Violence erupted in Nagaland on Tuesday evening as the state government pressed on with civic body polls in 12 town councils on Wednesday despite opposition from tribal groups. Two people were killed as the police opened fire on crowds in the town of Dimapur. Another 12 people were injured in clashes. The groups have been opposing the 33% reservation for women, which are being introduced for the first time in these polls.
The police commissioner of Dimapur also imposed Section 144 on the town, prohibiting the assembly of five or more persons. The order came after hundreds of youth took to the streets, armed with spears, daggers and catapults to register their protest against the polls and lightning bandhs were called in various towns on February 1. These include the state capital of Kohima, the commercial hub of Dimapur as well as Tuensang, Mokokchung, Tseminyu, Longleng, Phek and Wokha Town.
Civic polls in the state have been held up since 2004 on the issue of 33% reservation for women in urban local bodies, mandated by Article 243 (T) of the Constitution. Tribal groups argued that the reservations interfered with Naga customary laws and protections guaranteed to them under Article 371(A) of the Constitution.
Last year, after a long legal battle by the Naga Mother’s Association, a women’s group that had been fighting for the reservations, the state government had passed a legislation amending municipal laws and reintroducing quota for women.
On Monday and over the weekend, tribal bodies, under a joint coordination committee, had called for bandhs that shut down the state. Temporary calm was restored on Monday evening, after a truce brokered by the Nagaland Baptist Churches Council. Chief Minister TR Zeliang’s government appeared to give assurances that polls would be restored and the JCC called off the bandh.
The truce broke on Tuesday, as the government, following a directive issued by the Gauhati High Court, announced that polls would go ahead as scheduled. They would, however, be held in only in 12 of the 32 urban local bodies. Earlier in January, as many as 140 candidates had pulled out of the elections, threatened with social boycott and excommunication by tribal bodies. No nominations were filed in 10 municipalities and candidates won unopposed in three urban local bodies.