Government must act in good faith treating all citizens equally ~ not favouring organised business lobbies and organised labour over an unorganised peasantry
By SUBROTO ROY First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article, December 31 2006,
EVERY farmer knows that two adjacent plots of land which look identical to the outsider may be very different in character, as different as two siblings of the same family. Adjacent plots may differ in access to groundwater and sunlight, in minerals and salts, in soil, fertilisers, parasites, weeds or a dozen other agronomic factors. Most of all, they will differ in the quality and ingenuity of thought and labour that has gone into their care and cultivation over the years, perhaps over generations.
John Locke said: “Whatsoever that (a man) removes out of the state that Nature hath provided and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property… For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no one but he can have a right to what that once joined to, at least where there is enough and as good left in common for others” (Second Treatise of Government). Plots of land are as specific as the families that have “mixed” their labour with them. Locke wrote of labour being something “unquestionably” the labourer’s own property; in the same libertarian vein, Robert Nozick opened Anarchy, State and Utopia saying “Individuals have rights, and there are things no person or group may do to them (without violating their rights)”.
But as we recognise the universal sanctity of the individual person and his/her private property, we have to start qualifying it. If you purchase a field, forest or estate through which runs a pathway traditionally used by the public to get from one side to the other then even as the new owner you may not have a right to forbid the public’s use of the pathway. By extension, it is clear the State, the community of which you are a citizen, may approach you and demand there should be and will be a public road or thoroughfare through your property in the common interest. Such is the sovereign’s right of “eminent domain” recognised throughout the world, not only in times of war or natural disaster but also in normal times where private property may be taken for public use. The individual’s right to free use of his/her property is circumscribed as a result.
What may be certainly expected though in all matters is that the State will act in good faith, i.e., that it has conducted proper technical surveys and cost-benefit analyses as well as transparent public hearings, and has honestly decided that the road must be constructed using this route and no other. The doctrine of eminent domain implies that while the right to private property may be basic, it is not absolute, as indeed no right is, not even the right to one’s own life. In India, one key difference between the landmark Golaknath (AIR 1967 SC 1643) and Kesavananda Bharati (AIR 1973 SC 1461) rulings had to do precisely with the former recognising the right to property being fundamental as in our original 1950 Constitution, while the latter consented to the Indira Parliament’s denial of this.
When private property is taken, fair compensation must be paid. For example, the American Constitution says “no private property may be taken for public use without just compensation”. What is just compensation? Typically it would be the “fair market value” — but that must be properly adjudged accounting for the best future use of the land, not merely the historical or traditional past use of the land.
Consider, in a mature urban real-estate market, a plot made vacant because a warehouse located on it has accidentally burned down. What is the value of the plot now? Another warehouse could be built, but other bids could come in too for construction of offices or residential flats or a multi-storey garage. The plot’s value would differ depending on which use it is ultimately put to. And this value would be ascertained by calculating the expected cash flows into the future from each of these possibilities, discounted appropriately to account for the fact the future is less valuable than the present, with the highest value alternative being chosen. That is how a mature private real-estate market works in theory, though in practice there would be zoning and environmental restrictions to account for the traditional nature of the neighbourhood as well as possible pollution by effluent waste etc.
In India, Government departments and ministries have inherited prime urban real estate from British times. Amidst the highest value real estate in Kolkata, Bangalore, Delhi etc. will be found a military camp or flats built for military personnel, having nothing whatsoever to do with furtherance of the nation’s defences today. The appalling state of government accounting and audit of our public property and institutions includes the fact that neither the Union nor State Governments and municipalities have the faintest idea of assets, including real estate, that they own. These public assets are frequently open to abuse by managerially uncontrolled government employees.
Fallacies even more curious seem to be currently at work in Indian policy-making, whether by this or that political party. The “eminent domain” doctrine requires a public purpose to exist for acquisition of private property by the State: e.g. construction of a road, bridge, dam, airport or some other traditional public good which is going to be used by the public. In India as elsewhere, “land reform” did involve taking an absentee landlord A’s land and distributing it to B, C, D and E who worked as peasants on it. But nowhere else outside formerly communist China has land been forcibly taken from peasants B, C, D and E and handed over to this or that private capitalist in name of economic development (in a reverse class war)!
Eminent domain doctrine requires good faith on part of the State with respect to its citizens and that implies treating all citizens’ interests equally – not e.g. favouring an organised business lobby or organised industrial labour over the unorganised peasantry uneducated in the wiles of city people.
