Gandhian Anna Hazare’s call for introducing Right to Recall non-performing or corrupt MPs/MLAs with Right to Reject candidates at the hustings has sparked off a nation-wide debate. It also aims at to give a message to MPs/MLAs that once elected, they can not take their voters for granted and have to perform to live upto their expectations. It also goes contrary to the fact that such rights are already in vogue in different countries. There is no justified reason as to why MPs/MLAs, who are either engrossed in corruption or are simply fence-sitters, should continue without accountability towards their electorate. Similarly, there is also no justified reason for electorates to elect from the candidates thrust upon them by the political parties. They must have the right to reject candidates if they find that the candidates so thrust upon them by political parties do not enjoy their confidence. The then Lok Sabha Speaker Mr. Som Nath Chatterjee had himself once laid emphasis on introducing Right to Recall. While delivering a lecture on “Democratic Consolidation” in Thiruvanthapuram, he recommended the introduction of right to recall in India. He said “It is time for us to look for devices such as “recall” to ensure accountability of the members of democratic institutions at all levels, before the common man gets totally disillusioned with the prevailing system. The performance and functioning of the Parliament as well as its members would improve if people who elected their representatives to voice their grievances watched the Parliamentary proceedings regularly.” Keeping this in view, PUCL had in year 2004 filed a PIL in Supreme Court to seek issuance of direction to the Union Government for introducing such a provision by amending Representation of Peoples Act 1951. When this matter came before two judges Bench, it was decided for referring the same to a Constitution Bench. It is being hoped that such a Bench is likely to be constituted soon. But it is being felt widely that the Apex Court has limited jurisdiction which extends to examining the constitutional validity of an existing law only and it may not extend to the extent of directing Parliament to pass or amend any Act which is within the domain of the Parliament. Already in its several judgments from time to time, it has ruled this position in clearer terms.
In the meanwhile, Law Minister has opined that the demand for introducing Right to reject may be more practical and feasible than the Right to Recall. According to him this may be considered to arrive at a broad consensus to facilitate suitable amendment in the existing law. In this context, Chief Election Commissioner’s statement that Right to recall and Right to Reject legislators are not practical has added new dimension to the debate. In fact his statement goes contrary to what his predecessor T.S.Krishnamurti had himself suggested in year 2001.providing a column “None of above” in voting machine for rejecting all the candidates. Earlier also he had discarded the electoral reform by introducing compulsory voting despite the fact that the Election Commission had in year 1963 recommended to Union Government for introducing compulsory voting. The Law Minister described the suggestion of Right to Recall as impractical leaving the right to reject candidates open for debate. In its two days’ meeting at Ralegan Siddhi on 10th and 11th September, Anna Core Committee approved this agenda and declared its intent to mobilize people for getting their support to call Government to introduce this system. These events have together set the ball rolling for another national debate in the times to come. Surprisingly, no political party has so far revealed its stand on this matter in categorical terms.
In fact, demand for introducing right to recall and right to reject as part of electoral reforms is not new and need has all along been felt for its complete overhaul. Events which took place during last few years sent a grim reminder on the lowest ebb to which our institutions have fallen. Legislatures are mired in deep-rooted maladies like candidates with pending criminal cases, use of black money, illegal funding of political parties by companies, use of official machinery and people’s apathy towards casting votes etc. But Right to Recall an elected MP/MLA holds special significance because in that case voters themselves would assume the role of their representatives and their antecedents. The system is already being practiced in several countries. It is in vogue in about 18 states of United States of America since 1903. In some states of USA, election for a successor is held simultaneously with the recall election. Even in our country, some states have introduced this system albeit at local level only. The first question that arises as to why and when people should recall their legislator ? The answer to this question is not far to seek. If a representative, after getting elected indulges in malpractices, misfeasance or is otherwise inactive and indifferent to the issues affecting electorates, power vests with the people to recall such a representative. Once elected, it does not mean a representatives enjoys un-bridled license to hold the position without corresponding liability to perform. There are instances galore wherein MPs/MLAs remained idle and their dull performance inside and outside the House did not find favor with their electorates. According to a report, hundreds of MPs did not open their mouths during proceedings even on sensitive matters of national importance and raised no question also. Then charges of corruption and irregularities are often leveled against them during their tenure. It is well-known fact that immediately after getting elected, an MP or MLA files an incorrect account of expenditure. Matter does not end here and it goes on un-abated when he violates rules pertaining to MPLAD Fund and other discretionary quotas etc. Some MPs have been found sub-letting even their bungalows at a considerably higher rent which amounts to malpractice. Some legislators were found taking cut while exercising their discretionary powers for various welfare schemes. Instances for Cash-for-votes, cash-for-query have already hit the headlines. News about renting out the MPs’ bungalows for pecuniary gains have hit the headlines in the past. Once it comes to the notice of electorates that the person in whom they had reposed trust and elected, had gone against their aspirations and indulges in corruption or simply remains non-performing, there is no reason why voters should remain helpless to just wait for 5 years and allow him to go on carrying out his game-plan without any check. So the first question is answered with valid reasons of undeniable nature.
