It was a crisis in the making, and so it is hardly surprising that violence has broken out in Kohima, Nagaland’s capital over local body polls. While there could be many deep-seated political and social crises triggering the violence, on the surface it seems to be a battle that has got gender rights, politics and tribal anger pitted against one another in the elections, which was scheduled in the state after more than 10 years and in which for the first time 33% seats were reserved for women. But the reservation part, which has been pushed by the women’s groups and supported by the government, did not go down well with several tribal councils and they accused the government of not respecting Naga customary laws. The other bone of contention: The Nagaland Municipal Act of 2001 also empowers municipal bodies to collect land and building taxes. In November, the apex tribal organisation in the state, Naga Hoho, had sent out a warning: It urged the assembly to ensure that the reservation in Urban Local Bodies (ULBs) does not bring divisions among the people of the state resulting in creation of an unmanageable situation and that both decisions will create chaos.
On the customary law part, the Naga tribal groups are right when they say that such laws are protected under Article 371 (A) of the Constitution. Under this provision, no Act that interfered with Naga laws or social and religious practices would apply to the state unless the assembly passed a resolution allowing it. In an interview to Scroll.in a senior Naga leader summed up their opposition: “Women should participate in polls, not through reservation but through nominations. The percentage of women could be even higher. We are saying why give reservation when there is no discrimination against women?” It would only create a rift between Naga men and women, he felt. The women’s groups, however, think otherwise.
On Monday, the state government signed a deal with tribal bodies to postpone elections by two months. But with Gauhati high court directing the state government on Tuesday to hold ULBs polls, the state government decided to go ahead with polling in 12 of the 32 municipal bodies. But that did not calm the tribal groups and the government was forced to scrap the polls.