The results of the 2023 general election to the 14th Nagaland Legislative Assembly (NLA), held on February 27, can truly be termed as historic, despite several misgivings regarding the electioneering process in the state. The significance of the occasion is not the possibility of the incumbent Chief Minister assuming the office for the record fifth time but ending the long wait for women's representation in the state assembly and formal decision-making processes.
As the counting of votes for the general elections gathers pace on March 2, two women prevailed over several barriers and challenges that prevent women's access to political leadership. Hekhani Jakhalu and Salhoutuonuo Kruse, both from the Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP), scripted history on March 2 by winning their respective assembly seats and earning membership in the 14th NLA. Needless to say, while a total of 25 women contenders have contested in the state assembly elections over the years since 1969, their foray into the state decision-making body remained unsuccessful until this year. It is also the first time for women to be directly elected in parliamentary or assembly elections in Nagaland after Rano M Shaiza in 1977, who won membership in the Lok Sabha, the Lower House of the Indian Parliament.
The celebration of the historic mandate, however, must be just the stepping stones for expanding other frontiers of political participation for women, from the grassroots to the highest decision-making body in the state. To this end, it is imperative that the period of great opportunity and enthusiasm must be positively harnessed into opening more avenues in politics. In a level playing field, women in Nagaland have shown that they are equally capable, if not more so than men. The momentous entry of women into the Assembly should pave the way for required reforms and course correction.
Meanwhile, the overall mandate suggests a divided polity in the state, with voting patterns depending more on other dynamics than the political ideologies and principles of a party. In addition, while the ruling NDPP-BJP alliance has secured a majority to form the next government, both parties have not improved much upon their previous tally in 2018 and lack a decisive mandate. Besides, the results also suggest a possibility of another 'opposition-less' or ineffective opposition in the Assembly, and the people continue to be deprived of the full benefits of regularly held elections. A strong and vibrant opposition, as well as good governance, is the need of the hour.
Accordingly, the positive outcome concerning women's representation should also not cloud the fact that Nagaland needs a revolution to transform the whole process of electioneering. Several efforts to 'cleanse' the system so far have not resulted in desired outcomes. The election authority must address several concerns raised in the aftermath of the elections, instead of being 'satisfied' with evidently inflated and tampered voter turnout.
The general populace and those at the helms of affairs need to ponder and decide whether future elections are based on key issues and ideological stance, rather than monetary or other considerations. For starters, this involves good governance, accountability, and delivery of services at all levels, as well as economic empowerment to ensure that candidates contest elections without any encumbrance while voters choose to elect their representatives based on issues, ideology, and capability, and not other considerations. A long wait ends, but another remains.
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