The recent development in Nagaland, where almost all political parties have extended unconditional support to the NDPP-BJP alliance, has raised concerns about the erosion of democratic values. The absence of an opposition in the government defeats the very purpose of democracy, which is to ensure that the ruling party is held accountable for its actions and policies.
After conclusion of the election process, the possibility of the Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) taking on the role of the opposition party in Nagaland is an opportunity to strengthen democracy in the state. However, it's indecisiveness in forming an opposition and its perceptible eagerness to join the ruling coalition is worrisome.
To put it into context, in December 19, 2022, the NCP National General Secretary, Narendra B Verma, told a press conference in Dimapur, that the NCP would contest in the state Assembly elections, and said the party was ready to tie up with any party not allied to the BJP.
At the time, he said that the NCP was looking for “like-minded and secular parties” for stitching together a pre-poll pact to go up against the BJP alliance. While maintaining that the party has no intention of allying with the BJP whatsoever, Verma had also questioned the development promises of the Prime Minister, and said that the people have lost faith in the BJP and its allies.
Less than 3 months later, it made a flip. With 7 seats, which is over the threshold to become the official opposition in the 14th Nagaland Legislative Assembly, the party appears to be hesitating. NCP remains worryingly indecisive on the role it wants to play in the Assembly, despite Verma’s earlier statement.
On March 5, Verma told reporters that the decision on whether the party would stay in opposition or form a government would be taken by the party’s high command, national president Sharad Pawar, in Delhi. As of Monday, nothing has been officially announced.
To understand the need for a strong opposition better, it is important to note that the concept of an opposition-less government is not new in Nagaland. Previously in 2015 and even recently in 2021, Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio managed to cobble up opposition-less governments— both times emphatically justifying the move by invoking their commitment to facilitate a final settlement to the Naga political issue—a logic defying stance considering that the state government is a nonentity in the political negotiations.
As of Monday, nothing has been said about the final settlement, nor was it even featured in the BJP’s manifesto for this general election.
In the mean time, the state of affairs crumbled in the state, particularly after July 2021 when the NPF, which had vehemently demanded probes into the ruling dispensation’s expenditures up until the first week of July, took a U-turn and joined the PDA.
Crucial issues including completion of infrastructural projects picked up pace or began only after a series of directives from the Court of Law based on PILs filed by individuals, civil society, etc., in addition to taking suo moto cognizance of various yet to be completed road projects.
Among others, issues related to the superannuation age for in-service doctors raised by the Nagaland In-Service Doctors’ Association, service regularisation of RMSA teachers and All Nagaland Adhoc Teachers' Group members, cropped and various forms of protests were held throughout 2022. The issues remain unresolved.
Given such state of affairs, the role of the opposition becomes even more significant. The NCP must position itself as a watchdog in the Assembly and play the role of a constructive opposition rather than go down in history as a spineless entity that had openly declared opposition to the BJP-led coalition and has now tucked its tail between its legs.
The decision of whether the party would stay in opposition or form a government should not be based on the interests of the party but on the welfare of the people who have elected them.
The formation of another opposition-less government in Nagaland must be viewed with caution as it can undermine the very foundations of democracy. It is high time that the elected representatives fulfil their responsibilities towards the people who have elected them and not just their personal interests. Democracy thrives on the voices of the opposition, and it is the duty of all elected representatives to ensure that it remains so.
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