T.R. Zeliang’s exit as Nagaland CM must not scotch the promise of a women’s quota
Going against the status quo to take a progressive decision is always a difficult endeavour in politics or in government. Such decisions yield enthusiastic support from those in favour of change; at the same time, they invite strong responses from reactionary sections. The right thing to do for any politician seeking to embark on change is to not give in to resistance after making the decision. T.R. Zeliang, who recently stepped down as the Chief Minister of Nagaland, had taken the bold decision to conduct long-pending urban local body elections on February 1 with 33% reservation for women in accordance with the 74th Amendment to the Constitution. The move, predictably, resulted in strong opposition from tribal groups who sought to use the issue of Naga autonomy as a ploy to resist it. Mr. Zeliang should have stuck to his government’s order and sought more public acceptance by rallying the many in favour — in particular, Naga women who would have finally got their constitutionally mandated stake in local governance. Instead, he chose to take a U-turn and termed the implementation of the decision as “null and void”, emboldening tribal organisations to demand his resignation. Following a series of agitations by two tribal groups, the Joint Coordination Committee and the Nagaland Tribes Action Committee, Mr. Zeliang finally resigned, but not before some drama was played out in the ruling Naga People’s Front.
It was clear that Mr. Zeliang was being pressured to resign not just by status quoists among tribal groups but also by his rivals in the NPF. Some legislators were seeking the return of the former Chief Minister and MP, Neiphiu Rio, who had been suspended from the party last year on grounds of “anti-party activities”. Immediately, in what is now becoming a routine act in Indian politics following any intra-ruling party intrigue, the legislators were taken to a resort in Kaziranga and confined there to prevent defections. Fearing a split, Mr. Zeliang resigned, and the party’s senior leader and supremo Shurhozelie Liezietsu was nominated as the 11th Chief Minister of the State by 42 of the 49 NPF legislators. Just before Mr. Liezietsu was sworn in on Wednesday the agitation was called off by the tribal organisations, signalling an end to this round of turmoil. But the NPF-led coalition under the leadership of Mr. Liezietsu has its task cut out. It has to clearly assert its authority as the ruling establishment in the State. It must also focus its energies on the Naga peace process, which remains unresolved despite the reported signing of an accord between the Centre and insurgent groups in 2015.