How ‘Opposition-less’ Nagaland functions — No questions, only suggestions & praise

How ‘Opposition-less’ Nagaland functions — No questions, only suggestions & praise

Kohima/Dimapur: In November 2023, as the Nagaland assembly debated a historic bill that would clear the decks for municipal polls in the state after a gap of nearly two decades, it was Naga People’s Front (NPF) secretary general Achumbemo Kikon’s turn to speak.

Kikon, who represents the Bhandari constituency in the state assembly, had a suggestion regarding the bill, but to refrain from coming across as a voice of the Opposition, he qualified his remarks by stressing that he was merely placing a request on the floor of the House.

“The only thing which I would like to suggest… I don’t know whether I would be acting like Opposition but it is just a request, whether it can be accommodated,” Kikon said, wondering if MLAs could also have voting rights as government nominees in the civic bodies.

Kikon had a reason to measure his words. Months ago, the NPF, which contested the state assembly polls against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Nationalist Democratic Progressive Party (NDPP) coalition, had joined the ruling alliance, switching sides after the declaration of results, much like every other party that won seats in the 60-member assembly.

That left the Nagaland Legislative Assembly Opposition-less. In the 2023 elections, the NDPP and BJP won 25 and 12 seats respectively. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had emerged as the largest party in the Opposition with seven seats, while the National People’s Party (NPP) won five. The Lok Janshakti Party (Ram Vilas), the NPF and the Republican Party of India (Athawale) won two seats each. The Janata Dal (United) bagged one seat and four Independent candidates made it to the assembly.

The Congress, which is effectively the only Opposition party in the state now, failed to get any member elected in the last state polls, drawing a blank for the second time in a row.

While the arrangement has erased any scope for checks and balances that a democratic system offers, the elected legislators, cutting across parties, do not seem too bothered about its implications. Instead, from day one of the new government’s term, they have been at pains to project it as a boon for the larger cause of the Naga peace process.

Nagaland assembly records show that on 23 March last year, speaking during the motion of thanks on the governor’s speech, NPF legislature party leader Kuzholuzo Nienu said that he was “grateful reading the headlines” in the morning papers that Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio had hinted at forming an Opposition-less government.

“At the same time, while accepting our letter of support, an official announcement that an all-party government has been installed has not been made, so we don’t know where we are placed. We don’t know whether we are in the ruling [side] or in the Opposition. So, today, the NPF party thought we should play the role of a very proactive Opposition and that is why we have moved some amendments to this august House,” Nienu said.

That was the only occasion when the NPF sought to play the role of an Opposition in the House because the very next day, Rio announced that apart from the NPF, parties such as the NCP, the NPP, LJP, RPI, NPF, JD(U) and the independent MLAs had also extended their unconditional support to the government.

“Their support has ensured an Opposition-less government in Nagaland and none of the members are seated in the Opposition benches. Nagaland has once again sent out a positive message of unity and oneness,” Rio said.

Consequently, in the Nagaland assembly, on most occasions, the NDPP-BJP government mostly finds itself showered with praise. There are barely any heated exchanges of words and ideas, or walkouts, which are often considered ‘essential’ features of a functional legislature.

Participating in the discussion on the annual budget in March last year, MLAs across party lines focused more on thanking the CM for accepting their letters of support than offering any meaningful critique of the budget. Take, for instance, the speeches of LJP (Ram Vilas) MLA Naiba Konyak and NCP MLA P. Longon.

Saying “I am quite happy to be in the government”, Konyak went on to describe the budget, presented by the CM, who also holds the finance portfolio, as “one of the best budgets after the statehood of 60 years”. Longon also thanked Rio for his Opposition-less government announcement, saying it has become a necessity for an early solution to the Naga political issue, which refers to the unresolved tangles over the demands for a “sovereign Nagalim” that fueled a raging insurgency in the state for decades.

In 1997, the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak Muivah), one of the largest underground groups, signed a ceasefire agreement with the Centre. In 2015, it signed a framework agreement with the Union government under which talks for a final solution are ongoing. A parallel dialogue is also underway with seven insurgent groups called the Naga National Political Groups.

The politicians are also aware that the absence of the Opposition benches have not gone down well with many.

Nagaland minister C.L. John admitted on the floor of the House last year, “Earlier, on two occasions, we had an opposition-less government, but it did not all go well, and the public was also not happy with it.” But, he was quick to add, “The 14th House of the Nagaland Legislative Assembly is practically fulfilling the spirit of the democratic system of the Indian Constitution.”

The previous government, also led by the NDPP-BJP, had become Opposition-less midway in September 2021, after the parties, including the NPF, which had won as many as 25 seats in the elections, had extended support to the ruling alliance.

Speaking to ThePrint on the condition of anonymity, a well-known author from the state described the situation in Nagaland as “dystopian”. “The CM has everyone under his thumb. We are living in a dystopian system. Most of the MLAs won using unbridled money and they are beholden to the CM. There is no one to question or dare oppose him,” he said.

The discussion on the Nagaland Municipal Bill 2023, which was cleared by the assembly during a special sitting in November last year saw no one from the Opposition benches flagging the dropping of the clause that would have enabled the urban bodies to impose taxes on immovable properties, or reserve seats for women in the posts of chairpersons of such bodies.

A minister of the Nagaland government, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, pointed out that the Naga Students’ Federation has been opposing the palm oil cultivation drive in the state, but the issue has not figured in the assembly in the form of any debate or discussion so far.

“The NPF and NDPP do not see eye to eye on many issues. They fought the last general elections on two sides of the divide. The NPF was backing the Congress candidate in 2019. But, this time the workers of the two parties are having to work together. This is leading to fracas in some places, prompting the intervention of senior leaders,” he said.

A senior civil servant quipped that one unintended consequence of the Opposition-less form of governance was that the police can breathe free at most times. “Since there is no Opposition, there are no protests on the streets, requiring no planning or deployment of personnel like before. The police can be at peace.”

(Edited by Mannat Chugh)

Also Read: Focus on ‘neglected’ eastern Nagas to ‘beef parties’ — how BJP found its sweet spot in Nagaland


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