Constitutional Governance: The Election Commission of India (ECI) under Article 324 of the constitution on January 18, 2018 announced the date for Nagaland State Assembly election to conduct on February 27, in conjunction to hold Assembly elections with the states of Tripura and Meghalaya respectively. The irreversible countdown, unless otherwise implied, set in motion high constitutional bearings and machinery on the poll bound states along with those candidates hinging the fray. It was resolute for the commission, signifying constitutional sanction with residuary powers even on Parliamentary rulings, so that any such disputes are not entertained by the commission; they are to be settled only by the High courts and the Supreme Court of India. Nagaland has questioned the indiscriminate standings of the Union government’s failure to coordinate with the ECI for deferring polls on the state. The situation has drawn flak on the election front, resulting a record massive slamming from Naga bodies against what may be termed “unsurprising heedless respond of the Indian state towards the people”. Dismay over the government’s insensibility was paramount while reflecting the fervent appeals put legitimately for deferring polls were treated imprudently. The Nagaland Assembly in this regard had adopted a resolution on December 13, 2017, urging the Union government to expedite steps for election rescheduling and exercise political measures at resolving the people’s sustained crisis. The House decision was legally processed to the Election Commission of India, duly corresponding reasons and situations in this respect. The initiative was backed by all institutional spectrums of the government, public, political parties and concerned entities towards routing a likeable path for solution. It appeared however no section of the Union government tried responding to the representations until broadly conveyed through the versions of constitutional demand for election.
Electoral history in India was marked by periodic interfaces of rescheduling and interruptions, which the commission does acknowledge its cogency with inference to constitutional standing of the People’s Representation Act 1951/52. Regular elections in the country were not held in 1976 as an aftermath of national emergency promulgated by the Centre in 1975. Exercising caution, constitutional amendment was made prominent of all reasons which might arise to prevent regular conduct of elections. Notwithstanding the past situations and other factual circumstances running to present times, the Constitution of India recognizes the validity of acceptable interruptions of elections. The prerogative of the Central leadership is taken on focus, on permissible role of finalizing terms with the ECI and its allegiance for smooth government. It often invites critics of the Centre’s otherwise practices in election rescheduling for ulterior motives. A recent instance of deferring Gujarat Assembly election by the ECI in 2017 is testimony to such influence by the Centre. A former election commissioner while commenting the affair to The Wire remarks the Prime Minister’s visit set for October 16 in Gujarat, as the reason of postponement. It spurred sharp criticism from various quarters and political parties. The correspondent quoted a commendable feedback from the CPI (M) stating – “It is strange that the election commission has announced the date of election for Himachal Pradesh Assembly while withholding the announcement of date for Gujarat Assembly elections…. The Model Code of Conduct is now enforced for Himachal but not for Gujarat. The Chief Election Commissioner has announced that the Gujarat polls will be held before the results of Himachal Pradesh elections are declared on December 18. This is even stranger if Gujarat Assembly elections are to be completed before December, and then the Model Code of Conduct must be applicable to that state as well.”
Democratic Claims, Inadequate Realities: These evidences apprehend the Indian state’s dismissive attitude on proposals which were demanded to appreciate the urgency in Nagaland. The causality of actions evenly trace to structural nuisance. Disapproving the government’s approach to justify laws that appears inadequate and unfriendly to the people, the contending avenues have become for the people a necessary attribution against the state. Skirmishes of misconduct by the government and its ensuing institutional monopoly have affected trust which Naga people would look on the Indian republic with hope. All these outcomes hardly square with the Indian state’s declared commitment to democratic functioning. Indeed, the hype about democracy obscures the imposition of what can be called a “structured democracy” that denies rightful participation to certain sections of the nation. Commitment to the people as promised by Prime Minister Modi during his visit to Nagaland on 1st December 2014 would require human component and such aspects of realizing democratic values in governance. The absence of these elements has witnessed intermittently, levels of injustices on the marginalized, like the Naga community, to go diluted in the twilight of India’s roaring consent- rule of the powerful. To take matter worse, India holds a disdain record of flaunting democratic claims without making it accountable for the historical blunders and military attrition imposed on the people. Cautioning their experiences with the state of India, Naga people are more critical of the government’s perceived negligence to the nation’s long drawn crisis. Failed pursuits at resolution have further hardened doubt on government’s attitude towards the issue. Confrontations between state and the people driving the cause and between various stake holders thus run strenuous day by day. The governmental attempts seemed rather simplified in resolving the ‘Naga activism’ and were met with difficulties since they overlooked their complexities. As for the government, it tried to tackle the problem with separate attempt to term the form of revolt and organization as anti-national, thereby screening it down from the preferred list of governmental attention. The governmental engagements and approaches were limited when compared against the multifarious dimensions of issues holding crucial to the people’s interests. The Nagaland Chief Minister T.R Zeliang reiterated objective of the Assembly resolution December 2017 that pursuing the Centre for an acceptable solution would ensure Nagas to enjoy their due democratic rights and function as a more empowered electorate even during elections.
Enduring Remarks: It was not more competent for the government of India to look for solution even while outside election factors. The confidence of people and momentum for talks with the government may not be desirable after reshuffling stake holders in the state with election. The judgment would not evaluate a faithful lapse of administration. It reasonably encloses alarm for India not to credit Naga’s hinted nationalism to have affected election on record. Naga’s frustrations with the Indian government which have included opposition against conducting elections are to be understood as percolation of India’s brute state towards rightful pursuits. Interestingly, while democratic upsurges and their impatient hordes against government’s attitude/inaction in India surmount, the Naga cause and its emanating issues have attracted fairly thin solidarity from political classes of the nation. Given the “unsolicited state response” into the people’s grave concerns, there is obvious need to confound against such governmental framework. While elections are indispensable for the government, the confusion in Nagaland has further propelled tension by political parties fearing constitutional penalty for endorsing election boycott as had witnessed in the past. Major Parties like the NPF and BJP have recalled their boycott Pact merged under the aegis called Core Committee of Naga Tribal Hohos and Civil Organizations (CCNTHCC) and have sounded their poll bugle. The situation is unlikely to cool down in view the Core Committee’s strong backing and determination to brace the cost of protest which might turn critical though. This very setback of “democratic impropriety” harped upon India’s political gimmick has affected deep confrontations in the Naga society. The crisis therefore with election despair, as critiqued, postures a glaring act of unsparing tricky-maneuvering, the great Indian ‘tamasha’. The course of po litics rolls without ease, heeding increasingly crucial with the approach of Parliamentary elections for the Lok Sabha facing next year- 2019, apart from daunting “citizenship rights” of the neighbouring states connecting Nagaland.
History shall tell about India’s account on Nagaland, enveloping from it the volatility of elections which were sensed as “forced errors” fundamental of faltering Naga’s quest with the government of India.
(The writer is UGC Senior Research Fellow, Department of Political Science, University of Delhi)