LAST week, Shri Prabhat Jha, Madhya Pradesh BJP president identified the right of recalling elected representatives as an essential requirement to wiping out corruption in the country. These remarks were made at a function organised to felicitate Prabhat Jha on the completion of one year as State BJP president. The power to recall elected representatives is an important suggestion and there is a need to have a genuine debate over this issue.
‘Recall’ essentially means that an election is held for the exclusive purpose of determining whether an elected representative continues to enjoy the confidence of the people. The right to recall elected representatives is fairly well recognised in the United States at least at the State level. The “recall election” as it is known in the US is considered to be one of the major election reforms that have been adopted by some of the states in the 20th century. The most famous recall election in recent history is the recall of the then Governor of California, Gray Davis. The replacement candidate was Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Prabhat Jha’s views were made with a specific purpose – to end corruption in the country. It is therefore important to consider the right to recall legislators in this context. India, as opposed to some other democracies, is organized on the Westminster Parliamentary model. In other words, Indian democracy is a ‘representative democracy’ where the people elect legislators who in turn elect a government which in turn makes laws and implements policy. Thus, in a representative democracy the participation of the people effectively stops after the election.
In the context of corruption, this becomes very significant. Modern corruption as carefully documented in the cases of the 2G Scam, CWG Scam and Adarsh Scam clearly outlines the participation of elected officials in corruption. As per the current model of democracy, the people are effectively powerless after the election for the next five years. To be fair to the position, our democracy does have systemic checks on corruption such as opposition with Parliament, campaigns by the media, rallies, etc. But this does not always reflect the direct power of the people. This does not allow the people to express their anger and disappointment.
The power to recall legislators allows the people to democratically remove those elected officials who are corrupt or who have participated in corruption. Currently, the only exit routes are to either wait for the next election or to wait for the political party to which the representative belongs to take action. Sometimes, this may be a very long wait. Moreover, the routine election which is held every five years is contested on multifarious issues. In this sort of an election, money power plays an important role. As opposed to this, a recall election is based on a single issue – corruption of the legislator. In this kind of single-issue based election, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to influence voters through monetary inducements.
Mr. Prabhat Jha has made an important suggestion of empowering people to recall legislators. It remains to be seen whether his contemporaries in the political class across the length and breadth of the country are willing to allow a genuine discussion on the subject and facilitate much needed election reform.