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Kohima kerfuffle

Editorial |

The women’s reservation issue has convulsed Kohima, the capital of Nagaland, in the season of elections to the urban local bodies (ULBs). We do not know whether the violence and arson are embedded in an intrinsically misogynistic and patriarchal society; yet we do know that the spirited protests against a legislative quota for women has taken its toll on the state’s tryst with democracy, albeit confined to local governance which in itself is a critical facet of administration in under-developed North-East generally.

The Chief Minister, TR Zeliang, would appear to have played on the back foot after having announced a 33 per cent quota for women in the ULB polls. Palpably unnerved by the arson on the buildings housing at least 20 government offices and the establishment of the ruling Naga People’s Front, he has abrogated the polls held last week in ten towns despite the vehement opposition to women’s reservation, articulated by at least 15 Naga tribes.

Ergo, local governance is in limbo in a vast swathe of Nagaland in the midst of the confrontation between the tribals and the State. The crisis has escalated with the death of two agitators when the police fired in Dimapur.

To that can be added the demands for the resignation of the Chief Minister and his cabinet and the suspension of policemen who were involved in the firing last week. The tension across the state has escalated with the indefinite bandh called by the Angami Youth Organisation in the major towns of Kohima and Dimapur and the suspension of internet connectivity across the state.

As Nagaland festers, it is hard not to wonder whether the Chief Minister’s decision was somewhat unilateral not least because a 33 per cent quota for women in the urban local bodies must of necessity be cleared in the State Assembly.

A Chief Minister’s fiat cannot determine so sensitive an issue, so sensitive indeed that the more conservative tribal outfits consider women's reservation as an attempt to go against nature. The tribal groups have highlighted a fundamental flaw in Zeliang’s announcement on the eve of the elections. Which appears to have prompted the Governor to meet the members of the Nagaland Tribes Action Committee, an umbrella organisation that includes representatives of all the Naga tribes.

Raj Bhavan’s assurance that further action on the issue will be concordant with the Constitution would seem to suggest that the Chief Minister’s office had jumped the gun.

There was little or no attempt to take the electorate into confidence, let alone negotiate with tribal groups… restive even in normal circumstances. The subaltern is up in arms and almost literally so; the issue calls for far greater reflection than has been manifest.