A fortnight ago, something unique happened in the lesser-known state of Chattisgarh, which unfortunately failed to grab the attention of the mainstream visual media. The people of Chattisgarh have stripped three elected representatives of their position by the exercise of what is called as “right to recall”. The heads of two Nagar Panchayats and a Municipal Committee voted out of office by the people are Bharti Sonkar (Congress), president of Gunderdehi Nagar Panchayat, Sitaram Ganekar (Independent), who headed the Nawagarh Nagar Panchayat and Koren Khalko, president of Rajpur Municipal Committee.
A recall election is a procedure by which voters can remove an elected official from the office. This provision is enshrined in Section 47 of the Chhattisgarh Nagar Palika Act, 1961. According to the law, if three-fourth of the total number of elected representatives of the municipal bodies gave it in writing to the district collector demanding recall of the president, the district administration, after verifying the circumstances, could suggest to the state Government accordingly. The state Government then would send the proposal to the state Election Commission for conducting an election to recall the president. In other words, if the elected councilors in a municipality are not happy with the performance of their President, they can initiate a proposal for the process of recall provided three fourths of the total number of elected councilors give it in writing. Subsequently the election commission conducts a ballot where people are given two choices – to keep the person in power or remove him from office. If a majority of the votes i.e. 50% or more is cast in favour of removing the person from office, he automatically relinquishes power and fresh elections would be called for.
The dissatisfied councilors, using this act, expressed their lack of confidence in their Presidents leading to a recall election that resulted in the three heads losing office. Bharti Sonkar had managed to get only 1389 votes in her favour, while 1977 voted against. Sitaram Ganekar got 805 in favour and 1146 against while Koren Khalko lost the race by a slim margin of 73 votes – 813 for and 740 against.
The roots of this provision can be traced to similar law in the state of Madhya Pradesh, out of which the state of Chattisgarh was carved out. Palavika Patel, the former president of Anuppur municipality in Madhya Pradesh, was ousted in a similar fashion in 2002. The state of Maharashtra is also attempting to put such a law in place but the lack of political will is major stumbling block. At the national level, though, the idea has been doing rounds since finding mention in the Government Agenda in 1977 by the then ruling Janata Party government but yet to fructify into a concrete idea. Even though the lack of political will is being claimed to be the biggest reason, citing how in the US, 18 states passed a similar legislation following the trend set by California, it will be unfair to consider so for the reason that even in the so called most developed democracies or other political setups around the world, a similar option is largely unfound.
When considering the political climate in the country, it would be a bit premature to consider this isolated incident as a sign of growing people’s empowerment or emergence of participatory democracy because the initiation of this process is still a political agenda. Those who lost power are quick to attach conspiracy theory and political vendetta versions to the story. Similar recall elections have been held in the past but they largely went unnoticed and even a case, involving the recall of Mr. Vimal Chopra, is awaiting final decision from the court. Nevertheless, the recall in Chattisgarh is still considered significant because it involved removing three people from office and it has managed to generate some interest. The mainstream media, however, remains aloof (I did search for a story covering this in IBN Live and NDTV websites) to this incident quite understandably because it doesn’t generate much TRPs as compared to aishwarya rai being pregnant.