Right to recall for UPSC IAS preparation.
Democracy thrives only if elected representatives come under the scrutiny of the electors. India has come a long way since its independence in 1947 to become one of the world’s largest democracies. Yet, there persist several lacunae that prevent Indian democracy from realizing the full potential. The consequence of this is the prevalence of draconian laws, undemocratic policies, etc. To address these issues, people must be empowered by enabling them to exercise their rights to question and reject politicians indulging in questionable activities. In this regard, the experts recommend electoral reforms that ensure the right to recall and right to reject to the people of India.
This topic of “Right to Recall, Reject and Negative Voting: The Much-Needed Electoral Reforms in India” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.
What is the meaning of the Right to Recall?
- Right to recall means that if you are not satisfied with the performance of your elected representative then you can recall the representative& elect a new representative.
- The process of recalling actually confers on the electorate’s power to de-elect the representatives from the legislature through a process of voting when several voters registered on the electoral roll sign for such voting.
- Right to recall is basically a system and a tool to ensure greater accountability of our elected representatives and to bring forward the system of good governance by eliminating the corrupt and non-performing officials.
- It is often said that the right to recall is one of the basic tenets of universal democracy.
History of the Right to Recall
- The Right To Recall is not a modern-day concept. The ancient Athenians had a social custom under their unique democracy.
- In the sixth month of their 10-month calendar, all the people were asked in their assembly whether they wish to hold an ostracism. If the majority wanted it, ostracism was held after some time. Citizens wrote down names of those they wished to be ostracized on shards of pottery. The shards were deposited in a container and after counting them, whoever had the largest pile of the pieces was banned from the city for 10 years.
What is the global status of the Right to Recall?
- The modern-day right to recall concept is a direct successor of the methods practised by ancient Athenians.
- Canada’s Legislative Assembly of British Columbia has this provision since 1995.
- In the USA, The states of Alaska, Georgia, Kansas, Minnesota, Montana, Rhode Island and Washington have it.
- Venezuela, Philippines and Switzerland also have a law to recall.
What are the efforts taken to bring in the option to recall in India?
- The debate over the recall of elected representatives has a long history in Indian democracy.
- The matter was discussed in detail in the Constituent Assembly also where several members believed that the Right to Recall must accompany the Right to Elect and the voters must be provided with a remedy ‘if things go wrong’. However, Dr. B R Ambedkar did not accept this amendment.
- Some members of the Constituent Assembly argued that the ‘Recall’ provision would help in strengthening the democratic system, others felt that it would be improper to provide a Recall provision at the infancy of the Indian democracy.
- In recent times, humanists such as MN Roy and politicians such as Jayaprakash Narayan have spoken extensively on the need to introduce the right to recall in our electoral system.
- When Somnath Chatterjee was Lok Sabha Speaker, he also sought to install the right to recall to ensure accountability.
- Constitution (Amendment) Bill about Voters’ right to recall the elected representatives was introduced in Lok Sabha by C K Chandrappan in 1974 and Atal Bihari Vajpayee had supported this but the bill did not pass.
- A private member’s bill, The Representation of the People (Amendment) Bill, 2016 was introduced by BJP MP Varun Gandhi in Lok Sabha.
What is the current status of the Right to Recall in India?
- There is a recall law at the Panchayat level in some states such as UP, Uttarakhand, Bihar, Jharkhand, MP, Chhatisgarh, Maharashtra, and Himachal Pradesh.
- This law applies to municipalities and municipal corporations also in some states. But state assemblies and the lower house of Parliament are out of this charter.
Arguments in favour of the Right to Recall in India
- If the people are conferred with the power to elect their representatives, they must have the power to remove them as well.
- The right to recall is definitely a democratic tool that ensures greater accountability in the political system and can be a measure of electoral reforms.
- Such kind of right would be a significant check on corruption along with other measures such as the criminalization of politics.
- It will deter candidates from spending crores of money while campaigning for the elections because they will have a perpetual fear of being recalled.
- Advocates of the Right to recall seeing it as an option to correct wrong decisions without waiting for five years.
Arguments against Right to Recall in India
- It will lead to an excess of democracy where the independence of the representatives will go down due to the continuous threat of being recalled.
- To make themselves free from a recall would demand the representatives to always keep their electorates happy, which would eventually force these representatives to succumb to the populist pressure.
- Also, having a recall system in India would not only create unnecessary chaos due to the recurring recall election but also would unstable the government.
