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Here’s how we can reform India without government help

April 18, 2012

**Please find faults and suggest improvements**

After 65 years of democracy, millions in India continue to suffer miserably.

Most Indians have some or the other reform suggestion for governments but most are clueless on how to convince/empower/force the governments to carry out these reforms.

  • In 2011, Anna brilliantly tried fasting and mass mobilization without tangible success.
  • Some give up whereas the more committed ones suggest ‘taking the bull by its horns’ i.e. contesting elections and forming a ‘good’ government as the only alternative. While they make commendable efforts towards their noble intention, the path is extremely difficult, can take decades and if and when they succeed, there is no guarantee that the resulting government is ‘good’.

So, here’s a reform suggestion that does NOT rely on the government: ‘Right to recall’

‘Right to recall’ is the right of people to recall poorly performing elected representatives before they complete the full term.

Straightforward justification – in a democracy, people have the power to appoint …so, they should also have the power to remove without having to suffer for 5 years.

Right to recall’s utility is tremendous – most elected representatives will perform better when they know that they can be recalled. Also, recalling poorly performing representatives is good.

However, a key practical issue is what should be the trigger to hold a recall election? People are the best judge of a representative’s performance but how to gather the people’s views? Signatures are difficult to obtain and authenticate. Conducting an official vote is expensive and time-consuming.


Here is an extremely simple and powerful ‘right to recall’ model using the principles of liberty:

Establish legal validity to a ‘recall agreement’!

That’s it.

Let me explain.

A typical recall agreement should have the following features:

  • completely voluntary but publicly disclosed agreement between an electoral candidate/party and a group of citizens (lets call them a pressure group or an issue based votebank – as against religion or caste based votebanks)
  • the pressure group promises to help the candidate(s) get elected by campaigning / voting for him (Important: while a candidate generally needs 30-40% of votes to win an election, a pressure group only needs to swing a few % votes towards the candidate in 2nd or 3rd position to help him win. This makes even relatively small pressure groups immensely useful for serious candidates who are not sure of winning on their own)
  • the candidate/party, in return, promises to take certain defined policy actions and/or follow the pressure group’s guidance in his conduct as an elected rep. If the candidate violates the agreement or the  pressure group is unhappy with his work and asks him to step down, he will have to step down.
  • The pressure group cannot force the elected rep to do something or vote in the legislature in a particular manner (in a democracy, that should remain the elected rep’s prerogative). The pressure group can only force him to step down if he doesn’t honor the agreement.

Will any candidate enter into such an agreement?

Yes, if he:

  • broadly concurs with the pressure group’s position on most issues or issues defined in the agreement,
  • trusts its intentions, and
  • trusts its ability to swing the election in his favor

Candidates who do not enter into such an agreement will not be subject to recall but their chances of getting elected itself will be lower if another candidate is supported by a credible pressure group.

Will this make the pressure group too powerful?


  • A pressure group will have, and maintain, ability to swing elections only if its leaders are credible, have generally acceptable ideas and it follows best practices (transparency, accountability, etc.) with the right intention. Ultimately, it needs popular support and having popular support in a democracy justifies power.
  • If one pressure group does well, its power / success will encourage other competing pressure groups. Competition will increase innovation and keep pressure groups accountable (cut any chances of any one group, becoming too powerful)
  • Remember, the pressure group’s power will be restricted only to the issues agreed in the publicly disclosed agreement. People will vote for a pressure group supported candidate only if they agree with the pressure group’s position on those issues.
  • To inform people about the recall agreement while voting, the candidate list at the polling booths should have the pressure group’s symbol alongwith the political party’s symbol.

Wait…don’t you need the government’s help to establish legal validity to a recall agreement?

No, such agreements are probably already valid!!

Need some research but I believe there is no specific electoral law prohibiting a ‘recall agreement’. However, our courts may (incorrectly) strike down such an agreement on grounds of being ‘opposed to public policy’.

It’s really worth it for Team Anna or any other pressure group to enter into such an agreement with some candidate(s) or, preferably, some serious political party and help them come to power. If the party doesn’t honor the agreement post election, then ask its candidates to step down. If the party risks failure in next elections and ignores the pressure group’s request to step down, then the pressure group should approach a court asking for specific performance of the contract. In my view, such an agreement should be upheld because its a voluntary agreement between 2 adults/groups. It doesn’t violate the rights of the general public because they voted the candidate into office knowing fully well that the pressure group has influence over the candidate. This is also perfectly in sync with the principles of liberty.

