GUWAHATI: Chief minister TR Zeliang’s ruling Nagaland People’s Front (NPF) has resolved to go ahead with the civic polls in Nagaland after 53 candidates, fearing excommunication by traditional bodies, withdrew their nomination last week.
The traditional NGOs in the state have been opposing the civic or urban local body (ULB) polls, scheduled on February 1, because of the 33% quota provided for women. The last date of withdrawing nomination is January 17.
In a statement issued on Saturday, NPF working president, Apong Pongener, said his party has adopted a five-point resolution in favour of holding the polls despite statewide protests. The party also warned NPF candidates of stern disciplinary action if they withdrew their nomination papers.
The resolution came after 53 candidates withdrew, leaving 482 candidates across 25 of the 32 municipal and town councils in Nagaland. State election officials could not confirm how many of the 188 women who filed their nomination papers have decided not to contest.
Protests and shutdowns prevented any candidate from filing nominations in six councils while all 27 aspirants withdrew their papers in Phek district’s Pfutsero town.
“While standing by our decision to go ahead with the ULB polls, we appeal to the Naga Hoho (apex body of 16 tribes in Nagaland) and all tribal organisations and individuals to cooperate with the democratic exercise,” an NPF spokesperson said on Sunday.
As a gesture for letting the ULB polls take place, the Joint Action Committee on Women Reservation (JACWR) met Zeliang on Saturday to say it would withdraw the single leave petition it had filed in the Supreme Court. In January 2013, the JACWR had petitioned the apex court demanding implementation of reservation rights in the local bodies.
“The decision to withdraw our petition is to allay fears of tribal organisations that the case would infringe on Article 371A of the Constitution of India,” JACWR convenor, Abeiu Meru, said, adding that the “misunderstanding and threats of expulsion” do not portend well for Naga society.
Naga Hoho and tribe-specific traditional organisations feel that 33% reservation for women in the ULB polls is against the spirt of Article 371A that grants special status to Nagaland and guarantees preservation of customary laws that do not give administrative rights to women.
Rosemary Dzuvichu, adviser to Naga Mothers’ Association, said the state government and Election Commission were only carrying out their bounden duty to hold ULB elections as necessitated by Article 243T with reservation for women (enacted in 2006 by the Nagaland assembly).
“Article 243T does not infringe upon Article 371A in any way nor would it go against the customary and social practices of Nagas since town and municipalities are neither traditional concepts nor institutions of Nagas. Besides, various observations by courts have clarified that civic polls have nothing to do with Article 371A,” Dzuvichu, also the co-convenor of JACWR, said.
The JACWR leaders appealed to all Naga organisations to desist from using threats and intimidation to banish, expel or excommunicate anyone and to instead allow due process of elections to be completed “without any untoward incident or ill feeling”.
Despite the NPF government’s firm stand, election officials did not rule out the possibility of more candidates withdrawing by Tuesday (January 17). Nagaland has had instances when threats prevented candidates from contesting elections.
The Congress under SC Jamir had won the 1998 assembly election uncontested in 34 of the 60 seats. This was because the militant National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah) had asked all aspirants to sign a proclamation saying they “strongly oppose the holding of elections in Naga-inhabited areas…”
Refusing to draw a parallel, the NGOs insist they are not anti-women. “We have no issues with competent women who are desirous for open contest in polls,” a spokesman of Sumi Hoho, the apex body of the Sumi or Sema tribe, said.
Some men in Nagaland disagree. “To be a progressive society, we have to provide space to women through reservation,” said Mezivolu T Therieh, a judicial officer in Kohima.
NAGALAND CIVIC POLLS
Date of polling: February 1
Total number of town/municipal councils: 32
Number of town/municipal councils where nominations filed: 26
Town/municipal councils registering nil nomination: Kohima, Mokokchung, Tuensang, Mon, Medziphema and Changtongya
Official date of withdrawal of nomination: January 17
Deadline by NGOs for withdrawing nomination: January 12
Number of nominations found valid: 535
Number of women candidates: 188
Number of candidates withdrawing nomination: 53
Town council with nil nomination after withdrawal: Pfutsero