What is Right to Recall?
"Right to Recall (RTR)" are existing laws in some states of India that allow citizens to remove or replace public servants holding posts of Sarpanch, Mukhiya, Corporator and Mayor of the government. In modern India, Sachindra Nath Sanyal was the first to demand the right to replace public servants. The manifesto of the Hindustan Republican Association was written by him in December 1924. In his manifesto it's written that, “In this Republic the electors shall have the right to recall their representatives, if so desired, otherwise the democracy shall become a mockery."
The debate over Recall of elected representatives has a long history in the Indian democracy; the matter was even discussed in the Constituent Assembly. The debate was centred on the belief 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.
Several European countries have implemented the Right to recall with good effect. This move is brought about to enhance the elected accountability of the elected representatives. In India, the need to have a corruption-free government was highlighted by the Hon. Supreme Court in State of Madhya Pradesh & Ors. v. Shri Ram Singh, and recall of delinquent representatives undoubtedly seems to be one way of achieving that. The very basic objective of recall is to ensure ‘good governance’ by eliminating the corrupt, unworthy officials. But as of today, India does not have a recall provision except in certain states like Madhya-Pradesh or Chhattisgarh where people have the right to recall their representatives in local bodies.
The Representation of Peoples Act (RPA), 1951 talks about Right to Recall. However, it does not account the ground of incompetence or the dissatisfaction of the electorate as the ground for recall and vacation. It only provides for the vacation of the office upon the commission of the certain offence. Feroze Varun Gandhi, a member of parliament representing the Sultanpur constituency for the BJP, has introduced such a bill in the Parliament recently. The bill has sought an amendment to the Representation of the People Act, 1951 to introduce right to recall parliamentarians and legislators if 75% of their voters are dissatisfied with their performance. The legislation proposes that the process to recall an elected representative can be invoked by a constituency voter by approaching the speaker of the house.
“There can be no doubt, that if power is granted to a body of men, called Representatives, they like any other men will use their power not for the advantage of the community but for their own advantage, if they can.”
— James Mill
India is unfortunately suffering from irresponsible unethical approach of the legislators who are chosen by the people. There have been various instances where the elected representative has not even visited the constituency from where he has been chosen, after the elections. Taking the example of Rahul Gandhi in Amethi, it can be seen how clear the disconnect between the representative and the constituency in some areas is. When asked voters why they chose BJP over Congress this year, they said: “We could only see him from far away. We were told that a 134-year-old party will not function according to our suggestions.” Rahul Gandhi visited Amethi 17 times since 2014 and stayed there just for 35 days in total.
The ministers derive authority from the general population, so the general population ought to have the privilege to recall the legislators.
The proponents of the Right to recall will try to establish that if an individual has the power elect a representative, then he should also be given the liberty to ‘recall’ the same. Such a system in long term would infuse a greater accountability in the system. It is a chance to correct wrong electoral choices without waiting for the following five years. The most important aspect to be noted here is that it gives the power to ensure vertical accountability of a person in a democracy. Election promises would be fulfilled by the representative due to the apprehension that he may be kicked out if he does not keep promises.
Having the system of recall will deter candidates from spending crores of money in campaigning for the elections because they will always have a fear of being recalled. Such a right would be a significant check on corruption along with ongoing criminalisation of politics. Numerous studies highlight that “elected representatives who are not up for election behave differently to those who are”. Recall-provision essentially is the same fallback mechanism which vests in people the control over such unworthy representatives who have failed to secure the best interests of their electorates. The right to recall would be welcomed by the public as they are also fed up of the manner of conduction of parliamentary proceedings where everything apart from the real business is transacted.
To encourage the process of the right to recall, legislative change is needed which seeks to introduce recall petitions, for elected representatives in the Lok Sabha and in respective Legislative Assemblies. While it is necessary to ensure that a recall process is not frivolous and does not became a source of harassment to elected representatives, the process should have several built-in safeguards such as:
An initial recall petition to kick-start the process and electronic-based voting to finally decide its outcome.
It should be ensured that a representative cannot be recalled by a small margin of voters and that the recall procedure truly represents the mandate of the people.
To ensure transparency and independence, chief petition officers from within the Election Commission should be designated to supervise and execute the process.
A free and fair election is a right of the citizens of the country. When their elected representatives no longer enjoy the confidence of the people, the people must have a right to remove them. The true idea of democracy can only be achieved on this edifice of accountability for politicians. Having a process to recall could also limit campaign spending, as morally skewed candidates weigh the risk of being recalled. This right would help engender direct democracy in our country, broadening access and raising inclusiveness. To deepen democracy, the right to recall must be given hand in hand with the right to vote.
Symbiosis Law School, Pune