- There is always a question related to the practical aspect of conducting a recall which would involve enormous amounts of money along with manpower, time, etc.
- The introduction of recall would bring down inclusiveness as only those citizens who are politically alert would benefit from it.
- The introduction of recall would unnecessarily undermine the role along with the importance of our representatives which in fact would weaken our democracy.
- The main arguments of the advocates are revolving around the idea of good governance which can be sought to achieve through other alternate measures such as pre-election.
- Examples of such pre-election measures would be the provisions relating to the disqualification and expulsion of members and the existing vigilance bodies to check corruption, etc.
- These pre-election measures are said to be comprehensive enough to realize the goal of ‘good governance’ and a step towards a corruption-free government. However, there is a serious problem with the implementation of the same.
- Though the right to recall seems like an attractive idea theoretically, practically this practice is not feasible.
- Currently, the right to recall is definitely not a viable option in India. Even the Law Commission of India, in its 255th report after analyzing that it is not in favour of Right to Recall.
- Elections are a tedious and complex process and involve millions of people and resources worth crores at the time; hence it is not feasible to hold an election for the same constituency frequently.
- Moreover, the politically dominant caste which is quite prevalent in India will definitely misuse the provision of the right to recall.
- What needs to be done is to strengthen the other measures as well as finding solutions to eliminate the problems associated with the accountability of our elected representatives rather than entering a totally new sphere and bringing a new law.
Negative Vote and the Right to Reject:
What is negative voting?
- Negative or neutral voting allows voters to reject all the candidates by choosing a “none of the above” option instead of selecting and voting for a particular candidate.
- Besides India, NOTA option exists in countries like France, Sweden, Belgium, Greece, Belarus, Spain, Bangladesh, Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Ukraine, and the State of Nevada in the US.
What is the right to reject?
- The Right to reject empowers electors to not choose any of the candidates during an election.
- This choice is opted by the voter when he/she feels that none of the candidates in a candidacy deserves to be elected.
- Under this system, when there is a majority percentage of negative/neutral votes, the election results are nullified and a new election is conducted.
- This reelection is termed as a run-off election.
Does India’s electoral system provide for the right to reject?
- India is one of the countries having a negative voting system.
- Before the Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs) were introduced, voting was done via ballot papers.
- During this period, the voters had a choice to put the ballot paper without marking against any candidates. This is to enable voters to reject all candidates.
- Such votes were considered as NOTAs.
- On 27th September 2013, the Supreme Court had ruled the right to register a NOTA vote (None of the Above vote) in an election should apply.
- It had ordered the Election Commission of India (ECI) to provide a button for NOTA in the EVMs.
- The option of NOTA enables voters to officially register a vote to reject all contesting candidates.
- The objectives of NOTA are:
- Increase public participation in the electoral process. Non-participation causes disinterest, which may then threaten the democratic ideals of India.
- Pressure parties to choose sound candidates who ensure good governance.
- Ensure people’s voice is heard by the political parties and their candidates.
- Eliminate instances of fraudulent votes
- Allow voters to exercise their right to secrecy of their decision.
- It should be noted that the existing NOTA system does not provide the right to reject.
- The majority in NOTAs does not mean that all candidates in a constituency stand rejected or defeated.
- Even if there is a majority in NOTA votes, the candidate with the highest number of votes will win because he/she obtained the valid vote.
- The SC did not provide a verdict related to the right to reject because the petition filed in 2013 demanding NOTA did not ask for it.
- The said petition only demanded secrecy of the voter casting a neutral vote and prevent a bogus vote in their place.
- The only use of NOTA is to put pressure on political parties to nominate good candidates.
What are the past recommendations?
- The right to reject was first proposed by the Law Commission in its 170th report in 1999.
- It suggested that the contesting candidates should be declared elected only if they obtained 50% + 1 of the valid votes.
- The Election Commission also supported the right to reject in 2001 and 2004 in its Proposed Electoral Reforms.
- The ECI also proposed a legislative amendment to Rule 22 and 49B of the Election Rules to introduce the NOTA and protect the secrecy of voting.
- Similarly, the law ministry’s ‘Background Paper on Electoral Reforms’ recommended that if a certain percentage of votes is negative, then the election result should be nullified and a new election should be held.
What is the recent PIL on the right to reject?
