Ward No. 3 in Mokokchung town, Arkong Ward, is set to hold a common public platform for candidates from the ward for the ensuing Mokokchung Municipal Council (MMC) election at Arkong Ward Community Hall on 17 June 2024. The Arkong Ward candidates are Imtitoshi Pongen (NDPP), A Bendang Jamir (Independent), and Aongsen Aier (Independent).

However, there was an omission of Aongsen Aier from the list of candidates printed on the program for the common public platform. To understand this issue, Mokokchung Times conducted an interview with the Chairman of Arkong Ward Yimden, Toshimeren, and the Independent candidate, Aongsen Aier.

(It may be noted that the interviews were conducted in the local Ao Naga language and have been translated into English while preserving their original meaning)

Interview with Toshimeren, Chairman of Arkong Ward Yimden

Mokokchung Times (MT): In the official nomination with the Election Commission, Arkong Ward has three candidates, but the Common Platform, which the Arkong Ward Yimden has announced and scheduled for 17 June, has only two candidates. Could you kindly clarify the matter?

Arkong Ward Chairman (AWC): In our 2023 General Meeting, we made a resolution specifically for Arkong Ward. Our resolution was that outsiders must not contest in the ULB election. This was to protect the residents of Arkong Ward. So, to identify ourselves as a resident of Arkong Ward, we resolved to collect membership fees. We have decided that only those who have been paying membership fees for the past two years and are continuing to, will be eligible to contest the election.

Secondly, those who are staying in rented accommodations will not be able to contest. Aongsen, (the independent candidate not listed for the Common Platform), is not married and lives at his sister’s house with his in-law.

Therefore, it could be assumed he is exempt from the membership requirement. However, the second issue, where he “lives on rent,” is where he cannot be ignored by the rule. In reality, he lives in rented accommodation, thus violating the law set by the Arkong Ward Yimden.

The ward Yimden summoned him and held a discussion with him and said that the membership issue is fine, but living in rented accommodation is where he has failed to meet the criteria. We told him that the ward Yimden is not asking him to contest or not contest the election. However, under the Arkong Ward jurisdiction, the ward Yimden will not recognize him, and if any issues arise, we will not acknowledge him. Given that it is the election period, like a mercy period, we have the last date of withdrawal on 18 June, so we are waiting for him to come to an understanding. The case is still in abeyance, and only after the election is over will we have a discussion with him again.

MT: Does this mean the bottom line is, the Arkong Ward Yimden does not recognize his candidacy because he violated the rules set by the Arkong Ward Yimden?

AWC: Yes

MT: In that case, don’t you think the rules set by the Arkong Ward Yimden conflict with the Nagaland Municipal Act 2023? According to the NMA 2023, any resident of Mokokchung town whose name is on the electoral roll can contest in the Mokokchung Municipal Council from any ward. For example, a resident from Sangtemla Ward should be able to participate in Arkong Ward. How would you respond to this?

AWC: Firstly, Arkong Ward has experienced disturbances from outsiders in many instances, and thus, we made that rule specifically for Arkong Ward. We are aware of the ULB code of conduct, and yes, we agree that it conflicts with the ULB code of conduct. However, this rule applies only within the Arkong jurisdiction, which is why we did not ask Aongsen not to contest. This rule was not made to contradict the ULB code of conduct but solely to protect the Arkong Ward residents.

MT: This conflict with democracy continues to exist in our society and has been seen even in the past. We somehow keep citing customary law to justify even consensus candidates. However, elections are conducted within the framework of Indian democracy and are governed by the Indian Constitution. In your personal opinion, is it appropriate to keep bringing customary law into Indian democratic elections?

AWC: As far as Naga customary laws are concerned, only recently, we concluded the issue of land tax and the Naga identity must be preserved. In my opinion, as long as we remain within the Indian Union and under the Indian Constitution, our customary laws will continue to contradict the Indian Constitution.

Although we have been given the special Article 371(A), because we are living under the Indian Constitution, our laws and the Indian laws will always contradict. I even doubt that the land tax, which has been removed from the NMA, is something we still need to be careful about. Land tax has been deleted, but we have yet to hold elections. So, only when we implement it, I believe we will face similar issues in the future as well. Therefore, we have to be careful.

It is because we are under the Indian Constitution, we are compelled to hold the ULB election. However, our customs and traditions are different, so when it touches our customs and traditions, Nagas do not remain silent.

MT: We continue to see cases of consensus candidates, vote coercion, and polling booth capturing. There is an increasing trend of abusing fundamental democratic rights in Nagaland. Recently, we have observed that many ward authorities are striving for clean and fair elections and are also combating village-based politics. These are positive developments that inspire youngsters to believe we are progressing. Do you believe that factors like consensus candidates or vote coercion violate the fundamental principles of democracy?

