Hekani Jakhalu of the NDPP made history by becoming the first woman to be elected to the 60-member Nagaland Assembly. Ms. Jakhalu was announced the winner from the Dimapur-III constituency in the 2023 Nagaland Assembly elections.
Representing the ruling Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), she defeated sitting MLA Azheto Zhimomi of the Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas) by 1,536 votes to win the Dimapur-III constituency. Mr. Zhimomi has won the seat as a candidate of the Naga People’s Party in 2018.
She was one of four women among 183 candidates in this election.
The NDPP’s second woman candidate, Salhoutuonuo Kruse followed Ms. Jakhalu as the MLA-elect hours later. She defeated Keneizhakho Nakhro, an independent candidate, by only seven votes to bag the Western Angami seat.
“It’s a victory for my team and my constituency. I am grateful to the people for putting their faith in me,” Ms. Jakhalu said from Dimapur, the commercial hub of Nagaland.
An U.S.-educated lawyer and social activist, Ms. Jakhalu attributed her victory to 17 years of social service through YouthNet, an organisation she had founded for transforming the State through the empowerment of the youth and women.
“People wanted change. I hope to live up to their expectations,” she said, adding that her focus would be on the tribal and non-tribal minorities who constitute more than 50% of the population in the Dimapur-III constituency.
“The people have helped me cross the first hurdle of getting into the Assembly. I hope to honour their choice to the best of my capacity,” Ms Kruse said.
The two women candidates who could not make it were the BJP’s Kahuli Sema, a retired engineer, and Rosy Thomson of Congress. The former lost the Atoizu constituency to the Nationalist Congress Party’s Picto by 602 votes while the latter fell by the wayside in the Tening constituency.
Most political parties in the Christian-majority Nagaland have been averse to fielding women in the Assembly polls, explaining why it has not had a woman MLA since attaining statehood in 1963.
The State has had two women MPs though. Rano M. Shaiza of the United Democratic Party was the first elected parliamentarian. She won the State’s lone Lok Sabha seat in 1977. In 2022, the BJP’s S. Phangnon Konyak was elected to the Rajya Sabha to become the State’s second parliamentarian.
“Society in Nagaland has been very patriarchal but the mindset is changing. This reflects in the time and energy the NDPP is spending on me and my fellow candidate, Salhoutuonuo Kruse contesting the Western Angami seat,” she had told The Hindu during a break from campaigning.
Counting of votes is under way in Nagaland, where State Assembly elections were held on February 27. Nagaland recorded 85.9% voter turnout for the election to its 60-member Assembly.