- A Public Interest Litigation was filed in the Supreme Court seeking direction to the ECI to use its plenary power under Article 324 to nullify the election results and hold fresh polls if majority votes have been polled in favour of NOTA in a particular constituency.
- It also sought to restrict the candidates who have participated in the invalidated election from contesting in the fresh election.
- This proposal is similar to the system followed in Columbia, wherein if there are majority blank votes (50% + 1), the election needs to be repeated and the earlier candidates in the invalidated election cannot contest again.
- The objective here is to address voter dissatisfaction caused by political parties’ selection process, which involves choosing candidates in an undemocratic manner without consulting electors.
- The right to reject and elect new candidates will give people the power to express their discontent, which in turn would push for the selection of better candidates.
- This enables people to keep check of the 7 menaces of democracy – corruption, criminalization, casteism, communalism, linguism, and regionalism.
- This furthers the democratic values envisioned by the Indian Constitution as people will be able to elect their representatives in a true sense.
- It would also ensure the accountability of the contesting candidates.
What are the arguments against the right to reject?
- If NOTA gets more votes, there are two possible options of ECI:
- Keep seat vacant
- Hold fresh elections
- Both of these options are ill-advised as they have the potential to jeopardize India’s democratic system and create political instability.
- If the second option is chosen, there would be instances of more frequent elections.
- Following issues may arise due to frequent elections:
- Possibility of a new list of candidates being worse than the first list. The rejection of the new list would lead to repetition of the elections over an indefinite period of time
- It may cause “Election fatigue” of the people, which then would only lead to lesser voter turnout. If the turnout for the reelection is lesser than the first election, there is a possibility of the candidate, who secures a lesser number of votes than a candidate in the rejected list, emerging as the winner. This creates political instability.
- The ECI uses teachers, government officials, and bank employees for conducting elections. Frequent reelections would mean holding these officials for over long periods or calling them back again and again. This would then affect vital sectors like education, banking, etc.
- Central police forces’ strength will be more focused on the election processes rather than on ensuring security at the border and other sensitive areas
- The model code of conduct remains in force until the election is completed. During this period, the government cannot make any announcements regarding new policies and programmes. If the candidates are rejected and reelected, the code will remain in place for a very long time.
- The district administration will be fully engaged in election management. Almost 40% of IAS officers and others will get appointed as election observers. This may have an adverse effect on the governance as it is brought to a standstill.
- Innocent candidates in the rejected list will face injustice for being disqualified for others’ bad reputation. They will also not be able to contest again, leading to the violation of their right to contest.
- High pressure on the government’s exchequer. The government is already mulling the ‘one nation, one election’ principle to reduce electoral expenses.
- If the Supreme Court supports the petition seeking the right to reject, India’s electoral system will certainly undergo drastic changes.
- At present, the PIL seeking to nullify the election result if a particular constituency receives maximum votes in favour of NOTA is currently pending before the SC.
- The apex court had recently directed political parties to upload on their websites and social media platforms the details on pending criminal cases against their candidates.
- It had also directed the parties to publish the reasons as to why those candidates with criminal records were chosen, instead of those without criminal antecedents.
- This direction is an important step towards decriminalizing politics.
- Since social media platforms are playing a critical role in influencing the election results across the world, this measure ensures that electors are well-informed about the candidates they choose.
- Thus, there is a possibility of political parties being forced to choose candidates with no criminal records and corruption charges in the first instance itself.
- This reduces the possibility of the need for reelection.
- Granting of the right to reject to the voters along with this SC directive ensures that the people’s will prevails over the evils like communalism.
- The news media must also play the role in increasing political awareness by providing unbiased and fact-based reports and regain the public’s trust.
- Efforts must also be taken by the government in ensuring inner-party transparency and election finance reform.
- If voting is our fundamental right, then the Right to Recall should also be considered as a Fundamental Right of the people. But the introduction of the post-election measure of recall will be a very ‘premature’ move and hence, the focus instead should be more on better implementation of the pre-election measures.
- Currently, NOTA is gaining traction among the electorate. With the measures to decriminalize politics put in place, the next logical step would be to make NOTA more effective and of electoral value by granting the right to reject. These initiatives must be supplemented with political funding reforms as well as inner-party transparency for ensuring the full realization of Indian democracy.
Practice Question for Mains
- Critically analyse the viability of the introduction of the Right to recall in India (250 Words)
- Right to Reject, while representing the true choice of the Indian electorate, comes with challenges. Comment. (250 words)