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Nagaland - Governance

Naga traditional life revolved around the village. The notion of electing leaders was alien; leaders were recognised and accepted for their qualities and abilities through an informal but stringent process. The formation of Nagaland State in 1963 was a critical step in the evolution of Nagaland, which gave the people the opportunity for peace, stability, accelerated investment and economic development. The Naga people have had a very distinct and complex relationship with modern democracy. So far, they have participated in ten general elections, and seen 17 chief ministers.

Naga traditional life revolved around the village. The family, clan, khel and village represented the extent of a Naga’s concern, and there was very little inter-village, and even less inter-tribe, interaction. The village was the highest political unit and the sameness of culture and shared concerns for security gave a broad common framework of meaning and loosely held the members of the tribe together. Because of this, the term ‘village-state’ is often used in contradistinction with the Greek ‘city-state’.

Not surprisingly, a person’s identity was inseparable with that of his family, clan, khel and village. Inter-village feuds were very common because the village would avenge any wrong committed against a member by a person from a different village, and any member of the culprit village was a target in seeking vengeance. Within the village, a culture of caring among fellow villagers was assiduously nurtured and the bonds of kinship were usually very strong in the village. Duties and responsibilities to family, clan, khel and village were stressed almost to the exclusion of individual rights. Individual feats were mostly for social acclaim and to please the gods. For instance, a successful hunter did not partake of his own kill. It would be distributed to kinsmen and relatives, especially the womenfolk and the old, while the hunter would be prepared some other food.

Commenting on the unusual nature of the tribes, Verrier Elwin said, ‘Naga society presented a varied pattern of near-dictatorship and extreme democracy. There was a system of hereditary chieftainship among the Semas and Changs. The Konyaks had very powerful Chiefs or Angs, who were regarded as sacred and whose word was law. The Aos had bodies of elders who represented the main family groups in the village and the Angamis, Lothas, Rengmas and others are so democratic that noted writer, J.H. Hutton, has remarked that in the case of the Angamis, it is difficult to comprehend how, in view of their peculiar independence of character, their villages held together at all before the coming of the British Government.’

The Naga tribesmen violently and bitterly resisted the authority of the British until the fall of Khonoma village in 1880. Thereafter, the British gradually established their administration over a sizeable area of Naga territory. However, the British largely left the Nagas alone so long as they did not create trouble. The British administration did not extend to all Naga tribes and those Nagas who remained outside British administration were referred to as ‘Free Nagas’ in the ‘Unadministered Areas’. Among these ‘Free Nagas’ are the various tribes in present-day Mon and Tuensang districts of Nagaland. British relations with these tribes were confined mainly in preventing them from creating trouble for the administration. This and the fact that they were later grouped under the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), until 1957, were major causes for their late start in the development process and this is why Mon and Tuensang are, today, more backward than the rest of the State.

Nagaland emerged as a State, from out of the Naga Hills district of Assam and NEFA province, in 1963. This late start meant that the State lost out on the benefits of the first three Five Year Plans. In the past four decades there has been remarkable extension of the administrative reach to the far-flung corners of Nagaland. Today, in partnership with the State Government, Village Councils are an important component of modern governance system in Nagaland. While the District Planning and Development Boards provide the needed flexibility to ensure a responsive and holistic approach towards development for the district, linkages to the grassroots through the Village Development Boards have been established for delivering the rural developmental objectives.

The present administrative framework in Nagaland is essentially similar to that in other states of the country. However, within this larger framework, Nagaland has distinct characteristics, imparting uniqueness to the governance experience in the State. Article 371 (A) of the Indian Constitution remains a cornerstone to policy making in the State, and has ensured protection and preservation of the unique traditions and customary laws of the State. On the other hand, it has also contributed to depriving the State of economic benefits of institutional credit, inflow of private investment, etc.

A major strength that contemporary Naga society has inherited is the 'social capital' that has stemmed out of traditional institutions and practices. There is strong social bonding and community spirit, and absence of caste and social discrimination. The State has initiated the unique concept of Communitisation of public institutions and services in order to build partnership between Government and the people through delegation of management responsibilities to the community so that the performance of the public utilities improve. The Nagaland experience of Communitisation is the first in the world.

Thus, with the introduction of Village Councils, the Village Development Boards, and Communitisation of essential services in the areas of health, education, power, rural tourism, rural water supply, etc., the Government is gradually reserving for itself the role of facilitator and enabler. With this, the ‘trickling down’ concept of development has been effectively abandoned and it is hoped that there would be a ‘bubbling up’ of development from the grassroots, that is equitable and suitable to the unique context of Nagaland.

Within the sphere of imparting justice, and maintenance of law and order, special provisions exist with regard to customary laws and legal procedures. Every tribe has its own variation of customary laws, with differences even at the village level, dealing with civil as well as criminal jurisdictions. These laws are enforced by the Village Councils, consisting of the Government-appointed Gaonburas (GBs) and the elected/selected elders of the village.

Till January 2004, Nagaland consisted of eight administrative districts, with 52 blocks, nine census towns and 1286 inhabited villages. Each district generally has predominant concentration of one of the major/ minor tribes of the State, making the districts distinct in their sociopolitical, traditional, cultural and linguistic characteristics. Of the eight districts, Tuensang is the largest, occupying 25.5 percent of the total area of the State, followed by Kohima with 18.79 percent. In January 2004, three new districts were inaugurated by the State Government, viz., Longleng, Kiphire and Peren. Longleng and Kiphire were sub-divisions of Tuensang district and Peren was a sub-division of Kohima district. The Naga people have had a very distinct and complex relationship with modern democracy. The first general election in Nagaland was held in January 1964. Of the total 46 seats, 40 were filled by direct election and the remaining six were filled by persons chosen by the members of Tuensang District Regional Council. The tenth general election was held in February 2003 and the assembly now has 60 directly elected members from the eight districts of Nagaland. However, since statehood in 1963, only three governments have managed to complete their terms, the last two being in the last decade.

In 40 years of statehood, Nagaland has seen 17 Chief Ministers. The early two decades were dominated by regional parties while the last two decades have seen the building of alliances with Indian national parties. The era of planned development and government initiatives for improving the quality of life during these 40 years has brought about tremendous positive changes in various dimensions of life. Development initiatives of the State have been responsible for a whole new generation of human resources and improved life conditions.

The 1974 state assembly elections in remote Nagaland were decided largely along tribal lines. The ruling Nagaland Nationlist Organization (NNO), dominated by the Sema tribe and favorably disposed toward the Center and the Congress, held 31 of the 60 seats in the dissolved assembly. It was opposed by the United Democratic Front (UDF) in which Angami and Ao tribals, some with ties to more extremist groups, predominate. The voters elected 23 NNO candidates, 25 UDF candidates and 12 independents; seven independenls then joined the UDF and five the NNO. The UDFF leader was invited to form a government which held out hope of further reconciliation with the "underground" Naga rebels.

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Page last modified: 19-02-2018 18:25:09 ZULU