It’s ostensibly ‘all quiet’ in parts of Nagaland’s political firmament. September 11 saw the commencement of the 4-day 2nd session of the 14th Nagaland Legislative Assembly (NLA) at Kohima. Notable among them were: (1) Forest Conservation (Amendment Act, 2023: on which the NLA passed a resolution to apply the FCA Act 2023 in the State subject to the constitutional guarantees provided in Article 371(A) of the Constitution. (2) Uniform Civil Code: Interestingly, NLA Members actually called for passing a firm resolution rejecting it however Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio suggested appealing to the Central Government to ‘exempt’ Nagaland from the UCC. Rio’s argument was that the State Government being an ally of the BJP-led Government at the Centre, cannot oppose to the decision and policies of the Central Government, hence he suggested that the Assembly “unanimously adopt and pass a resolution for exemption from the proposed enactment of UCC in its application to the State of Nagaland”. (3) Nagaland Municipal Bill 2023: The NLA referred the newly tabled Nagaland Municipal Bill 2023 to a Select Committee for consideration and to bring about a consensus with all stakeholders before passing it as a law.
The public waited eagerly for the NLA’s decision on the three aforesaid bills however there is silence on the Assembly’s decisions so far. Apparently, for now either people seem to think that the Assembly made the right decisions or are on the ‘wait and watch’ mode. The FCA Act 2023 is a dicey one
because although more than 90% of land in this State is owned by the people ~ tribes, clans and individuals ~ and although Article 371 (A) protects the people’s ownership of land and its resources, we have seen the Central Government trying to impose Central laws on oil and natural gas exploration and extraction. In fact, allowing the ONGC to extract oil in a few areas of Nagaland ~ notably in Wokha district ~ over two decades ago and the attempt to restart the same in these and other areas is an ongoing controversial issue here. And, in this controversy, it is not just landowners claiming rights under Article 371 (A) but also our national political groups, which claim that nothing should be done till the Naga political issue is settled. The State Government, of course, underscores the imperatives of exploring and extracting our natural resources for ‘development’, as Nagaland has extremely limited revenue earning avenues but it cannot do much in the face of strong opposition from powerful tribal bodies. The controversial issue hangs in the air alive and well, as fears and apprehensions of losing control of our land and its resources, home and identity being swallowed by political expedience under the guise of revenue generation and development are real. While we need revenues and real development, fears of environmental and ecological devastation also loom large particularly because the Central and State Governments have not shown any indication of applying their minds on how to resolve this. The FCA is a case in point.
As regards the UCC, one would have preferred a firm resolution rejecting it because it would have underscored that the NLA is capable of thinking much beyond the State’s borders ~ on a national level for the nation’s varied and various communities and cultures are indeed India’s heart beat and our secularism’s soul. However, as mentioned above, our Chief Minister has not only displayed “narrow domestic walls” in his thinking but also preferred to place his party and power games much above that of elevating Nagaland to a higher plane of “that heaven of freedom” with the rest of country. Understandably, the general elections are just a few months away and when political fates are aligned to political powers-that-be, no one wants to upset apple carts but there is always something called the future and it is always this future that needs to be aspired and worked for and protected because “men may come and men may go” but some things “go on forever”.
Now, the Nagaland Municipal Bill 2023 ~ it may be recalled that a few months ago, the Nagaland Municipal Act of 2001 was repealed ~ and this in the midst of an ongoing suit in the Supreme Court due to tribal bodies and male-only civil societies’ vehement opposition to the 33% women’s reservation in our Urban Local Bodies (ULBs). The same bodies also vehemently opposed tax on land and properties of the repealed Act of 2001. That the NLA referred the newly tabled Nagaland Municipal Bill 2023 to a Select Committee for consideration and to bring about a consensus with all stakeholders before passing it as a law actually reflects the majority of Naga male’s mindset, attitudes and their deep entrenchment in the ways of life and living of the past. We have been living in villages as did our ancestors and till today the same customary laws, cultures and traditions prevail, which have not been disturbed. However, in time urban centres have also emerged and the rules are different. This opposition to women’s reservation and tax on land and property in urban centres indicate our men’s insistence on continuing village life in urban centres. Not surprisingly, in cities such as Dimapur and Kohima, unions of mother villages are formed and their members are still controlled under the same customary laws, cultures and traditions of mother villages. It is only physically we live in urban centres but otherwise we continue to live in our villages.
The Select Committee for Nagaland Municipal Bill 2023 will have to deal with these mindset, attitudes and deep entrenchment into the village past. While, nobody objects to practicing our customary laws, cultures and traditions per se, it is also imperative that we confront an increasingly urban Nagaland with the requisite tools of urban living, which entail inclusive representation and taxes. True, the State of Nagaland is a political creation but so are other States if we care to study the history and formation of States of Independent India. True also that some States were ostensibly created on the basis of language but then language is very much an effective political tool. The other ‘wall’ the Select Committee for Nagaland Municipal Bill 2023 will have to deal with our people’s mentality of being owed the world on a silver platter. Our people want everything gratis. Our people believe that we have a right not to pay for anything but that we ought to be paid for everything ~ from our votes to our cultural, traditional, social obligations. We give and do nothing for free but we want everything for free.
Yes, the 4-day 2nd session of the 14th NLA from September 11 to 14 would be considered ‘productive’ and ‘successful’ by the political class and the power-that-be here because things seem to go Kohima and Delhi’s way. But there wasn’t any doubt that it would go the way it did because in Nagaland we have an ‘opposition-less Government’ ~ more of a one-man show but that’s apparently the trend these days. Now we wait for Time to have its say.
(The Columnist, a journalist and poet, is Founding Editor, Nagaland Page. Published in the September 22, 2023 issue of Assam Tribune)