This is election time. Many issues concerning India’s political process get aired and debated at this time. When Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee demanded some time back that voters should have the right to recall elected representatives, if they

This is election time. Many issues concerning India’s political process get aired and debated at this time. When Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee demanded some time back that voters should have the right to recall elected representatives, if they

fail to perform, many political commentators responded in favour or against. The call was given at the second roundtable conference on “Strengthening Parliamentary Democracy”.
The National Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution appointed a few years back had referred to the unhealthy role of money and mafia power and to criminalisation, corruption, communalism and casteism. The right to recall was hinted at as a possible antidote for this sad state of affairs. The Speaker probably had this in mind when he advanced the demand for the right to recall of MPs by voters.

Before we come to any conclusion on whether the right to recall and the right to a referendum can set right the ills of the political process we have today, it is important to understand the system of democracy that operates here.

Democracy can be of two types: representative democracy and direct democracy. In the system of representative democracy that we have today in India, voters elect their representatives and hand over the right of governance to them. The role of the voter is limited. After getting elected, the representative is accountable only to those who helped him win the election – the political party which nominated and funded him. The party in turn remains accountable to the interests that funded it in anticipation of certain policies and legislation that would help them. In this system, the right to recall and the right to referendum, even if recognized on paper, will remain circumscribed by the might of the big political parties and the electoral machinery, who will ensure that money and mafia power prevail in elections. So, when critics question how the right to recall will make a difference in the current state of affairs, well-meaning political commentators don’t have an answer. When three elected members of municipalities in Chhattisgarh were recalled by voters in a tremendous initiative earlier this year, a former election commissioner dismissed it as something that can work only in small constituencies. Spokesmen of big political parties cautioned that this right can be “misused” to settle scores by candidates!

In the system of direct democracy, on the other hand, voters will not hand over powers to their representatives. They will be the ones who will select and elect candidates through a highly democratic political process involving all voters in a constituency. Using the same democratic process, they will exercise their right to recall. Citizens will be directly involved in initiating legislation, voting for new legislation and supervising the implementation of legislation. All members of the executive, administration and judiciary will be selected and elected by the people. A constituency committee elected by the members of the constituency will function before, during and after elections to ensure that the political and electoral process is not dominated by parties but by the people and that elected representatives render accounts periodically to the people. Elections will be funded by the state so that candidates do not have to be millionaires to stand in elections. No private funding of elections will be permitted.

When activists of Lok Raj Sangathan participated in an awareness campaign in Tamil Nadu a couple of years back and went on a Yatra from Kanyakumari to Chennai meeting thousands and thousands of people, they could sense their extreme disgust with the present political process which marginalizes them. When the LRS speakers exhorted the people to demand the right to select and elect candidates of their choice and the right to recall, they struck the right chord. People responded with tremendous enthusiasm. LRS continued this work in the Tamil Nadu local bodies and assembly elections, in the Delhi municipal elections and in the Mumbai and Thane municipal elections. The task of building Lok Raj Samitis to unite the people and become mechanisms of people’s power at the base was taken up in earnest.

The right to recall is now being practically addressed in these Lok Raj Samitis in the run up to the Delhi Assembly elections this year. Through an elaborate and well thought out process, these Samitis are taking the initiative to select and elect candidates who will serve the interests of the people and be accountable to them. While political parties and people’s organizations can propose candidates, it is the Samitis which are selecting them. These Samitis, even after elections will ensure that the elected representatives render accounts to the people regularly and fulfill the promises that they made. If the representatives go against the wishes of the people then the Samitis will take the initiative to launch a campaign to recall the elected member.
We see that right to recall functions quite well in small constituencies and peer groups as in housing societies, Chawl committees, trade union locals and so on and in that sense it is not an exotic issue but something which everyone understands and exercises given the opportunity at the grass roots.

However in the current electoral system the right to recall can be realized only when the right to select and elect candidates by the people is guaranteed through legal means and parties are prevented from dominating the electoral process. Constituency committees have to be made into statutory bodies with the authority to supervise the implementation of this right. Lok Raj Sangathan welcomes this debate on the right to recall and urges all the organizations of the people to demand the realization of this right.

by S. Raghavan

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