Friday, June 2, 2023

Memory Musings and what’s our undoing: Nagas are busy debating non-issues

Dr S C Jamir  
Former CM & Governor

Some people mix up governance with populism and rather cheap populism. I would like to start this piece by reminding young readers that at one point of time we had only three districts, namely, Kohima, Mokokchung  and Tuensang. If that was too less, we opted for seven and for a long that looked reasonable. But now we have 15 districts or mini districts – appeared to have been created just to satisfy parochial and tribal feelings which according to my view are decisions of an ill-advised political leadership. The future generation will have to review this decision caustically. But taking 15 districts into consideration, let us start debating the hot topic in Nagaland today Urban Local Body elections. I will avoid dwelling on matters which are sub judice. But I can of course refer to the obvious fact that while we have ‘15 mini districts’ where one cannot even think of town committees.  So, I wonder, how have we developed a knack for debating and discussing non-issues? The ‘urban local body’ concept is not very clear in Nagaland context and we are in intense mutual rivalry over how to conduct polls into these bodies. To drive my point, let me start with a reference to Municipal Corporation in other States in the country. This can help us ponder honestly where we actually stand today. I was Governor of Odisha for quite some time. So, with the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation ~ we have a total area of 186.89 sq km. There are 67 corporators and  importantly annual budget as in 2019-20 data was Rs 500 crore. The municipal area population is 8,55,535 and while Rs 395 was revenue receipt, the expenditure was Rs 379 crore. Now come to Chumoukedima where my present residence is. Even complete comparison data could not be ascertained. There are only 11 wards and total area is ~ 135,12,341.sq metre. This converted (to square km) is ~ 0.000135 Square Kilometres, resource nil. This is a miniscule area compared to the area I have mentioned above under Bhubaneswar municipal body. So where we stand; and are we justified to speak, debate and fight like these over what is being touted as the Urban Local Body elections. Today, we seem to have developed intolerance between men and women and both sides have jumped into battlefields. Here it may be relevant to talk about our past a bit. It is worth mentioning that all States in the country post-independence were constituted/reconstituted on the recommendation of the State Organisation Commission under the  chairmanship of Shri Fazl Ali. Whereas in respect to ‘Nagaland’, for the first time after independence a ‘State was created’ (1963) through a political negotiation between Naga People’s Convention and Prime Minister of India, Pt Jawaharlal Nehru. The statehood agreement was in fact agreed upon in 1960 itself and a special provision under Article 371 (A), the new State of Nagaland was “placed” under the Ministry of External Affairs. Unlike other tribal areas of the country, immediately after the Second World War, the people of Nagaland started to carve out a separate ‘homeland’ of our own. The Naga National Council (NNC), which was formed at Wokha in 1946, spear-headed the Naga political struggle for an ‘independent Nagaland’. It is worth mentioning that prior to the 1960 statehood agreement to which I was also a signatory, the first political arrangement was worked out between NNC and GoI in 1947 through the Sr Akbar Hydari Agreement or the Nine Point Agreement. There were certain disagreements on one key point in the Agreement. The controversial point was: “The Governor of Assam as the agent of the Government of Indian Union will have a special responsibility for a period of 10 years to ensure due observance of the Agreement. At the end of this period, the NNC will be asked whether they require the above agreement regarding the future of the Naga people.” Here came a crux. The interpretation of NNC was that after the ‘expiry’ of 10 years, the NNC will be free to choose their future which the Government of India did not agree with. Thus, the moot point is it must be noted that from the very beginning the ‘political status of Nagaland’ was different. In another yardstick, I must point that ‘arrangements’ made for Nagaland were according to ground realities. This is in reference to the number of 60 Assembly seats. The provision of Article 333 was made use of. This provision says each State shall consist of not more than 500 seats and ‘not less than 60’. Only at later statesman and Mizoram were allotted 40 seat-Assembly.
I may refer to yet another episode of my tenure as Chief Minister. The Village Panchayat Act was enacted by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He had invited all Chief Ministers of Northeastern States to seek our opinion on the Village Panchayat Act during the AICC session in Calcutta (Kolkata). The then PM Rajiv Gandhi was informed that Nagaland and a few other States decided to follow their traditional village functioning.  Accordingly, in Nagaland we have enacted the Village and Area Council Act. So the point I will be trying to lay emphasis on is that while some of these socio-legal battles have started haunting us, the truth is many finer aspects of politics and governance are not understood today. At times, we may blame New Delhi. That’s an easy route and also used by unscrupulous elements as ‘escape route’ but governance is a serious business and hence there has to be a proper planning and vision. These are now vanishing arts. The Government of the day in Kohima is perhaps clueless on how to run the administration. In 2016-17 a blunder was committed with regard to the ULB polls. We saw violence and there were casualties also. In 2022, without going into details, a whimsical Government and its legal officer gave an undertaking to the Supreme Court for holding the polls. The legal case in the highest court of the land gave us an opportunity in explaining the special political rights Nagaland has. This opportunity was wasted. If the Chief Minister of a State Government does not have the maturity to gauge public sentiment; there is something seriously erroneous. The tribal bodies have their reasons to take a stance. The womenfolk also have their understanding and rights. Both sides could be prejudiced and emotional and here the role of the State Government should have been like that of a benevolent guardian of a village or a large family. But it may be too much to expect from leaders and a Government whose hallmark has been to move from one pillar of failure to another post of disaster. To some Naga leaders, patriotism and duty of governance are confused with selfish goals of one or two individuals. If these became a substitute for a state-building or working towards high positive goals, we have problems at hand. Hence, for them to appease a few organisations in one week means creating new districts; on another occasion they could ‘encourage’ another pressure group to rush to Delhi for splitting Nagaland. Yet on a third occasion, they tried to appease the tribal bodies and repealed a law in the Assembly forgetting that the matter has been discussed and debated even before the Supreme Court. Thus the net earning is a notice of contempt of court. Does the Chief Minister still deserve to occupy his office? When the single most priority for those in power is to ensure mere survival, it is the common people who will have to suffer. Governance has gone for a toss in Nagaland. While in the past people sacrificed to achieve recognition that Nagaland is a ‘SPECIAL POLITICAL ENTITY’, for the new generation of leaders self-goals are the hallmarks.
Under the given situation and circumstances, the need to refashion the Urban Bodies befitting to Nagaland for which State Government should immediately appoint an Expert Committee to study all issues in-depth and prepare a model of Urban Bodies that would be feasible and workable both financially and administratively.
It is also be remembered by all stakeholders that the only competent authority to enact laws for the State is the Nagaland Legislative Assembly, hence, we are called upon to uphold the sanctity of this institution. Let the elected Government work out what is best for the people of Nagaland.