Another momentous election awaits

Moa Jamir

The polling day for the forthcoming general elections to the 14th Nagaland Legislative Assembly is fast approaching, and political parties are making utmost attempt to woo voters before the penultimate day of campaigning on February 25. The cacophonies of the poll bugle, however, drown out another significant development, which will most possibly occur right after the conclusion of the current electoral process. The issue is the contentious elections to urban local bodies (ULBs) in Nagaland, with mandated constitutional provisions for women.

In its latest order on February 13, the Supreme Court of India directed the Nagaland State Election Commission (SEC) to notify local body elections and place the official notification before the Court during the next hearing dated March 14. Presumably, if the SEC complies with the apex court's direction, a notification would be issued after March 3, the official date for the completion of the current electoral process for the 14th NLA.

In no uncertain terms, the apex court bench comprising of Justice SK Kaul, Justice Manoj Misra, and Justice Aravind Kumar stated that the bench does not appreciate the stand taken in the affidavit filed by the State of Nagaland "where a picture is sought to be painted of threat and violence." "Local elections with reservations of women cannot be postponed under such threats. The elections have to be held," the bench asserted.

The apex court was resuming the hearing of a plea filed by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) and others relating to ULBs election in Nagaland, including the challenge to an NLA's resolution dated September 22, 2012, exempting the operation of Part IXA of the Constitution of India, which mandates 33% reservation for women, in Municipalities and Town Councils of the State.

Despite such strong observations and directions, however, the State Government is known to "defy" or play delaying tactics on the issue. A perusal of orders passed by the Supreme Court during the past year affirms such a conclusion. For instance, on February 22, 2022, the apex court faulted the "lackadaisical attitude" of the Government of Nagaland in implementing the women reservation in the ULBs and observed: "An important aspect of gender equality seems to be getting postponed, and a decade has passed in that regard."

During the next hearing on April 12, the counsel for the Nagaland State informed the Court that a resolution has been adopted at the consultative meeting held on March 9, 2022, stating, "The elections to the Urban Local Bodies (ULB) should be conducted as per the 74th Amendment Act of the Constitution of India." "In view thereof, there is now no impediment to holding of the elections providing for reservation for women," the Court then observed.

However, on July 14, the Supreme Court once again pulled up the Nagaland Government over the delay in notifying the elections in ULBs and rejected another submission by the SEC two weeks after "seeking to once again effectively postpone holding of elections."

"We have clearly put to them that the election process has to be completed, and results declared before the end of January 1, 2023," the July 29 order stated, listing a compliance report in February 13, 2023.

Evidently, the order was not followed through, and thus, the February 13 direction. Accordingly, while another momentous election awaits, the pertinent question remains as to whether the Nagaland Government is serious and sincere about the constitutional mandate and implementing the imperative policy mechanism to facilitate and allow over 50% of its populace to positively participate in the progress of the society. 

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