The essence of a Democratic State is its people. Popularly defined as ‘government of the people, for the people and by the people’, a democratic State cannot overlook the voices of the majority. Ironically, the Nagaland Government appears to be perplexed. Despite the fact that a large majority of Tribal Apex bodies strongly oppose 33% women reservation in the upcoming Urban Local Body elections (ULB), repeatedly voicing their apprehensions and displeasures, the present government has moved to enact it.
The government assures that its application will not infringe upon the hard earned rights provided by Article 371A, however where is their foolproof scheme to ensure this? Is it possible in a state such as Nagaland where customs and culture are not always neatly defined, and differ widely across tribes? The state government’s defiance of the people’s wishes to postpone the ULB election and seek clarification can be interpreted as an infringement of Article 371A in itself. The Article empowers the various Tribal Apex bodies to deal with matters concerning respective tribes and areas and undermining such rights by the State government is undemocratic. Who should decide whether Naga customary laws and rights are being threatened? The legal fraternity that advises the state government or the guardians of our rights and customs?
On one hand, it appears that the Tribal Apex bodies are not against empowering women per-se, or at least we would like to believe that. The concern is beyond gender equality or women empowerment, it is threatening the very essence of Naga exceptionalism that Article 371A stands for and protects. On the other hand the state government seems to be also looking beyond women’s rights as their end goal is to bring Smart City (and the attached monetary benefits) as stated in a communiqué by a senior party member.
This imbroglio between the Tribal Apex bodies and the state government, with each side firm on their resolution to support or oppose has left the various towns of Nagaland in a deadlock. The act of excommunication has begun and the time for appeasement has passed. Nominations have been filed, with nil candidates in some towns. Time will tell what happens next. Thorough and inclusive deliberation is required. Understanding has to prevail and dialogue is the answer!