Much of Nagaland shut down on Saturday following a call by tribal organisations to protest against urban local body (ULB) elections scheduled for February 1. The strike will continue till election day with a day-long respite on Sunday.
The strike is in retaliation to the Nagaland cabinet’s decision on Friday night to go ahead with the ULB polls. Tribal NGOs have been against the polls because 33% reservation of seats for women across the state’s 32 municipal and town councils.
“Though the strike is from 6 am to 6 pm till February 1, there will be no strike on Sunday,” said a spokesman of the Joint Coordination Committee (JCC), the umbrella body of several tribal organisations.
Sunday is when most people in the Christian-majority Nagaland head for the church.
The JCC had earlier called the strike from January 27 but deferred it after chief minister TR Zeliang invited the tribe hohos (associations) for a discussion that went nowhere.
“After discussing at length the appeals made by various organisations for deferment of the municipal elections, the cabinet decided that the elections cannot be deferred and shall be taken to the logical conclusion as per provision of the law,” Himato Zhimomi, commissioner and secretary to Zeliang, said in signed statement on Friday night.
“We had no alternative but to impose the strike against the ULB polls where quota, and not capability, has decided the candidature of women,” the JCC spokesman said.
The Nagaland ULB polls have not been held for more than 10 years because traditional tribal bodies that do not provide space for women in local administration were opposed to it.
But Zeliang’s Naga People’s Front (NPF) government is determined to hold the polls to convey the message that the state and Nagas as a whole are not against empowering women.
“The world is moving towards greater gender equality, and there is no reason why women in Nagaland should not be given an opportunity to show their administrative capability starting with local bodies,” NPF president Shurhozelie Liezietsu said.
Nagaland has had no woman legislator since it became a state in 1963.
There have been reports of people having been armed with catapults, sticks and other crude weapons for a possible showdown with security forces. Groups of volunteers have also been organised by JCC to lay siege to administrative buildings and block key traffic junctions.
The government, sensing violence, has sought the services of central paramilitary forces besides putting the state police and commandos on high alert. Besides restrictions on large public gathering, mobile phone data and broadband services in Nagaland are expected to be down from 5 5 am of January 29 to 10 pm on February 1, the day of polling.
Meanwhile, the Joint Action Committee on Women Reservation (JACWR) has appealed to the tribal organisations to let the ULB polls be held without further hiccups. “If the municipal polls are held peacefully, we will withdraw the single leave petition (in the Supreme Court, seeking reservation for women),” Abeiu Meru, JACWR convenor, said.
The SC’s interim order based on the petition made the Nagaland government adopt a resolution in the 60-member assembly to hold the ULB polls. The process was started on December 21 last year.
In the face of opposition, intimidation and threat of exile, candidates in only 26 of the state’s 32 civic bodies filed nominations. A total of 535 candidates including 188 women had filed their nominations. But by January 17, 140 of the candidates had withdrawn their nominations under pressure, leaving 395 in the fray. Nagaland election officials have not specified how many of the 140 who withdrew are women.
Of the contestants standing, 17 have been excommunicated. All belong to the Ao community, considered among the most progressive of Naga tribes.