AWC: In my personal opinion, our Naga identity, no matter from which or what corner it is, if anything touches our Naga identity, Nagas will not be able to compromise. I am not against democracy, but our customs and traditions do not align with it all the time. We are facing this today, and we will continue to face it. So far, we have not resolved the Naga political issue. Therefore, this becomes a sensitive issue.

MT: Does that mean in your opinion, ‘consensus’ candidate falls under our customs and traditions?

AWC: Nagas call ourselves democratic. We have always been democratic, even in the past, although we did not have formal elections. The unique aspect of Naga society is that we have always spoken our opinion through meetings, such as general meetings, and we belong to a community that listens to the voice of the people in these gatherings.

Different Naga villages have various forms of governance. While all villages are almost the same, there are slight differences in how the Putu Menden functions. But as a group, I believe we uphold true democracy. To this day, in our customs and traditions, we do not hold elections for various CSOs and other organizations, yet we practice our form of democracy. Therefore, I believe we are not in contravention with Indian democracy. The systems are simply different.

Our aims and objectives are the same, but when it comes to Naga identity, it becomes a sensitive issue. As long as we remain under the Indian Constitution, we will continue to face this conflict.

MT: We understand democracy as the “Right to vote” and the “Right to contest elections” without interference if one is eligible. Last year, we also witnessed an unfortunate murder, which reinforced our belief that this is not the way to hold elections. At the same time, we strongly believe that if the elders lead us well, the youth will follow suit. Therefore, we believe that ward Yimden plays a significant role in shaping our society…

AWC: I want to add that, as chairman, I must uphold the rules set by the people. If the residents of Arkong believe these rules are wrong and do not suit us, they can always be amended, and we will welcome that. If we wish to change them, we will. Therefore, we do not want people to misunderstand and ask, “Why are we implementing this rule?” We are following this because it was a resolution made at the General Meeting in 2023 and reaffirmed in May 2024. If there is a call for change, we will hold a general meeting, and will reach a consensus, and follow that strictly. I would want people to understand that these rules are not made by the ward Yimden but by the general residents of Arkong Ward. Therefore, as long as the law is not withdrawn, we must abide by it.


Interview with Independent candidate Aongsen Aier

MT: Why do you think your name is not on the common platform organized by the Arkong Ward Yimden?

Aongsen: The ward Yimden and I have discussed this issue. They told me that I am “free to contest” and allowed to “campaign,” but they said I have violated a small part of the rules set by the Arkong Ward Yimden. Specifically, the land patta (land deed) for the house I live in should be in my name. However, this land belongs to our kin (kinunger), and the deed (patta) is in the name of my eldest uncle. How can I change the name to mine? I cannot do that. If my eldest uncle agrees to change it, then that would be a different case. But we are relatives, and I am not the eldest; there are people older than me in our family. The ward Yimden’s stance is that they will only recognize me if I have the land patta in my name. I explained that this is impossible, but I thanked them for allowing me to contest and campaign. Therefore, the reason I was not called to the common platform is only because of this issue.

MT: We understand that because you violated certain rules set by the Arkong Ward Yimden, they have decided not to recognize your candidature. Do you feel you have been wronged, or do you accept the ward Yimden’s decision as fair?

Aongsen: I strongly believe that it is not fair. (Previously) Our ward was under women’s reservation, so our chairman mentioned that when we had women’s reservation, there were (prospective) candidates from other wards.

To avoid that, these rules were made. However, I was told that due to complaints from the public, they had no choice but to summon me. When I clarified the situation, they then said the ‘land patta’ must be in my name. But when I filed the nomination papers, they did not ask for assets and, therefore, I have my right. And even if the assets are being asked, because my name is in the electoral roll, I can contest from any ward. So, there was no rule about it and it is something the ward Yimden has brought it by themselves.

In the rule made by the Election Commission, the customary (law) does not get in. Customary and constitution are different. I am following the constitution. Also, in Arkong ward, the ward Yimden itself has elected me as the president of the youth association before. Then why are they not recognizing me today? My father served in the Arkong Ward Yimden in the 1980s and in 2012, the ward Yimden itself said that we need a youth association and started “Rongpang Reju” where I was elected as the first president. So, why did they recognize me in the past? Today, everything I have done, they are making my contribution into zero. That is the only right I have.

Two GBs have come to me and said I can contest in the election but if anything happens, the ward Yimden will not recognize me. I have agreed to it and I am thankful that they have allowed me to contest and I have been preparing for my election carefully.

MT: We’ve heard reports of village-based politics in play and various other unconfirmed reports of undermining democracy. Could you clarify on this matter?
Aongsen: I can clarify that I have not received any threats, but I have received a lot of requests. All I tell them is that Arkong Ward is my heart and soul. I am a citizen of Mokokchung, born and brought up in Arkong Ward. Therefore, I have my rights here. No matter what the outcome is, I want to work for Arkong Ward and if I win, I will even work extra for the ward. That is the only reason I am contesting. After that, I have not received any further requests.


Arkong Mokokchung MMC

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