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Unrest in the hills

Print edition : Feb 01, 2008 T+T-

Nagaland comes under Presidents Rule after a political crisis stretching over nearly seven months.

in GuwahatiTHE SCENIC LANDSCAPES

NAGALAND was brought under Presidents Rule for the fourth time, on January 3, after the seven-month-long political drama climaxed in the Legislative Assembly on December 13 when the House met to take up a no-trust motion against Neiphiu Rios Democratic Alliance of Nagaland (DAN) government. The constituents of the DAN are the Nagaland Peoples Front (NPF) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The motion was sponsored by the Congress-led Nagaland Progressive Alliance (NPA).

Presidents Rule was imposed in Nagaland earlier on three occasions, in 1975, 1987 and 1992.

Thirty-one legislators stood up and shouted Ayes to the no-confidence motion and 23 legislators in the Treasury Benches shouted No. Speaker Kiyanielie Pesiye twice announced Noes have it and ruled that the motion was defeated by 23 votes to 19. He did not count the Ayes shouted by nine NPF legislators who had crossed over to the Opposition side, defying a party whip. Three independents had been debarred from voting.

All the 31 legislators who shouted Aye 17 from the Congress, two from the Janata Dal (United), three independents and nine NPF rebels called on Governor K. Sankaranarayanan to claim that the government had been defeated by 31 votes to 23. They demanded that the government should be dismissed and staked their claim to form the new government. When the Governor did not concede their claim, they travelled to New Delhi and met President Pratibha Patil.

Nagaland has been witnessing violent factional clashes between the militant National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) and the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) despite ceasefire agreements signed by both the outfits with the Centre. The latest political turmoil started on May 30 last year when 22 MLAs from the DAN informed the Governor in writing that they had withdrawn support to the Neiphiu Rio government. They also staked the claim to form the new government under Z. Obeds leadership.

On the very next day, 10 of the 22 MLAs told the Governor that they now reaffirmed their support to Neiphiu Rios leadership and that their signatures should be verified against those on a petition they had signed in 2004. Amid this confusion, Huska Sumi of the JD(U), a constituent of DAN, accused the ruling alliance of indulging in horse-trading and misuse of funds and Z. Obed accused it of forcing 10 MLAs to withdraw their signatures.

All this pointed to activities that are not in the best interests of democracy and governance, observed the Governor in his report to the Centre. The crisis deepened in September when four NPF MLAs, Z. Obed, K. Therie, Yeangphong and Vatsu Meru, resigned from the Assembly, bringing down the effective strength of the 60-member House. On the same day, independent MLA Kutovi withdrew support to the government. A series of resignations and defections followed.

On November 27, Works and Housing Minister Shri Tokeho resigned from the Cabinet and two independent MLAs, Shri P. Chuba and Jongshilemba, withdrew support to the ruling alliance. The next day, Kaito was sworn in, in place of Tokeho. On December 1, Forest Minister Kheto resigned; in his place, Doshehe Y. Sema was sworn in on December 3. Also on December 1, K. Hollohon resigned as Parliamentary Secretary and in his place Hukavi was sworn in.

All these actions pointed to growing instability in the Assembly and also a situation where members elected by people were going by self-interest rather than interest of the people they represent and that too just a few months before the Assembly Elections, according to the Governor.

A day before the no-trust motion was taken up, six NPF MLAs Hukavi, Nkhao Lotha, Kipili Sangtam, Hewoto, Tharie and Kihoto Hollohon submitted their resignations from the Assembly. Some of these six were among the MLAs who signed the petition on May 30 and later withdrew their signatures. On December 13, Kheto submitted his resignation from the Assembly.

The Opposition moved a no-confidence motion in the one-day Assembly session on December 13. The Assembly, now 55-member-strong, had the following composition on that day: NPF 28; BJP four; independents on the side of the ruling alliance one; Congress 17; JD(U) two; and independents on the side of the Opposition three. During voting, however, nine NPF MLAs (including seven who had resigned earlier) stood up and said Aye to the motion; so did the three independent MLAs. Twenty-three MLAs (18 of the NPF, four of the BJP and one independent) voted against the motion. However, the Speaker did not count the votes of the independent MLAs and the nine rebel NPF MLAs and ruled that the motion had been defeated by 23 votes to 19.