If the agreement is upheld, the implications are enormous. This will increase people power, encourage citizens to group together, become politically aware and bargain with electoral candidates, force elected representatives to honour the recall agreement and generally perform well and also establish a continuous dialogue between ordinary citizens and politicians. Doesn’t this sound more like a true participatory democracy compared to what we have now?

My belief is that participatory democracy i.e. people’s meaningful participation is all we need. All systemic reforms that India really need will follow! (if you disagree with people’s ability to do good to themselves, then you probably disagree with the very notion of democracy and liberty…remember, we already consider every adult person, howsoever foolish or ignorant, qualified enough to have an equal say in electing the leaders of the country)

This also explains why Indian democracy has failed to honour the will of the people. It is because we do not have enough democracy. We have ‘universal adult franchise’ where every adult can vote (and stand for elections). Isn’t this different from democracy – government of the people, for the people and by the people?

What if the agreement is shot down or the government manages to bring in a law that prohibits such an agreement?

This is unlikely but a setback. However, the representative’s betrayal will hamper his ability to win the next elections. Nothing that can stop the pressure groups to help candidates win election and extract promises in return. Candidates for their own good will stick to their promises as long as there are pressure groups capable of swinging elections.

This is a positive way to bring change

When Team Anna campaigned against Congress in Hisar, it was (wrongly) criticized for being negative and anti-congress since all other candidates were also corrupt.

Every political party has some corrupt elements and some non-corrupt ones. We should focus on strengthening the weak/meek non-corrupt voices rather than crticizing the entire political class. Remember, a political party will do anything to achieve/retain power. Its human / natural. If we can propel them to power, they will do anything we ask them to. In other words, lets give them a constituency for reforms (by voting en bloc) and they will, for their own selfish sake, give us reforms.

eg: BJP inducted the corrupt Kushwaha and fielded criminal candidates (despite some opposition from within) rightly or wrongly hoping that they will improve its UP 2012 tally. If Team Anna campaigned for BJP on the condition that it removes Kushwaha, doesn’t field any candidates with criminal records or corrupt images, follows inner party democracy in choosing candidates, promises to pass/support Jan lokayukta bill in UP, etc. then it would have helped BJP take a high moral ground, strengthen the clean guys within the party and hopefully, win a few more seats with the help of Team Anna.

Ofcourse, some elements will anyways criticize us but a ‘mask of  BJP/RSS’ or ‘anti-Congress’ or ‘anti-BJP’ charge will not hold water if Team Anna publicly gives all parties an equal opportunity of agreeing to its conditions and transparently going with the party agreeing with more of its conditions.

Political parties already have a legislated ‘right to recall’ in the form of anti-defection law where, if an elected rep defies his party whip, then the party can get him disqualified and ask for fresh election in his constituency. This law harms democracy by making the elected reps blindly follow the party high command. The recall agreements can transfer some of that power to the people encouraging more pressure groups and radically increase public participation in politics.

(needless to say, the anti-defection law needs to go  – or restricted to ‘confidence votes’ or ‘money bills’ where high stakes lead to horse trading….and now we all know how to bring about this change :))

Political pressure groups – how do they differ from political parties:

  • They cannot undermine parliament by making laws ……the law making authority of parliament is supreme. Pressure groups, who derive their power from the people, can only influence the parliamentarians by their ability to swing elections.
  • Even if a pressure group goes rogue and risks its existence by insisting on a wrong decision, parliamentarians can refuse to be influenced by them and let the people decide in next elections
  • They will not take any executive decisions…executive decisions will remain the government’s prerogative but pressure groups can influence these decisions
  • Pressure groups, unlike elected representatives, will not receive any remuneration or funding whatsoever from the public exchequer.  They have to rely on donations – another check on their power
  • Pressure groups can be issue specific i.e citizens may come together for/against a particular issue (let’s say FDI in retail) even if they disagree on all other issues. On the other hand, governments (run by political parties) have to take a call on all issues.
  • They allow an opportunity for citizens to engage in the nation’s politics without being full time politicians

P.S.  While i personally disagree with this and consider this as an unnecessary attack on liberty, there may be need for safeguards to ensure this does not encourage religious/occupational votebanks or lobbies  >> maybe agreements signed only by ‘qualified’ pressure groups may be granted legal sanctity. Qualifications should be objective and may include conditions like:

  • pressure group (or its core decision making body) cannot be dominated by people from a particular caste, religion, occupation, etc.
  • high standards of transparency like meetings to be video recorded and publicly available
  • the pressure group’s decision asking the representative to step down can only be taken by its decision making body in a transparent manner (with 2/3rd majority)
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