The Call For Recall

The Right to Recall can have many dangerous consequences, if implemented.

Last Updated: Nov 05, 2011, 15:03 PM IST

Shobhika Puri

There are some issues that stir public emotions and have the power to unite strangers. The recent Anna Hazare movement against corruption is one such example. The cause was such that even those who indulged in acts of corruption were also eager to show their support. The danger with such issues is that they become very popular too soon with a demand to achieve the end objective without a detailed analysis of the pros and cons. Many people are supporting the Jan Lokpal Bill without even being aware of the consequences of the same just because it falls under the anti-corruption banner. Anna Hazare’s latest demand of constituting a Right to Recall also runs the danger of being yet another demand that can garner popular support without paying much heed to the adverse consequences.

There is no denying the fact that electoral reforms are important, a demand whose time is long overdue. Anna team’s latest demands are to have a Right to Reject to reject all the candidates standing for an election and to provide a Right to Recall to recall the elected candidates, if they fail to perform. A perfunctory analysis of these rights would make them seem like a logical consequence of years of dissatisfied public and the abysmal levels of service delivery by the politicians. However, the Right to Recall can have many dangerous consequences, if implemented.

It would help to draw an analogy with the corporate world. Each corporate, whether big or small, has a comprehensive recruitment process where qualifications, job-fit and background screening are some of the routine and vital processes. If an organisation of a few hundred to a few thousand people serving an equal or even lesser number of clients, can have such a comprehensive recruitment and selection process, then why are such checks and balances missing from an organisation that has a few lakh people (country-wide government organisations) managing over 120 crore people?

If Anna’s demand of Right to Recall is accepted by the corporates, then they can do away with their critical Human Resources functions like performance appraisal, recruitment and selection. People can join-in an organisation through somebody’s reference or by getting a majority of the existing employees to vote for them. It would not matter whether they have the requisite qualifications and skill-sets to perform the job or not. Also, nobody would check their background for any cases of fraud and letters of recommendation would be of no value. People can join-in and after sometime, if a sizeable number of employees are not satisfied with the new recruit’s performance, then they can sign a petition against him and he shall have to go.

If the above analogy did not set the alarm bells ringing, it would help to consider a scenario where the Right to Recall is actually implemented by the government. It is a known fact that most politicians in India are elected by a minority vote, with the majority being against them. According to some estimates, on an average, a candidate wins by three crore votes out of a thirteen to fourteen crore strong constituency. Thus, at the very outset each politician would have a majority not in his favour. It would be very easy for the defeated candidates to garner support against the winning candidate from day one. Also, it is a fact that no one can satisfy everybody, no matter how good that person is. So, in the absence of a proper evaluation system and with the levels of ignorance amongst the masses about the government’s policies and procedures, there are high chances of many people taking decisions based on perception and ignorance as against reality and informed decision-making.

A comprehensive evaluation system that is objective and easy to understand for the masses would need to be developed. But, it would not end there. People would need to be educated about this and the results of anti-politician votes or signatures would need to be audited by an independent authority, which would need to be formed for the purpose. For example, if ten lakh people sign against the incumbent in a constituency, then who will audit the signatures? Who will manage this process? What if the incumbent challenges this in a court of law? It is most likely that the case would hang for years then, would it not create instability in the system?

There is a rationale for having a five-year term plan in our Constitution. It gives the incumbent enough time to implement his schemes. If this term is reduced, then the incumbent’s attention would be divided and he would end up focussing more on the impending elections. Also, the short time period would become a convenient excuse for the incumbent for his schemes not getting implemented. Moreover, if this Right to Recall is implemented, then most politicians would end up announcing populist schemes in the fear of getting vetoed out.

Advocates of the right are citing the examples of countries or foreign states like Russia, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Bulgaria and some states of US, that have already implemented the same in the past. Even though not much information is available about the success of the right there, even if available, then also these places are not comparable to India. The size, the demographics, the backgrounds, the people are all very different.

So, what is the solution? The solution is very simple: go back to school, a proposition many politicians would find hard to digest given their level of education. Each school has a proper selection process for the teachers, students and even for the parents. Then, each student is evaluated based on a comprehensive pre-set and standardized evaluation system that is regularly audited by the concerned government authorities. Students who do not get the requisite grades, do not go to the next class. There is no element of subjectivity here. The criteria are clearly defined, the evaluation system is transparent and professional and the results are objectively determined. The same system in combination with the corporate HR system referred to earlier, can be extended to the government system to make the electoral process more efficient.

Another simple and oft neglected solution is to vote. According to some estimates, around 50 percent of the people do not vote all the time. If the number of people voting increases, then the candidate elected would be more representative of the aspirations of the people at large.

Thus, it is important to treat the root-cause of the disease and not just the symptoms, if one is to cure the patient properly. What the Right to Recall shall do is to treat the symptoms and not cure the disease. On the contrary, it shall also end up creating new diseases, a fate that a country like India with diseases aplenty, cannot afford.

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer)