A Second Republic | There Can Be No Collective Property
The Times of India,
Dec 30, 2003
India 's socialist judiciary, even after a decade of
liberalisation, remains inextricably wedded to the notion that publicly
held property is in the public interest: The collectivist ideal.
This indeed must be the rationale for blocking privatisation in the oil
sector and referring the matter to Parliament — the custodian of
collective property in socialist thinking.
To understand the pitfalls of the notion that collectively held property
actually exists, the reader should take a walk around Lutyens' Delhi . All
the bungalows there are public property: They belong to the state.
But does this mean that they belong to us, the people? Certainly not. If
anyone of us were to try and enter one of these compounds, even if just to
admire the flowers in the opulent garden (maintained at public cost), we
would be turfed out pronto.
From this, we arrive at a theorem: There is no such thing called public
property. Whatever goes under that name is very much private property, in
the hands of someone or a group that claims to represent the public.
That person or group has obtained a lien on that property, and exploits
that so-called public property for private gain. Thus, in the case of the
bungalows of Lutyens' Delhi , various functionaries of the state have
obtained liens on these public properties at rates far below market
Having understood this, let us extend this theorem to the public sector
enterprises our socialist rulers have invested in: Are all of them public
property by virtue of the fact that they belong to the collective — the
state? Of course not.
Indeed, we can analyse them in much the same way as we saw the bungalows
of Lutyens' Delhi : Certain individuals or groups have obtained private
control over these public properties and are exploiting this for private
In the case of the state-owned enterprise sector, we can even develop a
public choice model of the political economy based on our theorem, as
follows: All these firms are the properties of various ministries.
Whoever gets appointed minister then rents these firms out to individuals
or groups for private exploitation. Hence, totally at odds with the
opinion of our learned judiciary, liberal jurisprudence will hold that
publicly held property is a socialist myth.
A truly liberal constitution would debar the state from holding property.
What should be done with the vast properties of the socialist Indian
state? Before we arrive at that decision, let us first inquire as to how
these property titles were obtained in the first place.
This is necessary because the title may have been criminally acquired. For
example: If we see A snatching at B's wristwatch, this does not
necessarily mean A is a thief, for B may have stolen A's wristwatch in the
first place and A is simply trying to regain his just property.
According to liberal jurisprudence, only just property titles are valid —
there is always an ethical dimension to liberal law.
So let us consider how the socialist state acquired these titles. It owns
all these bungalows, all over the country, where its functionaries reside
It owns all these enterprises which it leases out to its cronies. It
operates a land monopoly in most cities, including the Capital. It owns
all the forests, all the rivers, all the mountains, all the oil under the
ground, all the minerals: It practically owns the entire country.
For the rest of us, property titles are extremely insecure. We really own
nothing. Tribals get booted out of their traditional homelands, which are
leased out to forest officials and contractors for private gain.
In Karnataka, the state government is passing law to take over temples:
God is being nationalised!
At this point, let us pause to reflect on the fact that there can be some
truly public properties which every citizen and even every foreigner is
free to use like a public thoroughfare or a public park.
Liberal economists call these public goods and call for public investments
in public goods alone. This is because businessmen will not invest in
goods which everyone can use for free.
In India , although this is a planned economy, the state has not invested
in these public goods at all. Instead of investing in roads, it invested
in an automobile factory. It owns Scooters India. It owns oil companies.
Hotels. Steel plants. Airlines. Should liberal jurisprudence hold these
property titles to be valid?
Absolutely not. These are all criminally acquired titles. The taxpayer's
interests have not been represented in this planned socialist democracy.
Instead of investing in public goods, they have invested in private goods.
This is planned theft.
All these properties should be seized and auctioned off. Those responsible
for this diversion of public money should be prosecuted. The charge:
Criminal misappropriation of public money.
If the disputed site at Ayodhya is handed over to a Hindu group, then this
temple will not belong to all Hindus. It will be the private property of
that group of Hindus alone. Thus, as mentioned in these columns earlier,
the disputed site at Ayodhya should be auctioned.
And, with this de-politicisation of the saffron agenda, let us also bury
the notion of collective property. We put an end to both fascism as well
as socialism. Onwards to a Second Republic.
Back to the top