The Right to Recall can create dangerous instability at the national level, and foreclose democratic options to resolve crises
By Jayaprakash Narayan
ANNA Hazare’s refrain that the Right to Recall should be invoked against dishonest and incompetent legislators presents an interesting case. In principle, recalling an elected representative presents no inherent problems. But implementation is a different story. It is just one of a number of genuine electoral reforms this country needs. For instance, entry into politics should also be made easy. Election campaigns do not engage the voters, they are merely a vote-buying practice.
Political parties too have become private estates. Candidate choices are all private affairs, unrelated to the people. All this needs to be addressed, so that the best can enter politics and change the tenor of public policy-making and bring some integrity to public life. Instead, today, we are barking up the wrong tree.
Also, while recall works perfectly fine for local governance, evidence shows that it’s rather complicated. In Madhya Pradesh, the only state where this has been implemented, there were about 30 cases of recall and almost 50 percent of those recalled were re-elected. This shows an essential flaw in the practice. We have an electoral system where people can unite to defeat somebody based on reasons of religion, caste and other such divisive factors.
A fitting example would be the US, where Arnold Schwarzenegger replaced Gray Davis as governor of California. Davis was recalled. He required 50 percent of all the votes to continue in office; Schwarzenegger on the other hand, needed only the plurality of those voting — about 40 percent — to be elected. This is an absurd situation. Therefore, to project recall as an answer to electoral reforms is to oversimplify the problem.
Unrealistic expectations colour elections in India. People expect legislators to deliver as an executive. But a legislator is not elected as executive. He is elected to articulate people’s aspirations, to make laws and policies and to hold the government accountable. The power to deliver is given to local government. By shifting that responsibility to the legislator, governance becomes volatile. Legislators from the opposition party in particular, will be vulnerable as the ruling party will not give them sufficient opportunities to perform their duties.
Recall is an easy way out; the difficulty lies in bringing about electoral reforms
People don’t distinguish between local, state and national governments. Any talk of performance or nonperformance is typically done keeping the state government’s performance in mind. Who do you hold responsible for poor governance in such a situation?
There are other difficulties. People always look at short term populism, which is inherently at loggerheads with long-term public good. An increase in petroleum prices because of a corresponding rise in global prices, would lead to building dissent against the government. But given a decent amount of time, the government might be able to balance this out by pursuing long-term policies that yield results. Not allowing this to happen could force the government to take decisions based on short-term populist agenda. Take Telangana. Volatile public opinion can easily force mass recall of elected legislators. Such a problem is more serious in secession-infested areas. This is not a good situation the country finds itself in. It will create dangerous instability, and foreclose democratic options to resolve crises. Nation-building demands you allow emotions to play out.
At the local level, the risks are minimal and the system of recall can be tried out. But at the national level, the risks are huge and the complexities vast. We are an evolving democracy, a work in progress. We need to be patient. Recall is an easy way out; the difficulty lies in bringing about electoral reforms. Recall only lets off the steam temporarily without resolving anything. India is the only country where elected governments are habitually asked to resign when something wrong happens. We need to balance liberty and Parliament rule. Upsetting this balance could either lead to tyranny or anarchy.
Jayaprakash Narayan is Founder-President, Lok Satta Party.