A polling station wears deserted look during the first phase of Lok Sabha elections, as the Eastern Nagaland Peoples’ Organisation has decided to abstain from participating in the elections, in Shamator, Nagaland, on April 19.

A polling station wears deserted look during the first phase of Lok Sabha elections, as the Eastern Nagaland Peoples’ Organisation has decided to abstain from participating in the elections, in Shamator, Nagaland, on April 19.
| Photo Credit: PTI

The story so far: On April 30, Nagaland’s State Election Commissioner T.J. Longkumer notified the schedule of elections to the State’s Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) across three municipal councils — Dimapur, Kohima, and Mokokchung — and 36 town councils. The notification came four days after the Neiphiu Rio-led State Cabinet paved the way for holding civic polls stalled for 20 years because of opposition to the reservation of 33% of the wards reserved for women. The ULB polls are scheduled on June 26.

Why are civic polls in focus?

Until the recent notification, Nagaland has been the only State where 33% of the seats or wards in the ULBs have not been reserved for women as mandated by clause IV of the 74th Amendment to the Constitution of India because of opposition from the Naga hohos (traditional apex tribal bodies) who argued that such a quota would violate the special provisions granted by Article 371A of the Constitution to Nagaland. The first and only civic body election in Nagaland was held in 2004 without any reservation of seats for women. The State government amended the 2001 Municipal Act in 2006 to include 33% reservation for women in line with the 74th Amendment. This triggered widespread opposition forcing the government to indefinitely postpone the ULB polls in 2009. Efforts to hold the elections in March 2012 met with strong protests and in September 2012, the State Assembly passed a resolution to exempt Nagaland from Article 243T of the Constitution which is related to the reservation for women. This resolution was revoked in November 2016 and elections to the civic bodies with 33% reservation were notified a month later. The notification led to widespread mayhem in which two people were killed in large-scale violence and arson. This made the government declare the process to conduct election null and void in February 2017. In a special session in November 2023, the Assembly unanimously passed an amended Municipal Bill that retained the 33% quota to pave the way for the ULB polls.

How were the hurdles handled?

Two issues had been stalling the civic polls for 20 years in Nagaland, which had its first women MLAs 60 years after attaining statehood in 1963.

One was the women’s reservation for the post of chairperson in the municipal bodies and the other was the taxation on immovable properties. The Nagaland Municipal Act of 2023 did away with the reservation for the chairperson’s post and taxation on immovable property while retaining eight types of taxes, fees, and tolls. Former Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang, whose government was a casualty of the civic poll-related unrest in 2017, said during the special Assembly session in 2023 that the 33% reservation was broadly accepted after a series of consultations with the stakeholders and appealed to the women “not to let the issue of reservation for the post of chairperson be a bottleneck in the successful conduct of the ULB polls”. The tribal bodies were initially opposed to reservation as Naga women have traditionally not been part of the decision-making bodies while pointing out Article 371A insulates the religious and social practices of the Nagas from any Act of Parliament apart from the customary law and procedure and ownership and transfer of land and its resources.

How was the reservation of seats worked out?

According to the April 30 notification, the ULB polls will be conducted under the Nagaland Municipal Act of 2023. It said the filing of nomination will be held from June 7-11, while the scrutiny of nominations will be held on June 13, and the last date of withdrawal of candidature will be June 20. The results will be announced on June 29, three days after the day of polling. Four days before the notification, the Cabinet approved the wards reserved for women. Accordingly, eight out of 23 wards in Dimapur, the State’s commercial hub, six out of 19 wards in Kohima, the State’s capital, and six out of 18 wards in Mokokchung were reserved for women. It was also decided that the reservation of the wards would be rotated.

Is there still any opposition?

The apex tribal bodies and village chiefs are said to have, by and large, accepted the provisions of the amended Municipal Act. However, the Eastern Nagaland People’s Organisation (ENPO) representing the tribes inhabiting six eastern districts of the State, has affirmed its decision not to participate in the ULB polls. The organisation said the decision has nothing to do with the reservation of seats for women but is in continuation of its resolution not to participate in any Central or State election in protest against New Delhi’s failure to create the autonomous Frontier Nagaland Territory. All 4,00,632 voters in these six districts shunned the Lok Sabha polls on April 19 and the June 26 ULB polls are likely to draw a blank too.

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