Also, there is no reason why Government should be interested in a particular product-mix emerging out of a given private factory (such as the so-called inflation-unadjusted “Rs one lakh car” instead of telecom equipment or garments or textiles). Dr Manmohan Singh’s statement last week that he wishes to see “employment-intensive” industries merely added to Government confusion: from Henry Ford to Japanese “lean business” today, everyone knows the direction of change of technology in the automobile industry has been towards robotics, making modern manufacturing less and less manpower-intensive! The Tatas themselves underwent a major downsizing and restructuring in the last decade, hiving off industries not considered part of their “core competence”.
Traditional agriculture of Singur’s sort represents the most labour-intensive employment-generating kind of rural economy. While such rural life may appear unsatisfying to the urban outsider, there is, as Tolstoy, Rabindranath, Gandhi and others knew, subtle happiness, contentment and tranquility there absent in alienated industrial sprawls. “Surplus” labour occurs in agriculture because of technological improvements in quality and delivery of agricultural inputs as well as new education and awareness (Theodore W. Schultz,Transforming Traditional Agriculture). It is mostly seasonal and all hands are used during the harvest when even urban migrants flock back to help. Industry did not leave Bengal in the 1960s and 1970s because of Mamata Banerjee but because of urban unrest, the culture of gheraos and lockouts, and bad regulations of the labour and capital markets associated largely with Ms Banerjee’s Left Front adversaries.
The basic fiction the Union and State Governments have made themselves believe is that their idea of an industrialisation plan is necessary for economic development. It is not. Real economic problems in West Bengal and elsewhere are financial to do with State budgets. “Debt overhang is there” is how the RBI Governor apologetically put it last week. Interest payments on the West Bengal State public debt consume larger and larger fractions of the revenue: these payments were at Rs 13 Bn in 1995 but grew to Rs. 92 Bn by 2004, and may jump to Rs 200 Bn in the next decade. The communists have been in power thirty years and no one but they are responsible. Making the State’s budget healthy would require tackling the gargantuan bureaucracy, slashing ministerial extravagance (foreign trips, VIP security) etc. It is much easier to hobnob with the rich and powerful while tear-gassing the peasants.
Peace Is Impossible Without Non-Aggressive Pakistani Intentions
First published in The Statesman December 15 2006,
Editorial Page Special Article
In June 1989 a project at an American university involving Pakistani and other scholars, including one Indian, led to the book Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s published in Karachi, New Delhi and elsewhere. The book reached Nawaz Sharif and the Islamabad elite, and General Musharraf’s current proposal on J&K, endorsed warmly by the US State Department last week, derives from the last paragraph of its editorial introduction: “Kashmir… must be demilitarised and unified by both countries sooner or later, and it must be done without force. There has been enough needless bloodshed on the subcontinent… Modern Pakistanis and Indians are free peoples who can voluntarily agree in their own interests to alter the terms set hurriedly by Attlee or Mountbatten in the Indian Independence Act 1947. Nobody but we ourselves keeps us prisoners of superficial definitions of who we are or might be. The subcontinent could evolve its political identity over a period of time on the pattern of Western Europe, with open borders and (common) tariffs to the outside world, with the free movement of people, capital, ideas and culture. Large armed forces could be reduced and transformed in a manner that would enhance the security of each nation. The real and peaceful economic revolution of the masses of the subcontinent would then be able to begin.”
The editors as economists decried the waste of resources involved in the Pakistan-India confrontation, saying it had “greatly impoverished the general budgets of both Pakistan and India. If it has benefited important sections of the political and military elites of both countries, it has done so only at the expense of the general welfare of the masses.”
Such words may have been bold in the early 1990s but today, a decade and a half later, they seem incomplete and rather naïve even to their author, who was myself, the only Indian in that project. Most significantly, the position in international law in the context of historical facts had been wholly neglected. So had been the manifest nature of the contemporary Pakistani state.
Jammu & Kashmir became an entity in international law when the Treaty of Amritsar was signed between Gulab Singh and the British on March 16 1846. British India itself became an entity in international law much later, possibly as late as June 1919 when it signed the Treaty of Versailles. As for Pakistan, it had no existence in world history or international law until August 14 1947, when the British created it as a new entity out of certain demarcated areas of British India and gave it the status of a Dominion. British India dissolved itself on August 15 1947 and the Dominion of India became its successor-state in international law on that date. As BR Ambedkar pointed out at the time, the new India automatically inherited British India’s suzerainty over any and all remaining “princely” states of so-called “Indian India”. In case of J&K in particular, there never was any question of it being recognised as an independent entity in global international law.
The new Pakistan, by entering a Standstill Agreement with J&K as of August 15 1947, did locally recognise J&K’s sovereignty over its decision whether to join Pakistan or India. But this Pakistani recognition lasted only until the attack on J&K that commenced from Pakistani territory as of October 22 1947, an attack in which Pakistani forces were complicit (something which, in different and mutating senses, has continued ever since). The Dominion of India had indicated it might have consented if J&K’s Ruler had decided to accede to Pakistan in the weeks following the dissolution of British India. But no such thing happened: what did happen was the descent of J&K into a condition of legal anarchy.
