Identity or progress?

Imkong Walling

If the Urban Local Body (ULB) elections take place as scheduled on June 26, 2024, it will be the first in a long, long while in Nagaland. An entire generation has come of age since December 2004, when the state last witnessed local body elections, with the exception of the Mokokchung Municipal Council (MMC).

The provision for property tax in the erstwhile Nagaland Municipal Act of 2001 led landowners to vehemently oppose the MMC polls. In 2006, an amendment to the Act incorporated a provision for reserving 33 percent of seats for women in the ULB. Some 4 years passed when around 2010, the tenure of the 2004 batch ended in anticipation of fresh elections.

The elections did not happen while hostility to conducting the ULB polls with seats reserved for women grew stronger, culminating with the violent showdown in 2017. The issue of property taxation apparently became secondary at that time.

Another failed bid in 2023 had the state government scrapping the 2001 Act and enacting a new one without incorporating a provision for property taxation but with seat reservation for women intact. Omitting the taxation provision was apparently a tradeoff. Guess not having to pay property tax for ages is a better choice than temporarily reserving seats for women in the municipal bodies.

The pulse at present seems to suggest that the ULB elections are on schedule. While that is an encouraging sign, on a discouraging note, there has been no noise on what the ULB should have been doing. No one, not a single civil society organisation, seems to be recalling the intent and purpose of electing municipal/town councils vis-à-vis improving urban living spaces and essential amenities. Only two political parties have addressed civic amenities as a key issue since the announcement of the ULB polls three weeks ago. But political parties, driven largely by electoral motives, have a history of bringing up development concerns only in the lead-up to polls.

Remember that an entire generation, a bulk of which would not have come across an elected local body, has turned into adults and will be voting. 

Instead of focusing on discussions about improving urban infrastructure, service delivery, sustainable urban practices, fair electoral practice, transparency and accountability, other unrelated issues are being championed.

Just when it seemed that the biggest obstacle had been resolved, new issues arise. The Naga Students’ Federation (NSF), in their recent media statement, invoked terms such as ‘inclusivity’ and ‘democratic ethos,’ yet simultaneously adopted a contradictory stand, alienating Naga women married to non-Nagas and dismissing adoption. Nagaland is a Naga majority state, but it also includes non-Naga indigenous minority communities, who, by virtue of being classified as indigenous, can contest elections. Democratic ethos also necessitates coming to terms with the concept of naturalisation and apportioning electoral space to resident minorities, who need not necessarily be indigenous. 

The writer is a Principal Correspondent at The Morung Express. Comments can be sent to