Saturday, January 27, 2007

Land, again

Just had to write about this ever since it has struck me. With all this controversy about the Singur acquisition, why is is that none of the commentators on the blogosphere find it fit to criticise Tata Motors for their role in the whole controversy. Is it because that will mean opposing a business house, a capitalist, an epitome of a liberal economy? Or is it because criticising the government is the more 'done' thing as part of the liberal discourse, the easier way out in any controversy? The Tatas have enough MBAs, economists and general other such informed souls to know and understand the concept of individual freedom, property rights, and suchlike. If the government is acting as a land recovery agent for them, surely it is because they have asked the government to do so. If there has been an underpayment to the people losing their land, surely it is in part to indirectly subsidise the costs to Tata Motors. Why have they taken these route, and more importantly, why have they not been criticised, except by politicians/activists who will anyway attack any corporates as and when they want?

Yes, I know the obvious answer. Tata Motors will act in their rational self interest, if there aren't provisions for direct sale, and there are provision for government backed acquisition, why wouldn't they use these provisions? The government however, represents the people. It must take decisions and make and implement policies for the representative or the individual's interest, etc. Sorry, but this logic runs thin. The government is not the 'government', some abstract quantity, but the particular individuals and officials making up the government legislature and executive. When they strike a deal with Tata, they are also acting in their 'rational self-interest'. We expect better from them because they are the 'government', they run on our taxes, they represent us etc. but if we do so, we must also expect a certain ethical high standard from the corporate houses, whether they directly represent us or not. A liberal citizenry and a liberal government needs corporates that believe in the same tenets of liberalism - crony capitalism is a two-way wrong.

I would probably not have thought about this so much had it not been for the fact that this is the Tatas, the guys who set up the Tata Memorial Cancer Hospital, the IISc, TIFR, Air India, the Taj Mahal hotel. The Tatas, the relatives of Homi J Bhabha. The one business house that I have admired without any reservation whatsoever. Rational or irrational, I expected better from them.

Another interesting thing is the fact that most bloggers have also criticised this acquisition as being typical 'communist' policy. Just as the left-liberals have certain pet targets that must come up, irrespective of relevance (America, upper caste Hindus, all corporates, etc) the free market liberals have their own straw effigy to be burnt at every instance - the communists. Thin logic again. Bengal is not the only state acquiring land aggressively for SEZs etc, and most of the other states are not ruled by communists. India's socialist past may have given these governments the tools to indulge in some self-gratification in the name of development, the urge to act in 'rational self interest', however, is not a by-product of socialism/communism. Truth is, the inherent properties of communism or any other ideology have nothing to do with the current spate of land acquisition by the state governments, it is just that when it happens in a communist-ruled state, the hypocrisy is more evident, which really is tangential to the central issues of land ownership, property rights, industrialization and government intervention.

Also, read this Modi on liberalization
The man all liberals love to hate is the only one who is absolutely clear and categorical about the liberal way to industrialize. What irony!


Murali said...


I am impressed by your knowledge and lucid language.

What was it that the tatas did wrong and how should they have handled it?

zen babu said...


Sorry, didn't see your comment earlier. The Tatas should have announced that they were going to substantially increase the price that they are offering for the land, or something like that - the way Reliance did with their huge 10,000 acre SEZ in Maharashtra. It would have weakened the opposition against them from all quarters.