The 'Right to recall'

Palavika Patel, the former president of Anuppur municipality in Madhya Pradesh, India and Gray Davis, former governor of California, usa are two distinct fall-outs of participatory democracy. In 2002, voters of extremely poor Anuppur -- and in 2003, voters of extremely rich California -- successfully exercised a similar constitutional right: the right to recall an elected representative for non-performance

 
Published: Friday 31 October 2003

palavika Patel, the former president of Anuppur municipality in Madhya Pradesh, India and Gray Davis, former governor of California, usa are two distinct fall-outs of participatory democracy. In 2002, voters of extremely poor Anuppur -- and in 2003, voters of extremely rich California -- successfully exercised a similar constitutional right: the right to recall an elected representative for non-performance. Yet, while California's legislation-making has inspired 18 other states in the us (they have adopted the measure), Madhya Pradesh's local governance system remains a unique attempt that hasn't excited India's legislators at all. Is this is an indication that India, the world's largest democracy, is hesitant in maturing into a participatory democracy?

In 2001, Madhya Pradesh amended its Panchayati Raj Act; voters now could recall non-performing elected representatives after two and a half years in office. This right has already been exercised thrice in the last two years. In Maharashtra, a similar initiative is yet to get legislative consent. In both the states, the maximum opposition has come from political leaders.

At the national level, 'right to recall' first appeared in the government agenda in 1977, when the Janata Party government was at the Centre. It reared its head again in 1989, during the tenure of the National Front government. But the right to recall representatives from state legislative assemblies and the Lok Sabha has remained notional; the process derailed from the start by political parties. Interestingly, during the parliamentary debate over the Panchayati Raj Act in 1992, members of Parliament vehemently opposed giving any such right to local bodies.

For a democracy more than five decades old, 'right to recall' is crucial to making democracy relevant to people. The California recall election, the second in the history of the us, was due to cuts in the education budget, and general economic mismanagement. If Indians had the same right, they could recall chief minister Shiela Dixit for not ensuring clean air in Delhi. Or, voters in his constituency could recall the prime minister for not honouring his committment to 'total devolution' of power to panchayats by December, 2002.

The largest democracy isn't the most effective one. It can be corrected only by putting voters in control. 'Right to recall', an accountability tool par excellence, would do just that. Are those preparing for Assembly elections listening?

Subscribe to Weekly Newsletter :

Comments are moderated and will be published only after the site moderator’s approval. Please use a genuine email ID and provide your name. Selected comments may also be used in the ‘Letters’ section of the Down To Earth print edition.