It is, however, the second question i.e. how far right to recall is practicable that is at the centre-stage of the whole matter. Anna Team has not so far elaborated how Right to Recall can be translated into reality. It is felt that such a right should not be granted before at least two years of an MP or MLA elected to the legislature. It means there should not be any right to recall for at least two years immediately after the elections. Further, proper safeguards against misuse of such a right must be introduced as otherwise it can be misused to destabilize a government on purely political consideration. Political parties can obviously misuse this right to outwit their rivals and can easily manage the requisite number of voters to initiate the move. Therefore, while introducing such a right, law must ensure that a definite percentage of voters will initiate the move to recall the MP but final decision to allow such a right must vest with a committee of non-political persons or Tribunal comprising only non-political persons drawn from academic or juristic background with sound reputation. Such a committee or Tribunal shall broadly examine the performance audit of the legislator who is proposed to be recalled. Thus the initiative will remain with people but final call would rest with committee or tribunal comprising persons without affiliation to any political party. It requires a definite elaborate mechanism duly strengthened by enacting a law. There are various ways for adopting the mechanism of recalling the representatives and the one suitable to our political system can be considered. In California (USA), mechanism adopted for recalling the representative merits consideration. In this state, if 12 per cent of the electorate sign a petition with reasons for recalling the representative, it shall be mandatory for the Election Commission to circulate Ballot of Recall to all the electorates with options Yes or No for Recall. If majority of the ballots is in favor of recall, by-election has to be conducted. Venezuela provides yet another example of the mechanism adopted for practicing right to recall. Its constitution enables the recall of any elected representative including the President provided if half of their term is elapsed and 20 per cent of the voters petition for recalling the representatives after recording reasons. Hence, the sweeping statement that right to recall is impractical is irrational and hasty. In fact right to recall can be introduced if the men at the helms of affairs rise above their political motives and acquire the will to introduce the system. It can be given a start in some states on experimental basis and thereafter based upon its working it can be introduced at national level.
Regarding demand for introducing right to reject the candidates by inserting “None of above” in the Electric Voting Machine, its objective remains to vest in people their right to reject candidates nominated by political parties. It is a well-known fact that people have no say in selection of the candidates. Political parties are prone for lobbyism and a person even with dubious record manages to win over the political party bosses to get the ‘Ticket’. Thus people are deprived of having any say in selection or nomination of the candidates. In such circumstances, their options are limited and they have to select either of the candidates thrust upon them by political parties. Therefore, Right to reject candidates is wholly justified. If such a right is introduced, it will exert pressures on the political parties also and they shall have to respect the popular sentiments before nominating the candidate for elections. It can be laid down that if at least half of the total votes cast go in favor of rejection of all candidates, process of re-election must start. There can not be a second rejection if re-poll is ordered after first rejection. It can be argued that such a system of rejection of candidates and re-election may delay the poll process and formation of government. But this argument holds no cognizance as the entire poll-process can be scheduled in such a manner that final tally would be in place only after the process of rejection and re-election gets completed.
As Anna Team has decided to make the right to recall and right to reject as part of their campaign in crusade against corruption, it is bound to enliven a national debate. It would be in the fitness of things if the Government, instead of rejecting the demand outrightly, starts getting sense of the nation and introduce the system in some of the States on experimental basis so that the same can be considered for introducing the system at national level.