Why Nagaland's ULB polls are on hold due to 33% quota for women
Nagaland minister and state BJP president Temjen Imna Along recently said that the widely debated issue of 33 per cent reservation for women in ULBs needs further discussion among all stakeholders
At a time when the stalemate over the decades old Naga political issue continues with the dominant Naga outfit NSCN-IM remained firm on its demand for a separate flag and constitution, the impasse also persists over holding of long awaited urban local body (ULB) polls in the state in view of the controversy on the 33 per cent reservation of seats for the women in ULBs.
The Isak-Muivah faction of the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (NSCN-IM) said that the Naga flag is the identity of Naga nationhood while many Naga organisations claimed reservations for women in ULBs would go against their community's customary laws.
Scripting history, two women for the first time were elected in the February 27 elections to the Nagaland Assembly and one of them was made minister. Nagaland’s first woman Rajya Sabha Member S. Phangnon Konyak last month was nominated to the Panel of Vice-Chairperson in the Upper House of Parliament by Rajya Sabha Chairman Jagdeep Dhankhar.
Notwithstanding such a feat, the 33 per cent reservation for women in urban local body elections has given an air of uncertainty to the long pending elections to three municipal bodies and 36 town councils in the northeastern state.
Nagaland minister and state BJP president Temjen Imna Along recently said that the widely debated issue of 33 per cent reservation for women in ULBs needs further discussion among all stakeholders.
Along, who holds the Higher Education and Tourism portfolios, said the state government needs more time to discuss the matter with various organisations, Naga civil society and NGOs so that urban local bodies elections can be held amidst the traditional Naga context.
The ULB polls in Nagaland were earlier cancelled till further orders by the State Election Commission soon after the state Assembly passed the Nagaland Municipal Act (Repeal Act 2023).
Despite women bodies’ objections, the Assembly repealed the Nagaland Municipal Act 2001 in toto.
Objecting to the women reservations in ULBs, various Naga tribal hohos and civil societies demanded the total review of the Nagaland Municipal Act, 2021 and then the Assembly took the decision.
The Naga organisations claimed reservations for women in ULBs would go against their community's customary laws.
The Supreme Court had earlier directed the state government to conduct the ULB elections, to which the State Election Commissioner notified to hold the election on May 16. But subsequently, cancelled the notification.
The Supreme Court hearing a petition on April 5 stayed the March 30 Nagaland poll panel notification cancelling the ULBs elections in Nagaland.
The apex court order comes after the People's Union for Civil Liberties and others filed petitions challenging the cancellation of the elections.
A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Aravind Kumar noted that a period of male domination had existed in every society, and the judiciary needs to give a push if the political dispensation fails to act.
It stressed that women empowerment comes by education and also political participation.
The cultural, societal, traditional and religious practices, land and resources in Nagaland are protected under Article 371A, which also exempted from the 73rd Amendment to the Constitution for the setting up of municipalities.
However, the 74th Amendment to the Constitution did not give that exemption on the ground that the state's urban administrations were not part of the customary practices.
In 2001, Nagaland enacted its Municipal Act and the first civic bodies elections were held in 2004 but without reservation.
The government issued a notification for the next civic bodies elections in 2012 but the polls could not be held following objections from tribal bodies, who strongly opposed women reservations.
Over this contentious issue violent protests in 2017 claimed lives of two people and the then Chief Minister T.R. Zeliang resigned, forcing the government to declare the poll process null and void.
During the violence, the agitators attacked and burnt down government buildings and properties in parts of the state.
The influential Naga organisations claimed that reservation for women was a violation of the Naga customary laws, as enshrined in Article 371 of the Constitution that protects its traditional way of life.
The Naga bodies and civil society organisations have insisted that they are not against the participation of women in politics but accepting the reservations for women in ULBs would pave the way for dilution of the special protections Nagas enjoy under the Constitutional provision.
Some women organisations seeking reservations for the women in ULBs moved the High Court and the Supreme Court.
The government paved the way for the polls by making certain amendments to the Municipal Act.
During a consultative meeting last year, various organisations backed its move to hold the elections.
The influential Naga Mothers' Association (NMA), few other organisations and women rights activists had joined the battle for more women's representation in the Naga political space.
Naga Mothers' Association advisor Rosemary Dzuvichu said that women in Nagaland are not in the decision and policy-making bodies in the state but the mindset of the people is gradually changing.
Dzuvichu, NMA and other women organisations are hopeful that the ULB elections in Nagaland would be held at the earliest with 33 per cent reservation for women.