Remember this time last year?
395 candidates had filed nominations to contest elections to Urban Local Bodies in Nagaland State. If the election had been held on February 1, 2017, women would have helped in governing urban municipal councils. Policy based urban development would have been the order of the day. Alternatively, more women would have become part of a corrupt system.
The 33% reservation of seats for women, one of the clauses in the Nagaland Municipal Act, was not palatable to many apex institutions. The State refused to re-schedule elections, candidates were made to withdraw from the fray, people took over the streets, the State mismanaged the whole operation, violence broke out and the elections had to be called off. Instead of making it into governance, many women were made to step down from local level governance positions they had managed to fight for and win rights to. It remained unclear if Naga customary law and Article 371-A had won any battle.
If Naga people were pitted against their own government at the time, they are up against a much (much) bigger machinery this time. A set up that defines, and gives credence to, the Indian Union’s ‘constitutional democracy’ as well as helps maintain control over its federal structure— the State Assembly elections managed directly by the Election Commission of India.
A massive percentage of people partake in the Nagaland State Assembly elections—whether rigged, bought, sold—and this is used to showcase Nagaland’s allegiance to Indian democracy.
The Naga people have now stated that Indian elections cause chaos and disruption, apart from being a hindrance to a settlement to the Indo-Naga issue. Much like in a run up to elections to Urban Local Bodies, an umbrella of Naga apex bodies has been constituted to push for a settlement to the Naga national question before any more elections can take place to a State that was the result of a political agreement (16 points agreement).
Will they be able to stop elections to the ‘largest democracy of the world’ in favor of a just settlement to the Indo-Naga issue? Will India give up control over territories it has worked hard to govern without arriving at a settlement that is ‘logical, honorable and acceptable,’ first of all, to itself?
If 2017 is not to be repeated in 2018—polarizing society, unnecessary violence, increased disaffection towards the Indian State—the onus is on the Indian State to shed any superiority attitude, open up channels of communication about the feasibility of a solution before February 27, make transparent the nature and progress of the Indo-Naga peace process, create a space for harmony instead of the current showdown the scenario is headed towards. If any settlement proposed needs to be run through the Indian parliament as well as the Naga people before being finalized, and other such processes need to unfurl, this must be made adequately known to the people and representatives.
The space for peace and dialogue, not just with the Naga national groups but also with civil actors and common people, has been a hard won space. Losing this would mean going back 21 long years. What purpose would that serve?
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