. Trump became U.S. President, Mr. Johnson’s congratulatory message was among the most effusive of senior politicians globally. “I am increasingly admiring of Donald Trump,” Mr. Johnson remarked earlier this year, while Mr. Trump in turn suggested that Mr. Johnson would make a “great Prime Minister”.

Mr. Johnson’s prime ministerial aspirations are of course no secret. During his time as Foreign Secretary until his resignation in early July in protest against the direction of the government’s Brexit policy, many of his actions were seen as attempts to undermine Ms. May: such as publishing a 4,000 word essay on his vision of Brexit just before a major speech by her. He is seen as a front-runner to replace her: in early August just before his comments on the burka but after his resignation, he came in as the most popular person to replace Ms. May in a poll by Conservative Home, suggesting his increasingly right-ward politics was striking a chord with the party membership. He is not the only one in his party to have benefited from its internalisation of increasingly right-wing policies, as has been seen with the rise of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the chair of the anti-Brexit European Research Group, whose particularly conservative vein of Conservatism (he opposes abortion under any circumstances as well as same sex marriage, and has boasted of never changing a diaper for any of his six children) has made him the unlikely figurehead of a young right-wing party movement dubbed “Mogg-mentum”.

The nationalist arc

It would hardly come as a surprise that Steve Bannon, the former chairman of the alt-right Breitbart News and former adviser to Mr. Trump, has admitted to being in regular communications with Mr. Johnson. Mr. Bannon has spoken of his eagerness to build an anti-European Union, nationalist movement across Europe, and has described the British politician as one of the “most important persons on the world stage”. Mr. Johnson’s latest comments – and the outcry against him – will only serve to strengthen his appeal to the right.

What will happen to Mr. Johnson within the Conservative Party remains to be seen: disciplinary action could very well follow, which would help build his image as a “martyr” of the alt-right. One thing is clear though: his political days are far from over, as the Trump playbook of pandering to prejudice and division gains admirers in Europe.


Best of friends, worthy rivals

Ambition could never completely destroy the friendship between Karunanidhi and MGR

Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) leader M. Karunanidhi’s touching eulogy, of December 24, 1987, to his “dear friend Dr. MGR” (M.G. Ramachandran) was both poignant and gracious. The two had been the best of friends and collaborators until they reached the pinnacle of fame, wealth and power. The high point of their cooperation came in 1969 when with his friend’s support, Karunanidhi overtook the next in line, Era. Nedunchezhian, to succeed party founder C.N. Annadurai (Anna) as Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister and head of the party. In return, Karunanidhi ensured that MGR was made the party treasurer. However, from that point on, there would be a sense of unease.

Game of chess

They were no more the humble 23-year-old script writer who had discovered his hero in MGR, the handsome 30-year-old, or the struggling actor who had found his muse in Karunanidhi after 11 years of an uneventful film career. They were now the two major political forces in a party, the DMK, that was too small to accommodate both. The inevitable had to happen sooner or later.

Karunanidhi wanted to emerge out of the shadow of not only Anna but also MGR. The massive mandate in the 1971 general election set Karunanidhi free. Or so he thought. He had tried to put MGR in his place, which MGR would not forget. He flaunted his crowd-gathering capacity and at the party’s meet in Madurai in May 1972, crowds began to disperse soon after his address scuppering the Chief Minister’s speech. Each slight would make the other wary. So in October 1972, they ended their 27-year-old relationship. A game of political chess had begun.

Real life began to imitate screen life as MGR painted Karunanidhi the villain. MGR and his Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (later the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or AIADMK) would grow from strength to strength. In the game of one-upmanship and vilification, Karunanidhi would compare MGR to Judas even as MGR painted Karunanidhi as a dark force.

In 1977, the roles reversed. Chief Minister since June 30, 1977, MGR invited Karunanidhi, the Leader of the Opposition, to the Independence Day ceremony. Importantly, he graciously noted that it was Karunanidhi who had made this possible for Chief Ministers. In the Assembly the camaraderie between the two was such that a DMK MLA even asked Karunanidhi to explain what was going on. The reply: they were not consulting the almanac for a merger. But that was exactly what was happening behind the scenes. Just days prior to being sworn in, MGR had sought a merger; talks began though an emissary. Yet by the end of October, the MGR administration pressed murder and conspiracy charges against Karunanidhi for the DMK’s demonstration against Indira Gandhi on her visit to Madurai in 1977. Karunanidhi was interned for 40 days. Agitations by the DMK and arrests and internments by the administration marked 10 years of MGR’s rule.

