It was a simple question: Should Indians have the right to reject or recall legislators?
carried it and an accompanying story in its Delhi edition dated December 4, 2008 and on
, our online edition. The answers, we figured, would tell us something about the popular mood regarding politicians.
The responses poured in — from across India and also from the Indian diaspora across the world. Readers were near unanimous in their view: Yes, Indians should have the right to reject or recall their elected representatives. Politicians, expectedly, reacted by saying: “It’s impossible in a multi-party set-up.”
It isn’t, actually. There is a little known provision, Section 49-O of the Conduct of Election Rules, 1961, that allows voters the right to go to polling booths, get their fingers marked, and then inform the returning officer that they don’t wish to cast their votes. The law, however, does not give voters the right to recall MPs and MLAs.
But Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh have provisions in the laws governing their local bodies that allow people to recall representatives if more than 50 per cent of the electorate so desire.
In Chhattisgarh, villagers used this provision in June and August and recalled four panchayat presidents — for the first time in this country. A simple ballot paper with two symbols, an empty chair and an occupied one, was used for the referendum. Voters in Gundardehi and Nawagarh in Durg district, Rajpur in Surguja district and Kusum Nagar in Raipur district recalled their panchayat presidents through such referendums.
Incidentally, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee has advocated the “right to recall” to ensure accountability of Lok Sabha members. “When there are provisions in the Constitution for removing people holding high offices, why should there be a strict five-year term for legislators?” he asks. Law minister H.R. Bhardwaj could not be contacted for his comments.
But political parties, otherwise so fractious and noisy about their “ideological differences”, are unanimous in their opposition to this suggestion. Jayanti Natarajan, senior Congress leader, said: “I don’t know what my party’s stand is. But personally, I don’t agree with the EC’s recommendations (that ballot papers have a column saying “none of the above”). In a democratic set-up, it’s meaningless to say ‘None of the above’. People should exercise their right to franchise.”
The Congress’s ideological opponent, the BJP, is of the same view. Its vice-president, Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, said: “It isn’t feasible in an era of coalitions when regional forces are becoming more powerful.”
The Left, too, dittoed the views of the two national parties, but, expectedly, justified political expediency with moral rhetoric. CPI(M) MP and politburo member Brinda Karat cited its “misuse by money powers against an honest village pradhan” to justify caution. “We have provisions for no confidence motions in the parliamentary system-they are similar to right to recall. You can’t have a piecemeal approach to electoral reforms. It won’t help,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Association for Democratic Reforms, which is spearheading the movement to amend the law to give Indians this right, will launch a national campaign on electoral reforms from Mumbai in January.