Time for Right to Recall
If people have the power to elect their representatives, they should also have the power to dismiss them upon their failure in fulfilling respective duties
Is this the high time when people of India must get the right to recall their representatives elected to Parliament and state assemblies? After the introduction of 'None Of The Above' (NOTA) provision during voting for the first time in 2009, the general elections for Parliament in 2019 saw around 7 million voters exercise this option. Therefore, the next logical step for a mature democracy like India would be to introduce the Right to Recall.
There is recall law at Panchayat level in some states such as UP, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, Chhatisgarh, Maharashtra and Himachal Pradesh. This law applies to municipalities and municipal corporations also in some states. But state assemblies and the lower house of Parliament are out of this charter.
The Right To Recall is not a modern-day concept. Ancient Athenians had a social custom under their unique democracy. In the sixth month of their 10-month calendar, all the people were asked in their assembly whether they wish to hold an ostracism. If the majority wanted it, ostracism was held after some time. Citizens wrote down names of those they wished to be ostracised on shards of pottery. Shards were deposited in a container and after counting them, whoever had the largest pile of the pieces was banned from the city for 10 years.
The modern-day right to recall concept is a direct successor of such methods. Canada's Legislative Assembly of British Columbia has this provision since 1995. In USA, states of Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Rhode Island and Washington have it. Venezuela, Philippines and Switzerland also have a law to recall. In India, the concept has its roots since Vedic times when the lack of effective governance was a cause for removal of a king.
The debate over recall of elected representatives has a long history in the Indian democracy; the matter was discussed in detail in the Constituent Assembly also where several members were of the opinion that the Right to Recall must accompany the Right to Elect and the voters must be provided with a remedy 'if things go wrong'. However, Dr B R Ambedkar did not accept this amendment.
Some members of the Constituent Assembly argued that the 'Recall' provision would help in strengthening the democratic system, others felt that it would be improper to provide a Recall provision at the infancy of the Indian democracy. Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel expressed his opinion during this debate by saying, "If there are any stray instances or some black sheep who having lost the confidence of their constituency still want to continue to represent the constituency in the House, for some such bad instances we should not disfigure our Constituency. We should leave it as it is, to the good sense of the members concerned".
In recent times, humanists such as MN Roy and politicians such as Jayaprakash Narayan have spoken extensively on the need to introduce right to recall in our electoral system. When Somnath Chatterjee was Lok Sabha Speaker, he also sought to install the right to recall to ensure accountability. Constitution (Amendment) Bill about Voters' right to recall elected representatives was introduced in Lok Sabha by C K Chandrappan in 1974 and Atal Bihari Vajpayee had supported this but the bill did not pass. A private member bill, The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced by BJP MP Varun Gandhi in Lok Sabha.
With the increasing impulse of manipulating democracy for the benefit of certain individuals or political outfits, the urgency of having and enforcing the right to recall must be felt with all its seriousness. If the people have the power to elect their representatives, they should also have the power to dismiss them when they engage in misdeeds or fail to fulfil their duties.
In 2001, Madhya Pradesh amended its Panchayat Raj Act and gave voters the right to recall their non-performing elected representatives. The 17-year-old incident of Palavika Patel, the former president of Anuppur municipality in Madhya Pradesh, India and Gray Davis, former governor of California, USA are two distinct fall-outs of participatory democracy. In 2002, voters of extremely poor Anuppur; and in 2003, voters of extremely rich California; exercised a similar constitutional right: the right to recall an elected representative for non-performance. Patel and Davis were removed from their positions. California's legislation-making has inspired 18 other states in the USA to have adopted the measure. But Madhya Pradesh's local governance system could not excite India's legislators in more than one-and-a-half decade.
It seems that the world's largest democracy is still hesitant in maturing into a participatory democracy by ignoring the need to introduce the right to recall provision which first appeared in the government agenda in 1977 when the Janata Party was in rule. It was again discussed passionately during the tenure of the National Front government in 1989. But
the fact remains that political class never had any genuineness in pushing for any such law which was evident when during the parliamentary debate over the Panchayat Raj Act in 1992, MPs vehemently opposed giving any such right to local bodies.
The right to recall is very crucial in today's circumstances. The California recall election, the second in the history of USA due to cuts in the education budget and general economic mismanagement or the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump due to subversion of democratic ethics are the illustrations of how a mature republic should function. Why shouldn't India, a more than seven decades old democracy, have a right to recall those who ruined its economy, its social fabric and are subverting the democratic institutions at their whims?
Unfortunately, India is witnessing a constant rise in unethical and irresponsible behaviour on the part of the elected legislators. There are numerous instances which could demonstrate the said proposition. The role of the representatives in the decision making is becoming marginalised with each passing day. The largest democracy isn't the most effective one. It can be corrected only by putting 'Right to recall' in place — an accountability tool par excellence.
The degree of liberty or tyranny in any rule is a reflection of the relative determination of the people to be free and their willingness and ability to resist efforts to enslave them. We need to rebuild the democratic participation in our economic, social and racial dignity. Therefore, this is the time when all the political parties, social organisations, students' forums and scholars must come together to launch a signature campaign in favour of introducing a bill in Parliament at the earliest to give the nation Right to Recall its elected representatives.
Pankaj Sharma is Editor and CEO of News Views India and a national office bearer of the Congress party. Views expressed are strictly personal