The relationship between the two leaders was unfathomable after a point. Karunanidhi saw the MGR administration as capable of no good while MGR appeared intent on erasing all traces of Karunanidhi. On September 18, 1977, he said the court would decide on the issue of Karunanidhi’s statue on Anna Salai in Chennai (whether it posed a problem for traffic) while counselling his audience: “Do not do anything in anger.” It became a bit absurd when a government order said that no public space or building should be named after a living person. ‘Karunanidhi Maligai’ was renamed even as some other names escaped change.

Sharp moves

Two no-confidence motions that were moved by the DMK in 1978-79 and a censure motion in 1979 tore into the MGR administration as being corrupt and inept. On April 14, a daily announced that MGR would star in the film, Unnai Vidamatten (You cannot get away from me). It was obvious who it was meant for. Yet on September 13, 1979, the two reached an agreement on a merger only for MGR to renege on it the next day. On November 3, 1979, Karunanidhi alleged in the Tamil Nadu Assembly that MGR was about to commit the “scandal of the century” by buying ships from Bulgaria. MGR replied that he would resign if there was proof that he had personally taken a bribe. Then in 1980, Karunandhi, just to unseat MGR, did the unthinkable. He came to an electoral understanding with Indira Gandhi, whose Emergency had caused much pain to him (party and his family). MGR’s government was dismissed just as Karunanidhi’s had been on January 31, 1976. But in the elections that followed, MGR, like his on-screen persona did, bounced back.

Karunanidhi, taking full advantage of the luxury of being in the opposition, painted MGR as being indifferent to the plight of the Sri Lankan Tamils. MGR, on the other hand, took a personal liking to LTTE leader Prabhakaran — also because he had spurned Karunanidhi’s invite to meet him.

But there were moments of tenderness. In February 1982, when 58-year-old Karunanidhi went on a 200 km march in protest against the MGR administration, a thoughtful MGR arranged for an ambulance. Then, on October 30, 1982, the two men showed up at a wedding at 6 a.m., holding each other’s hands and displaying warmth. The Chief Minister even advised the bride and groom to learn from this — ‘when to fight and when to put their arms around the other’s shoulders and unite’. In the Assembly, when an AIADMK MLA referred to Karunanidhi as just “Karunanidhi”, MGR cut him short and said, “Address him as Kalaignar. He was my leader.”

J. Jayalalithaa’s induction into the party in June 1982 was a snub to Karunanidhi after his opposition to MGR’s wish to bring her to the Madurai conference in 1972. Karunanidhi just ignored her.

When MGR took ill, on October 22, 1984, Karunanidhi penned the most moving of his over 4,000 missives, saying that prayer meant appeal and in that sense he, an atheist, would also pray for him to recover. Yet during the elections, the DMK wondered if MGR was alive. On MGR’s return however, the political one-upmanship resumed. Ambition had helped a beautiful friendship blossom, flourish and wilt but could never destroy it completely.


The Andamans’ new colonisers

The Indian bull frog, a recent arrival from the mainland, is steadily occupying the islands’ ecosystem and threatening the local economy. Mohit M. Rao reports on the bizarre man-frog conflict brewing in the islands

A narrow road bifurcates the hyper-green paddy fields of Webi village in Middle Andaman, in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. A clear stream flows around the Webi, home to the Karen community, brought to these shores from Myanmar 93 years ago.

At dusk, as fading sunlight paints the surrounding hills in silhouette, the calls of cicadas, crickets and frogs rise in crescendo. In the cacophonic stillness, a centipede winds its way across the empty weathered road. And then, in the blink of an eye, it’s gone, swallowed whole by a recent migrant to the island — the Indian bullfrog (Hoplobatrachus tigerinus).

Barely 10 cm long, this particular specimen is small. But the larger ones weigh at least half a kilo. The golden stripe on their backs and the glitter around their throats shine in the diffused light of a mobile phone. Less than 2 ft from the centipede-eater sits another frog. Next to that, one more, and another, and another... scores of frogs in varied sizes, basking in the warmth of the asphalt. Every now and then, one of them leaps toward the murky waters of the paddy fields. There is nothing frog-like about the deep, guttural croaks of these prolific breeders. Rather, they sound more like a bull with a sore throat.