However, the nine rebel NPF MLAs could not join another political group without attracting provisions of the anti-defection law. Thus the effective strength of the Opposition remained 22. Subsequently, the Speaker accepted the resignations of seven of the nine NPF legislators. The other two could not join the Opposition group led by the Congress. The Governor observed that the NPA, with a total strength of 22 members, was not in a position to form a stable government. The State government, however, was reduced to a minority. When the Speaker accepted the resignations of the seven NPF MLAs on the night of December 13, the effective strength of the Assembly was reduced to 48. Even then, the ruling alliance had the support of only 23 MLAs. On December 17, a Congress MLA resigned.

This series of defections and resignations have really plagued the government. If a government is continuously trying to placate its MLAs by giving them ministerial berths and other portfolios, then it is clear that the group of MLAs who are together forming a government are not bound by ideology and principles but by mere lure of office. Such manipulations and machinations by elected members will never allow a government to focus on development and administration. This seriously jeopardises the developmental process as also the interests of the citizens, the Governors report said.

Chief Minister Neiphiu

Raj Bhawan was of the view that no stable Ministry could be formed from the present Assembly, which has as many as 13 vacant seats and has seen a series of defections and resignations. A government should run on the principles enshrined in the Constitution and any attempt to manipulate a majority by interpreting constitutional law arbitrarily amounts to making a mockery of the Constitution itself. Any government, if formed from the present legislature, will only result in unprincipled defections with lure of office and is not likely to provide stable governance. This would be a very dangerous situation in any State, more so in Nagaland, which has special security needs and is due for elections in just about two-three months. Fresh elections, due in February-March 2008, will lead to a stable Legislature and a stable Ministry. In view of this, there was no option left but to impose provisions of Article 356, in order to be fair to both the parties and give a chance to the people of the State to elect a government democratically as per their wishes, said the Governor, while explaining the circumstances leading to the imposition of Presidents Rule in a radio broadcast from Kohima a day after the presidential proclamation was issued.

The NPF, which termed imposition of Presidents Rule as murder of democracy and as a move politically motivated to suit Congress intention has already challenged it in the Guwahati High Court and engaged former Attorney General Soli J. Sorabjee to argue its case. The court has issued notices to both the Centre and the Nagaland government and posted the case for hearing on February 5.

Congress Legislature Party (CLP) leader I. Imkong said that the DAN had murdered democracy by clinging on to power despite its defeat in the no-trust motion. He dismissed the NPF charge that his party was responsible for the imposition of Presidents Rule. He said Presidents Rule was a natural corollary of the constitutional crisis that arose after the DAN lost the vote of confidence.

The Congress has been lobbying for Central rule in Nagaland on the grounds of deterioration in law and order. It has been citing the growing incidents of factional clashes between the NSCN (IM) and the NSCN (Khaplang) and a spurt in extortion activities of extremists. It apprehended that if the NSCN (IM) were not reined in by security forces ahead of the Assembly polls, the party would not be able to recapture power in Kohima. The Congress has been accusing the NPF of being soft on the NSCN (IM) on the basis of the policy of equi-closeness on Naga political issue adopted by the Rio government. Immediately after losing the 2003 polls, the Congress alleged that in at least 11 Assembly constituencies the results were influenced by the underground outfit.

Immediately after the imposition of Presidents Rule, the Governor initiated moves to improve law and order and revive the peace process. In a series of meetings, he directed the State police chief and other police officers to get the emergency number of 100 functional in all districts so that people could report any incident affecting law and order immediately. He also directed the Deputy Commissioners and Superintendents of Police to maintain close coordination with each other and with civil society to ensure that there were no factional clashes anywhere. The Governor said his endeavour would be to give to the citizens a government that is SMART Simple, Moral, Accountable, Responsive and Transparent.

The NPF and the BJP have made the imposition of Presidents Rule a major poll plank for the Assembly polls, which the alliance will fight under Rios leadership. It is also carrying on its legal battle against New Delhis intervention and the dismissal of the DAN government.

The Congress camp is still undecided on a chief ministerial candidate in the event of the party high command deciding not to bring back into State politics the charismatic former Chief Minster S.C. Jamir, who is now the Governor of Goa.