Author: V.k. Dadhich
In simple terms, recall is the retiring of an elected officer by a vote of the electorate. This feature finds roots in the Athenian democracy and is also a prominent feature of the constitution of Switzerland, Philippines and Venezuela. In fact, this feature also finds place in the constitution of the U.S.A’s states of Michigan and Oregon in the early 20th century.
In India, the bold initiative to demand the right to recall was taken by Jaipraksh Narayan in the 1974 during the Total Revolution movement against Indira Gandhi. After this, the Janata Party tried to implement it but in vain.
Currently, the right to recall legislators is being practiced in the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh at the local body level. In 2008, right to recall was used as per the Chattisgarh Nagar Palika Act (1961). The Bihar Government is planning to bring in this feature to empower the people at the panchayat/municipality level. But; largely the right to recall has remained notional.
It is in the interest of the nation to remove those incompetent, inefficient and dishonest legislators, who once elected by hook or by crook, continue to bleed the state exchequer for the fixed term.
Generally, recall procedure works this way.
- — recall petition is floated
- — a minimum no. of people are required to sign
- — the petition is filed for review and authentication
- — the appropriate authority acknowledges and renders the legislator “recalled”
Let us analyze the 2 sides of the coin. There are some impressive advantages to the credit of the right to recall. For once, it is reinforcing the concept of democracy. The legislators derive authority from the people, so the people should have the right to recall the legislators. It results in greater accountability since the legislators cannot take his post for granted and may have to stay over his toes all time round. It enforces values and ethics, and can also be a valuable check on corruption, and can be used to monitor the conduct of the legislators.
Looking at the other side of the coin, we realize that ‘recall’ may not be as good as it seems. Primarily, it leads to ‘excess’ of democracy and this will hamper the independence of the legislators. The legislators are expected to plan policies and schemes keeping in mind the greater good. With the recall in place, the legislators will tend to take less risks, not try out innovative policies fearing possible public outrage and eventual recall from the post! The legislators may tend to be afraid to take decisions, become lethargic and procrastinating in nature. They’ll think, “If I take this decision, I’ll have to bear the brunt. I’ll wait for some body to take the initiative. This way, my kursi will be with me!”.
It will eventually discourage them to take crucial decisions. With recall in place; it is hard to even think of a person who will take a decision in times of an imminent crisis (eg. To implement a curfew in a riot-ridden area) by keeping in mind not to displease the masses, lest he should be recalled.
We should also consider the practicability of conducting a recall in a nation-state like India. Presuming that India’s citizens will be enabled with an UIDAI no. and a mobile no. by 2020, and we develop a secure application to render voting for a recall. How do we ensure that the citizens are politically educated and informed? Right to recall can be used to its full potential only when the public is well informed of the political happenings, and is participative. Otherwise, the public can be easily swayed by the words of a charismatic spokesperson or can be bought for a few hundreds of rupees. Another problem here would be to ensure that the citizens have voted of their own free will, and that they were not coerced.
Former election chief commissioner S.Y. Quraishi has some insights to offer in this regard. Focusing on the implications of introducing right to recall, he remarks that it would lead to sheer time waste (in physically authenticating the signatures), expenditure in conducting by-elections, etc. Also, he observes that the low literacy levels of the Indian voters, and less political awareness would render the feature of recall futile.
This feature can best be introduced at the local panchayat and municipality level. By collaborating with NGOs, and civil societies; we can spread political awareness and increase the level of participation of the people in the political and decision making process. Techniques like social audit are already being implemented in the panchayat level to put a check on corruption. But before introducing this feature, we should ask ourselves “Do we really need recall?”. What if all the tainted candidates with criminal records and low education background be rendered disqualified? This calls for a review of the Representation of People Act (1961) and introduction of the stringent provisions to ensure that the ones elected are good. Just like the principle of Total Quality Management followed by Toyota “Get it right the first time”.