“It wasn’t here even five years ago. Now they’ve taken over the village,” says Nau Thaw Raytoo, a mother of four, who lives in a concrete-bamboo house with her children, their wives, and her six grandchildren. Her broken Hindi shifts to fluent, high-pitched Karen when instructing raucous kids.

Webi is just among the scores of villages in the islands where the amphibian has arrived in hordes. An unusual man-frog conflict is brewing. The voracious animal gulps down anything that would fit in its jaws: centipedes, leeches, native frogs, lizards, small snakes, and even chicks and ducklings, which are an important source of food for the islanders.

“I’ve seen them eat chicks, swallowing the head whole,” says Raytoo, adding that of the 15 chicks hatched in the family’s chicken coop this year, only three have survived. Balakishore, whose father is Ranchi (an overarching term for Jharkhand tribals who were settled here to clear the forests decades ago) and mother is Karen, has lost 50 ducklings to the frogs. When grown, each duck would have fetched at least ₹300 in the local market.

One invader, many names

In the villages carved out of the virgin Andaman forests, the amphibian invader has evoked both surprise (“where did they come from?”) — and anxiety (“when will they go away?”). The bullfrog, found widely in mainland India and protected under Schedule IV of the Indian Wildlife Act 1972, is making the most of a free run that it’s enjoying in the erstwhile penal colony.

In the Andaman Islands, it can rain eight months of the year. The first rains in May are the signal for the bullfrogs to come out of the streams and agricultural ponds that have become their shelters. They breed by the hundreds, with each female able to lay between 3,500 and 20,000 eggs. Not all survive, but enough live to breed again, ensuring that the horde extends their range. With an average life span of seven years, and time to sexual maturity of 10-12 months, their population can dramatically shoot up in a very short time, which is precisely what happened once they landed in the islands.

“This is an invasion,” says Nitya Mohanty, a doctoral student at the Centre for Invasion Biology at Stellenbosch University (South Africa). His research, done with the Andaman and Nicobar Environment Team, has been on invasive species — first on the chitals (spotted deer) that have established their herds in the Andamans, and now on the bullfrog invasion.

So far, the bullfrog has been found in six out of the eight major inhabited islands. In 2017, it was even found in Little Andaman, which is separated from the Greater Andaman Islands by more than 55 km of sea. “This kind of incursion into remote islands is not naturally possible in such a short time,” says Mohanty.

The frog has acquired many names in the course of its journey through multi-cultural settlements of the island: shona beng (‘Golden frog’, for the prominent golden stripe) among the Bengali settlers; haramendak (‘Green frog’, for its olive-green skin) in Ranchi villages, where you could hear Oraon, Sadri or Munda being spoken; and dey-phala (‘Green frog”) in villages where the 2,500-odd Karen community stays. Whatever the name or language, the narrative of economic loss and ecological threat is a constant.

How they spread

Mohanty’s team sought to define the contours of this “invasion” through interviews with locals. As early as 2001, the bullfrog had already established breeding populations in one village. By 2009, it had spread to seven villages. Since then, at least 53 villages have reported the bullfrog in worrying densities.

Like most contemporary tales in the archipelago, the bullfrog story may also have to do with the earthquake and the tsunami that devastated large parts of Andaman and Nicobar islands in 2004. Following the decline of natural fish stock, the local administration encouraged integrated farming, with aquaculture in agricultural ponds. There are now over 2,500 such ponds in the islands, most of them filled with stocks of exotic, fast-growing fish imported from the mainland.

The fishling stocks (mostly from Kolkata) released into some of these ponds were contaminated with bullfrog eggs and tadpoles. All fingers point at the local fisheries department, which has, however, dismissed these claims and accused private traders of having brought the invader to the islands.

Most villagers believe that the bullfrog’s first hop into the islands was in Diglipur, in the northern tip of the Andamans, where its prolific spread first became a talking point. By 2011, it was spotted at Mayabunder in Middle Andaman, and by 2013, it was found in Wandoor, near the southern tip of the Andamans, around 300 km from Diglipur. While many were accidental releases, in some areas, it had been released by villagers as a fast-breeding cheap food.

Researchers Harikrishnan Surendran and Karthikeyan Vasudevan had been working in Wandoor since 2008, and were the first to report the presence of the bullfrog as an invasive in a scientific journal. “(The spread) is not surprising at all, given the high reproductive output of Indian bullfrogs and their association with agricultural areas... it was only a matter of time before they got introduced to other islands,” says Surendran.

