Cities put electoral democracy to test in India. In these battlegrounds of destiny, the support of a responsive State is essential for the citizens – the reason why municipal elections provide a granular view of people’s perception about democracy and its discontents.
An overwhelming majority of citizens of Hyderabad, in a recent study, stated they are in support of Right to Recall of non-performing municipal corporators before the end of their tenure. A large number also demanded similar measures to rein in corrupt municipal officials. The voters of Hyderabad, a globally connected IT hub of the country, have extensively supported next generation electoral reforms to make power at every level more answerable. Here are the top four findings of the study:
What Do Hyderabad Citizens Think of Their Corporators?
- The Urban Distress and Reforms Study, 2020, was conducted between 6-12 November 2020 in the GHMC area. The findings revealed that almost 69 percent felt that corporators performed their duties mainly before elections. This is significant as Hyderabad goes to municipal polls on 1 December in a schedule advanced by the TRS government after the party was defeated by BJP in early November 2020 in a closely fought by-election for Dubakka assembly constituency in Telangana. The study conducted in 15 out of the 30 circles of the GHMC area revealed that 95 percent respondents supported Right to Recall – the power to remove, through a re-election, non-performing municipal corporators before the end of their tenure. Of these, a significant number at 74 percent also wanted a similar power over the careers and tenures of municipal officials.
Do Voters Face ‘Election Fatigue’ As The State Machinery Claims?
- About 9 out of 10 persons believed that voters have no powers over corporators once they are elected. Over 88-89 percent men and women voters reported the perception that they felt powerless towards elected representatives. This perception persists among over 90 percent of respondents without schooling as well as those with schooling up to the secondary level. More than 95 percent of respondents from higher income segments stated they had no power once they voted, while members of OBC and general castes felt more powerless than those belonging to SCs and STs.
- About 88 percent respondents had no problem with voting again in a re-election to oust the non-performing corporators and elect a fresh candidate. This goes against the notion, usually extended by the State machinery, that voters might face election fatigue. On the contrary, voters appeared fatigued with the present 5-year fixed tenures and sought control over it. This also reveals the desire to ‘de-select’ vote – a decision those inside the system believe Indian voters are not wise enough to undertake. Significantly, men at 89 percent and women at 85 percent supported the idea of re-elections to have more power over corporators. The highest support of over 91 percent was among those educated up to primary level schooling, while the highest opposition of only 16.7 percent was among graduates and above. Members of SC community were most in support of the Right to Recall at 91 percent and the most opposition was from respondents of the OBC community at just over 15 percent.
Who All – And How Many – Voted For The Right To Mid-Term Re-Elections?
- The fixed tenure of the elected representatives appears to be in desperate need of revision. Further, it is a perception that might extend to electoral democracy at every level, as 89 percent felt they deserve better governments. Over 78 percent respondents, who felt they deserved a better government, also voted ‘yes’ for the right to mid-term re-elections for better control over the corporators, officials and the government. It must be noted that Right to Recall is not a new reform, but those in power have never supported giving such rights to the voters. However, at the municipal level where only local issues are at play, this reform has been in operation in several states in India. Recall has been implemented at the municipal level in Madhya Pradesh since 2001 and in Chhattisgarh since 2007. Operationally, in these two states, this reform is an extension of the no-confidence motion, which is put on ballot for the municipal voters to decide.
Why The ‘Right To Recall’ Remains Highly Political
In case the voters recall the incumbent, a re-election takes place for the position. The reform is also provided in various forms in other states.
Research by this author in different states has revealed that the Right to Recall remains highly political and open to manipulation, as the No Confidence Motion originates within the elected House and is prone to the usual pressures.
This can be corrected when people themselves have the powers to initiate Recall and, therefore, make elected representatives directly responsible to voters’ agenda. But even when partially provided in the present form, Recall at municipal level still serves the voters, who get to rethink their vote or reaffirm it. Either way, it provides one of the most important reforms for any democracy, which can only be denied by governments reluctant to be answerable to the voters.
(Dr Kota Neelima, Author and Researcher, writes on rural distress and farmer suicide. Recent book, Widows of Vidarbha, Making of Shadows. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)