Right to recall is cart before horse: We need e-voting first

Team Anna is all for it. Nitish Kumar is fine with it. The Congress’ Salman Khurshid is open to debating the subject. The BJP may or may not be for it, but appears tongue-tied on it. Only the Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is vocally against it.

Jab mian-bibi more or less razi, kya karega kazi? When politicians don’t seem so openly opposed to it, why is the Election Commission fretting about the right to recall and reject MPs?    

According to CEC SY Quraishi, the right to reject and recall legislators can lead to instability and is logistically almost impossible to implement in India. He told Karan Thapar in a CNN-IBN interview: “Right to recall means about five lakh people have to sign the application to recall; then we will have to verify those signatures…It is maddening to find out which signature is bogus."

 Right to recall is cart before horse: We need e-voting first

The country needs e-voting facility first rather than Right to Recall. Reuters

Quraishi is also concerned that the right to reject – which involves putting a button in the electronic voting machine (EVM) where a voter can choose none of the above but whose vote won’t otherwise be counted – can be used to frustrate the electoral process in politically estranged places like Kashmir.

The CEC has a point. He is talking logistics, but the real question is whether we should have the right to recall at all, and not whether it will be difficult to implement. That comes later. Once we agree it is a good idea, the logistics are a matter of detail.

There are two reasons why the right to recall holds the key to electoral reform and reduction of political corruption. But there are also two concerns that need to be caveated.

One, when a candidate is going to face the possibility of a mid-term recall, he is less likely to treat his voters with contempt. He will make it a point to engage with them all through the term – and not just six months before an election.

Two, when you fear the possibility of a recall – no one can guarantee that your constituency will not have the necessary disgruntled elements – you will be more circumspect about spending crores on plying voters with free drinks and cash. Every candidate will be more careful in spending his money – and will, therefore, require less campaign funds.

Three, in principle, the people should always have the right to correct a wrong decision made at the last elections. Waiting for another election five years down the line is inefficient.

As opposed to this, the primary arguments against the right to recall are also three-fold.

One, the right to recall may have the perverse effect of getting only criminals elected in some places. Ask yourself: who would be most immune to recall? Probably someone who can use strong-arm methods to ensure that citizens do not campaign against him for a recall. In places where law and order are vulnerable to criminal manipulation, the right to recall may end up giving us exactly the kind of politicians we don’t want: the thugs.

Two, we also have the Quraishi argument of instability. One is the prospect of frequent elections. Candidates would thus be wary of taking bold stands on any issue for fear of the voter. There would also be the possibility of all candidates promising voters the moon – which means every candidate will act fiscally irresponsibly.

Three, there is question of costs and logistics. If elections have to be held every now and then, and moreover, the Election Commission has the arduous task of verifying the authenticity of those wanting to recall their legislators, we will be bankrupting ourselves with this right.

Looking at the benefits and costs of the right to recall, quite clearly the balance right now is against the idea.

But, there is always a right time for the right idea. The idea is not feasible right now because of the logistics and costs involved. But several changes are taking place in India which will make the right to recall more feasible much later. We should embrace it then.

For example:

The Unique ID project will give each voter an ID. When IDs can be confirmed electronically, Quraishi will not have to run around the country matching the signatures of people signing a Right to Recall petition.

Digital signatures and voting: Currently, Indians spend crores buying things on the net. They also file their tax returns electronically by using digital signatures. When money can be used digitally and securely, why not vote electronically? E-spending technology is good enough for digital voting.

In future, we may need digital voting centres populated with computers rather than EVMs for exercising our franchise. These can be permanent voting machines, with only software changes giving you the options – whether it is a general election, a right to recall, or a referendum. Your digital identity will ensure your security and your vote. The counting is over the minute you vote – just like millions of online polls.

Broadband for all: The New Telecom Policy 2011 announced by Kapil Sibal plans to make broadband accessible to all Indians, There will be no digital divide after five years – or at least by 2020. This means every village can participate in national debates, and voting electronically.

Digital voting is the way to make the right to recall effective and foolproof. Combine that with electoral reforms like state-funding of elections, debarment of criminals and other changes, and the right to recall can be made effective.

But the reforms and digital democracy have to precede the right to recall. The time for giving Indians this right is later. Not now.

Updated Date: Oct 18, 2011 17:57:42 IST