Nearly two years ago, while engaged in construction and repairs at a resort near Wandoor in South Andaman, M. Alazhagan, 35, saw a multitude of frogs thronging the swimming pool. Some, he says, had turned yellow, with blue globules on their throat — males decked up for the breeding season. He approached one, and it froze. He decided to take a selfie: him grinning in the foreground, with the frog posing meditatively in the background. “It looked so strange! So much bigger than the frogs we were used to seeing and so colourful,” he recalls.

But fascination soon gave way to frustration. In North Wandoor village, located at the edge of the Lohabarrack Salt Water Crocodile Sanctuary, it isn’t the crocs that villagers keep an eye on.

The tsunami had created salty channels in the area and rendered large tracts infertile. So, many had turned to creating agricultural ponds — to rear fish and also because they would serve as sources of freshwater when the rains filled it up. Shushil Mondal found that his pond had been taken over by frogs. “Earlier I could get 20 kg of fish whenever I spread the net. Now, I get only shona beng. There is no fish left now. It has eaten everything,” he says.

The frogs pose a threat particularly to the livelihoods of landless labourers, such as Parimal Das and his family of eight. They had migrated to the Andamans from Kolkata nearly 20 years ago, and are now nomads, leasing land wherever it is available to grow vegetables. Agriculture in a rain-heavy, saline-rich soil is difficult, and free-range chickens are an important and steady source of income, with each fetching up to ₹600. “I’ve lost six chicks this year already. We had to build a murghi ghar (a wooden makeshift cage on stilts) to lock the chickens at night, but even then the frogs manage to squeeze through,” he says.

On the other side of the Greater Andaman islands, the Andaman Trunk Road snakes its way through dense forests. Trees form a seemingly impenetrable canopy, creepers drape branches in a gown of broad leaves, and undergrowth form layers upon layers above the damp soil. Amidst the shades of green, the Andaman Crape Myrtle, a deciduous tree, bursts in bouquets of small lilac flowers.

Five kilometres of these forests separate Gannatabla village — a settlement of Jharkhand tribals — from the nearest village in North Andaman. The village is a clump of 50 houses and a series of rectangular paddy fields. There is no pond here where fish is cultured. The bullfrog, however, lurks in these fields and drinking water wells.

“We don’t know how it has come here. Three years ago, we spotted it in the streams that come through the forests when we went fishing for kala macchi (black fish). Now the fish is hardly seen but the frog is everywhere,” says 29-year-old Johnson Kirketa, suggesting that the bullfrog had crossed the forests through channels and streams.

Colonisers among the natives

Bullfrogs are found all over mainland India, but it is in the unique ecosystem of the islands that it becomes a major threat. Unlike the mainland, resources on the islands are scarce for big animals, while natural calamities are more frequent. The wildlife here has evolved in a miniature setting: there are no large herbivores (the largest is the Andaman wild pig) or large carnivores.

“Islands have fewer species, but their nature make them irreplaceable. They are found no where else in the world... This makes the entire food web in the islands very different from that of the mainland,” says Vasudevan, senior principal scientist at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad.

The Zoological Survey of India has found that out of the 9,130 marine and terrestrial species discovered so far in the islands, 1,032 species (or 11.30%) are endemic (found only in the Andamans). In the constraints of land, this endemicity increases to nearly 25%, or 816 out of the 3,271 land species. These creatures had evolved to cope with natural disaster, but have little capacity to withstand rapid, human-induced impacts. “There is not much room for redundancy and refuges in these islands,” says Vasudevan.

But the bullfrog is only the latest entrant in the Andamans’ 150-year-old history of invasives, with alien species introduced in waves by the British, Japanese, and ‘mainland’ Indians having gradually colonised many parts of the island territory. These include the elephant(introduced for logging and later abandoned), chital, hog deer, and barking deer (all three for game meat).

In 2013, using satellite imagery, Rauf Ali from the Puducherry-based Foundation for Ecological Research, Advocacy and Learning found that forests with elephants and chitals had suffered significant degradation (Interview Island) compared to places where they were absent (Little Andaman). It’s a one-two punch: elephants knock down trees and strip barks, while chitals prevent regeneration of forests by grazing on seedlings.

Invasives have come in all forms to the Andamans. The Japanese introduced the Giant African Snail, one of the 100 worst invasive species as described by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), in the 1940s during their three-year occupation. It has now established itself as a major agricultural pest. Meanwhile, about 90% of the fish being bred in ponds are carps and other exotic fish which have even established natural breeding sites outside human-created ponds. Similarly, the islands are home to at least 592 introduced alien plant species, some indirectly pushing endemic plants to the fringe.