Beginning with the Pakistani attack on J&K as of October 22 upto and including the Rape of Baramulla and the British-led Pakistani coup détat in Gilgit on one side, and the arrival of Indian forces as well as mobilization by Sheikh Abdullah and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad of J&K’s civilians to repel the Pakistani invaders on the other side, the State of Jammu & Kashmir became an ownerless entity in international law. In Roman Law, from which all modern international and municipal law ultimately derives, the ownership of an ownerless entity is open to be determined by “military decision”. The January 1949 Ceasefire Line that came to be renamed the Line of Control after the 1971 Bangladesh War, demarcates the respective territories that the then-Dominions and later Republics of India and Pakistan acquired by “military decision” of the erstwhile State of J&K which had come to cease to exist.
What the Republic of India means by saying today that boundaries cannot be redrawn nor any populations forcibly transferred is quite simply that the division of erstwhile J&K territory is permanent, and that sovereignty over it is indivisible. It is only sheer ignorance on the part of General Musharraf’s Indian interviewer the other day which caused it to be said that Pakistan was willing to “give up” its claim on erstwhile J&K State territory which India has held: Pakistan has never had nor even made such a claim in international law. What Pakistan has claimed is that India has been an occupier and that there are many people inhabiting the Indian area who may not wish to be Indian nationals and who are being compelled against their will to remain so ~ forgetting to add that precisely the same could be said likewise of the Pakistani-held area.
Accordingly, the lawful solution proposed in these pages a year ago to resolve that matter, serious as it is, has been that the Republic of India invite every person covered under Article 370, citizen-by- citizen, under a condition of full information, to privately and without fear decide, if he/she has not done so already, between possible Indian, Iranian, Afghan or Pakistani nationalities ~ granting rights and obligations of permanent residents to any of those persons who may choose for whatever private reason not to remain Indian nationals. If Pakistan acted likewise, the problem of J&K would indeed come to be resolved. The Americans, as self- appointed mediators, have said they wish “the people of the region to have a voice” in a solution: there can be no better expression of such voice than allowing individuals to privately choose their own nationalities and their rights and responsibilities accordingly. The issue of territorial sovereignty is logically distinct from that of the choice of nationality by individual inhabitants.
Equally significant though in assessing whether General Musharraf’s proposal is an anachronism, is Pakistan’s history since 1947: through Ayub’s 1965 attack, the civil war and secession of Bangladesh, the Afghan war and growth of the ISI, the Kargil incursion, the 1999 coup détat, and, once or twice removed, the 9/11 attacks against America. It is not a history that allows any confidence to arise in Indians that we are not dealing with a country misgoverned by a tiny arrogant exploitative military elite who remain hell-bent on aggression against us. Like the USA and USSR twenty years ago, what we need to negotiate about, and negotiate hard about, is an overall mutual military drawdown and de-escalation appropriate to lack of aggressive intent on both sides. Is General Musharraf willing to discuss that? It would involve reciprocal verifiable assessment of one another’s reasonable military requirements on the assumption that each was not a threatening enemy of the other. That was how the USA-USSR drawdown and de-escalation occurred successfully. If General Musharraf is unwilling to enter such a discussion, there is hardly anything to talk about with him. We should wait for democracy to return.
Mob violence remains a monthly occurrence in modern India; it gives the lie to our claims of political maturity and democratic development.
By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article December 10 2006
Mob violence certainly signals collapse of the Rule of Law and absence of normal political conversation and decision-making. Mob violence in modern India remains a monthly occurrence: a child is killed by a speeding bus, the driver if he is caught is thrashed to death by a mob of onlookers and the bus burnt down; a factory closes and workers go on a rampage; a statue or political personality or religious figure is perceived to have been insulted or desecrated, and crowds take to the streets to burn vehicles and cause mayhem; a procession is said to be insulted, and rival mobs go to battle with one another. (In fact, elected legislators in Parliament and State Assemblies frequently conflate mob behaviour like slogan-shouting with political conversation itself, carrying into the House the political methods they have learned to employ outside it. And contrary to what our legislators may suppose, they do need to be constantly lectured to by the general citizenry whose paid servants they are supposed to be).
Such may be relatively simple cases to describe or diagnose. More complex cases include the deliberate burning alive of Graham Staines and his two young sons by a mob in 1999 as they slept in their vehicle in rural Orissa, or countless deeds of similar savagery during Partition and the innumerable other riots we have seen in the history of our supposedly tolerant and non-violent culture.
