At least two community-based organizations in Nagaland have called for isolating an influential women’s body seeking the holding of the long-overdue civic polls with 33% of the seats reserved for women.
The Angami Public Organisation and the Chakhesang Public Organisation have written the State’s Chief Secretary to “restrain and refrain” the “unmandated” Naga Mothers’ Association (NMA). Angami and Chakhesang are two major Naga communities.
The missive of the two organizations has added to the pressure on Nagaland Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio, caught between a Supreme Court order to hold the civic polls with 33% of the seats reserved for women and traditional tribal organisations against such a quota system.
Urging the State government to “distance itself” from the NMA, the organizations claimed that some community-based units disassociated from the umbrella mothers’ body in 2017. The NMA, thus, “no longer represents the welfare and interest of our sons and daughters” in Nagaland, they pointed out.
The organisations also accused “certain NMA members” of trying to dilute and destroy Naga customary laws and traditions by disregarding “popular sentiments of the Nagas”.
Following a Supreme Court directive, Nagaland’s State Election Commission issued a notification on March 9 announcing that the elections to 39 urban local bodies (ULBs) would be held on May 16 with 33% reservation of seats for women. But it cancelled the notification on March 30, two days after the State’s 60-member Assembly resolved to repeal the Nagaland Municipal Act of 2001 in toto and with immediate effect.
On April 5, the Supreme Court stayed the government notification that cancelled the ULB polls after hearing a contempt petition filed by some organisations.
Several influential tribal organizations had earlier threatened to boycott the elections if they are conducted without repealing the Municipal Act that allows the reservation of seats for women and empowers the ULBs to collect property taxes.
The tribal bodies said that quota for women would be an infringement on the Naga customary laws, as enshrined in Article 371A of the Constitution that protects its traditional way of life. They also had reservations about the property taxes.
The first ULB elections in Nagaland were held in 2004 without reservation of seats. The Municipal Act was amended two years later to provide for the reservation of 33% of the seats for women.
The State government’s attempt to conduct the ULB polls in 2017 with 33% seat reservation for women triggered large-scale violence. Two people died, many government buildings were set ablaze and T.R. Zeliang had to quit as the Chief Minister.
Mr. Rio, who does not want a 2017-like situation, is expected to hold a consultative meeting with the leaders of various tribal organisations soon to “find a middle path”.
He heads a coalition government where BJP is a key partner. Two women elected to the Assembly for the first time since Nagaland attained Statehood in 1963 belong to his party— the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party.