Away from the obvious economic impact, it is in the sounds of the night that one can perhaps gauge the ecological impact of the invasive bullfrog. Across infested villages, residents say sightings of native species of frogs have reduced. Full grown natives pale in size to even a young bullfrog. Water snakes, a common accompaniment for the paddy farmer, and centipedes are in decline.

But even more worrying signs were found in the gut of the frog. For months, Mohanty and his associates captured and “stomach flushed” contents out of 798 individuals belonging to two native species and the invasive bullfrog. From the gut of the bullfrog came out native frogs, the endemic Andaman blind snake, the endemic emerald gecko, skinks and others. “Adult bullfrogs pose a threat to small endemic vertebrates (from frogs to birds). Within frog species, it can have a two-pronged impact on the Limnonectes genus of frogs. Bullfrogs not only eat the native frogs, even their diets overlap, indicating a possibility of competition,” he says.

It isn’t just their size that works to their advantage. It’s their appetite for meat, even at the tadpole stage. Bullfrog tadpoles are highly carnivorous, preying on other tadpoles (even native tadpoles) heavily.

Controlling invasives

In a few villages, the explosion in population from May onward sees a feast of bullfrogs: skin fried to a crisp, their legs boiled or fried. Here, a kilo (roughly three medium-sized frogs) is sold for ₹60 — the cheapest source of protein in the market. In other places, it is anger that has humans killing the frog. “Whenever I find it on the road, I beat it with a stick. If it jumps, I’ll jump into the paddy field and chase it. One dead frog means one lesser mother laying thousands of eggs,” says a villager in North Andaman, whose name has been withheld as killing bullfrogs is a criminal act under wildlife laws. In Wandoor, a family claims to have killed nearly 50 frogs in July.

However, these are mere dents in a burgeoning population. “It is difficult...I don’t see a way to stop it. The government should think of something. Else, in five years, poora basti bhar jayega (the village will be filled with frogs),” says Krishna Singh, at Mohanpur village in North Andaman, who claims to have lost 30 chicks to the frog.

Murmurs of the conflict have started, with the issue being raised by local political representatives. “It really is a big menace. But we have to see how the population stabilises,” says S. Dam Roy, Principal Scientist at the Central Island Agricultural Research Institute, Port Blair, which operates the local agriculture helpline.

Stung by the inflow of invasives, and with the fear that more could come, it was in the serene, undulating plantations that form the CIARI headquarters that a plan was hatched five years ago to start a ₹40-crore bio-security laboratory for quarantine and research. The plan did not materialise.

Globally, invasive species, particularly in islands, are becoming the focus of numerous organisations. The Convention on Biological Diversity has said that invasives have contributed to 40% of all animal extinctions since the 17th century. The IUCN has formulated guidelines for managing invasives specifically in islands, largely involving data collection, community engagement, policy measures and management plans.

Far away from the concerns of scientific papers and environmentalists, in the government offices at Port Blair, there is little panic about invasives. “They are just animals, and nature will find a way to live in harmony,” says Tarun Coomar, Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, who also holds the post of Environment Secretary in the relatively small administration governing the islands.

This confidence is not reflected among the villagers. While many are resigned to the invasion, some suggest commercial harvest for export to South-East Asia, for history has shown that animal populations crash when they have an economic value attached to them.

But for now, it is an unchecked invasion. “Bullfrogs have reached little Andaman, the next frontier is Nicobar. There are other islands they are yet to invade, and we must do everything to stop that. Signs at jetties about the adverse economic impact of bullfrogs and the need to check contamination of fish stocks could be useful,” says Mohanty.

For millenia, the islands, now a Union Territory, were largely disconnected, literally and figuratively, from the mainland. In more ways than one, the landscape here resembles those in Myanmar, Thailand and Indonesia than mainland India.

In ethos too, the disconnect remains. In government offices, officials caution outsiders (whose annual numbers touch 6.5 lakh, as compared to 3.9 lakh residents) to take it slow in the islands: “Ye mainland nahi, yeh Andaman hai (This is not the mainland, this is Andaman).” But it may not stay that way for long. As the croaks of the bull frog reverberate through the islands, their clamour assumes the urgency of a clarion call — to act before it is too late.