We are not unique in our propensity for evil. French women knitted and gossiped watching the guillotine do its bloody work during the Jacobin terror. Long before them, as the Catholic scholar Eamon Duffy reports in Faith of our fathers, Pope Gregory IX in 1233 had initiated the “Inquisition”: two anonymous witnesses could cause any person to be arrested as a heretic, tortured and then burnt alive. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII endorsed “witches” to be burnt, causing “deaths of countless thousands of harmless or eccentric women over the next 300 years. In all, as many as 25,000 people, most of them women may have been burnt as witches in Germany” alone. American history has seen countless cases of mob violence, from witch-burnings and other religious violence to cold-blooded lynching on trees of individual black men by white mobs, black mobs looting inner cities, street clashes between political groups etc. Soviet Russia and Maoist China saw systematic ideologically driven violence by Party cadres and “Red Guards” against countless individuals ~ forced to confess to imaginary misdeeds, then assaulted or shot. Nazi Germany, Czarist Russia and many other countries saw mobs attacking, dispossessing or killing individual Jews and innumerable others, again in systematic ideologically motivated pogroms. Indeed as Hannah Arendt and others have noted, the similarities between totalitarian regimes as outwardly different as Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia or Communist China included the ideologically driven targeting of identifiable small minorities for systematic violence by majorities in power. Even Tony Blair’s supposedly Cool Britannia today, besides having the most notorious soccer hooligans in the world, is also a place where no individual, non-white or white, will pass a drunken mob of adolescent school-children on the streets on a Friday night without trepidation.
Every case of mob violence is different; yet what could be common is a temporary, if deliberate, suspension of the normal human sense of responsibility on part of a mob’s individual members. Reason and responsibility return if at all only after the evil has been accomplished ~ whether it is killing or assaulting someone or destroying something ~ and it can be accompanied by a sense of remorse and regret. Even where mob tyranny has been systematic, long-term, ideologically-driven and state-sponsored, as with the Inquisition or French Revolution or Nazi, Soviet or Chinese terrors, future generations look back at the past misdeeds of their ancestors and say: “That was wrong, very wrong, it should never have happened”. Moral learning does take place at some time or other, even if it is long after the evil has occurred. It is as if, when sobriety and rationality return, an individual participant in a mob realises and recognises himself/herself to have revealed a baser ignoble side which is shameful.
“Sometimes a society acts as if all power lay in the hands of the most babyish and animal members, and sometimes as if all power lay in the hands of strict old men, and sometimes it acts more as a whole ~ mostly when there’s a war on. Sometimes a man is not himself and acts as if a babyish or cunning animal had gained control ~ that’s the id ~ sometimes as if an exacting parent, a sarcastic schoolmaster, or an implacable deity possessed him ~ that’s the super-ego. Sometimes a man is more himself and acts more as a whole, a new whole which is not a combination but a synthesis of the id and the super-ego. Some are constantly at the mercy of the id, some are slaves to the super- ego, and in some first one and then the other gains an unhappy victory in a continual struggle, and in some conflict and control have vanished into cooperation…” Such was the description the Cambridge philosopher John Wisdom gave in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis in the 1940s and 1950s, when he translated into normal idiomatic language some of the difficult technical findings and theories of the mind propounded by Sigmund Freud in the previous half-century.
When the mob forms itself, its members individually choose to suppress their normal rational personalities and sense of adult responsibility, and permit instead their cunning animal or babyish instincts to take over and reign supreme within themselves. It must be a collective decision even if silently taken: for one person to behave in such a manner would look identifiably stupid and criminal but for him/her to do so in a group where everyone has simultaneously decided to abandon reason (whether spontaneously or shouting slogans together) allows the loss of individual responsibility to become hidden in the mass, and the collective to take on features of a hydra-headed monster, capable of the vilest deeds without the slightest self-doubt. The victim of their violence or abuse will often be an individual who stands out in some way ~ perhaps by natural or social attributes or even by heroic deeds: indeed Freud suggested that primitive tribes sometimes engaged in parricide and regicide, cannibalising their individual heroes in the belief that by consuming something of the hero’s remains those attributes might magically reappear in themselves.
In modern India, the presence of mob violence on a monthly basis somewhere or other in the country gives the lie to our claims of maturity of our political and democratic development. Those posing as our political leaders may make as many foreign trips and wooden prepared speeches on TV as they wish to, but their actual cowardice is manifest in having failed to address the real disjunction that exists in this country between political interests and political preferences at the grassroots on the one hand, and the lack of serious parliamentary conversation addressing these within our representative institutions on the other. The reliance by the Executive on often brutal police or paramilitary forces reflects failure of the Legislative and Judicial branches of our Government, as well as a lack of balance between them arising from our political and constitutional immaturity.
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