The Circus Starts Albeit Queries
The hurried announcement of the elections to the Municipal Councils and Town Councils is one that can be equated with the tactic of shock and awe and the biggest one applied so far by any ruling government in the state since statehood that both organisations and individuals are at a loss to react to it. The urgency to conduct the election is noteworthy since unlike other times in Nagaland, the government’s notification of December 21 has made everyone busy even during the winter break, a scene quite unlike Nagaland. The urgency was again more evident when the government was not even able to wait for the Governor’s assent to the Nagaland Municipal (Third Amendment) Bill 2016 that was earlier passed in the Assembly and went ahead with the notification.
The first political party to react to it was the state body of the India National Congress, the grand old party of India, that released its manifesto on December 27. With the move for one-third or 33% reservation for women from Scheduled Tribes in the municipal elections the party seems to increase its fortune using this card. It just may have made a chronological error when it criticised the then government for dragging the 33% women reservation issue in the State Assembly as it was its party that was in the ruling when the Assembly enacted the Nagaland Municipal Act 2001 without the provision for women reservation opposed to Article 243(T) of the constitution. Part IX A of the constitution which specifically is about the municipalities and Article 243(T) (women reservation of Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes) is contained in it. It became a part of the constitution after the Constitution (Seventy-Fourth Amendment) Act, 1992 and so it clearly was in force in 2001 when the Nagaland Municipal Act was passed in the Assembly.
The rest of the active political parties in the state is expected to join the bandwagon in the next few days and the ruling NPF party will be the most vocal to use to its advantage the reservation card since it revoked the Assembly resolution that had earlier set aside the Nagaland Municipal Act. Though it was in a hurry to reinstate the municipal Act, certain amendments were made and the most noteworthy will be the deletion of words “Scheduled Castes” from the Act with the reason that it is not applicable to the state of Nagaland. But it did not deliberate on why municipal seats should be reserved only for women of Scheduled Tribes in Nagaland as opposed to the very same Article 243(T) of the constitution that provides one-third (33%) reservation of seats for women from Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Castes. It may also be noted that the State itself currently has a general category Assembly Constituency. The courts will decide when a women from the scheduled caste community settled in Nagaland wants to contest on the reserved seats. There are also more what-if scenarios that our lawmakers in the ‘oppositions less’ government with more thinking heads were expected to discuss and deliberate but it seemed it was all done in a very hurried manner. With the centre announcing earlier budget session, the sooner the municipal elections are conducted, the poll prospects may be advantageous for the ruling party in the state for the forthcoming Assembly Elections in 2018.
Moreover, as it has been evident over the years that election is a time greatly awaited by the general public in the state. In addition to the din created by the whole debate on women reservation along with the sudden announcement and the start of poll process almost coinciding with the festive season, the public at present are not in a position to listen to any form of opposition to the conduct of elections. The civil societies may have missed the opportunity though they have earlier set a dateline for the government not to conduct the elections. So the State will usher in the New Year with the next political circus fully in motion that is expected to run till 2018.