The Nagaland government on Tuesday finally decided to put off elections to the state’s various municipal bodies – slated for Wednesday – following reports that the situation was not conducive to hold them. A series of bandhs, boycott calls, threats and a couple of violent incidents protesting 33 per cent quota for women had already pushed the elections into uncertainty.
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A notification issued by the State Election Commission in Kohima on Tuesday said the elections were put off in view of “various reports from the concerned district administrations and the IGP (Intelligence) that it’s not conducive to conduct free and fair polls in view of serious apprehensions of law and order for holding peaceful elections.” Earlier in the day, a cabinet meeting too asked the State Election Commission to put the elections on hold.
Various tribal bodies had opposed the state government’s decision to hold elections by saying that providing reservation for women under Article 243(T) of the Constitution would lead to infringing upon traditional rights of the Nagas; they claimed that Article 371(A) specifically protected traditional and customary laws and practices of the Naga tribes. Naga Hoho, apex body of various tribes, had also warned that it should not be later held responsible for any “adverse effect” in the future.
The state government, however, has maintained that holding municipal elections under Article 243(T) would in no way infringe upon the traditional rights because the very concept of urban bodies was new. “Towns and municipalities are new concepts and have nothing to do with tradition and customary practices of the Nagas,” a statement issued by the government after a state cabinet meeting on January 2 had said.
Even as the state government had set the election process rolling three weeks ago, majority of the 500-odd candidates were either forced to withdraw from the fray. Those who did not withdraw came under threat of boycott and ex-communication from their respective tribal communities. There were incidents of violence in some places, and curfew was also imposed in one town.
Women groups led by the Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA), which formed a Joint Action Committee for Women’s Reservation (JACWR), meanwhile, have decided to wait for a verdict from the Supreme Court on a special leave petition that was filed two years ago.
Opposition to reservation for women in elected bodies has been so strong in Nagaland that no woman has been able to make it to the state assembly since Nagaland was carved out of Assam in 1963. Political parties – whether national or regional – too have mostly refrained from nominating women, and only about a dozen women have contested, all unsuccessfully, for the state assembly in 54 years.