Land Wars in India


Writing in Forbes, Megha Bahree has a hard-hitting article about the dirty war in India, where Maoist guerrillas are facing off against the government. The upshot: The state has been seizing villagers' land on behalf of well-connected companies, allowing the rebels to sell themselves as the protectors of the peasantry.

Bahree writes:

In principle there ought to be an economic answer to the economic question of whether a steel mill is a better use of land than a farm. If the mill is so valuable, why can't its owner offer the peasants an irresistible sum to leave? But here the market takes a back seat behind politics and thuggery.

It's no mystery why things have gotten worse. "India's boom period has coincided with maximum dissent and dissatisfaction in rural India," says Ajai Sahni, executive director for the Institute for Conflict Management, a New Delhi think tank. Over the last decade the Indian government has been trying by legal and other means to lock up the land for public projects like power plants and, more recently, for private enterprises like Tata. (Under the Indian constitution nontribal people are prohibited from directly acquiring land in certain parts of the country, so the government must obtain it on their behalf and sell it to the companies.) That trend has put the state more and more in conflict with the Maoist rebels, and it has ratcheted up paramilitary operations against them. The government has also squared off more frequently against those who have farmed the land for centuries, using various legal entitlements–and, villagers often claim, resorting to fraud or force–to gain possession of the property. Other times the state simply seizes the land, labeling any resistance rebel-inspired. Hundreds of thousands of people have been dispossessed and displaced. Many now live in what could become permanent refugee camps, where they are prey to both sides of the proxy war and easy converts to radicalism.

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  1. A year after the rebels lose, we’ll get an article from Ron Bailey about how GMO yields are up in India.

    1. Non sequitur for 300…

      1. Not at all. The government is seizing land to give to “private” industry, probably including huge agribusinesses. The huge agribusinesses will, with state subsidy, plant their GMOs. GMO harvests will increase, and Paid Shill Ron Bailey will crow about the increase in GMO crops, and how it’s good for the poor and increasing nutrition. He will conveniently neglect who has the land, how they got it, what happened to the folks who used to live there, why they’re planting GMO crops, and how it’s being funded. And then he’ll complain about the anti-GMO people being anti-free market.

        So, to repeat, expect Ron Bailey to sing the praises of the rise of GMO crop in India once the rebels lose. It’s Class A Schmibertarianism.

        1. The companies involved are mainly mining and lumber companies, not agribusiness. I’m not sure it is legal for an agribusiness to actually own farmland in India (thats what happens when socialists write your land laws).

  2. The government of India is just emulating the US, seizing poor people’s land for “public benefit” a la Kelo v. New London.

    The left in the US should be stridently supporting them.

  3. This unfortunately is fairly typical for the third world, including when nominal Maoists are in charge, i.e. the three gorges dam & Brooklyn.

    1. “& Brooklyn”


    2. *golf clap*

      Bravo, sir.

  4. I thought land wars in Asia was one of the Classic Blunders?

    1. India gets its own subcontinent, so that rule doesn’t apply, i think.

  5. Cant’ we all just agree to move the whole Atlantic Yards project, the Nets, and that Ratfuck guy to India? Seems like a perfect fit.

    1. Outsourcing we can all agree with.

  6. Someone (more likely many people) is already blaming this on capitalism.

    1. But of course. Take something that doesn’t remotely resemble a free market, label it as such, and proceed to burn it in effigy.

      1. My ears are burning.

    2. It’s a stern reminder that capitalism does not mean free market.

    3. already blaming this on capitalism

      It’s the Communist Party of India (Maoist). Blaming stuff on capitalism is what they do.

  7. There is no upshot. Maoists are not for property rights. If a farmer was willing to sell his land to the highest bidder he would be shot, and his family raped and killed. The maoists are the most ruthless terrorists we have. I would say surpass the Jihadis in many instances.

    Of course the solution is extremely simple: PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS.
    The problem is, we had them in our early Constitution. Then the socialist blowhard governments we had since then completely gutted this protection.

    And agricultural land in India is held to lot more restrictions. For example, to sell agricultural land you need approval from the State government. And in most cases, you cannot sell farmland for non-farming uses.

    1. …agricultural land in India is held to lot more restrictions. For example, to sell agricultural land you need approval from the State government. And in most cases, you cannot sell farmland for non-farming uses.

      If one were to merely add internal passports or some other kind of restraint on internal migration, I wouldn’t be able to see the difference between this and serfdom.

      1. The laws were written at a time when they actually made sense (land was being redistributed from landowners who had obtained it via corruption/theft/land-grabbing to the original owners who had been forced to turn share-croppers). Some laws don’t make sense out of the context in which they were writen.

        1. They only made sense to socialists. Simple property rights would have sufficed, which does not preclude redistribution. The govt could have redistributed the land to the peasants and given them full rights over it. What they created was a new zamindari system with the State as the zamindar.

  8. Wow, this sounds like my kinda country!

  9. The upshot: The state has been seizing villagers’ land on behalf of well-connected companies,

    It’s for a public purpose.

  10. They’re doing Brahman’s work.

  11. Shameful — and par for the course.

  12. Um, I don’t think Bailey’s a paid shill. The paid shills can’t make a decent living because he’s givin’ it away.

  13. It’s too bad there isn’t a significant anarchist/libertarian tradition in India. (Satyagraha might come close in many ways, but that’s not the kind of political tradition I mean.)

  14. Paul: Clearly, forcibly taking land from members of the public cannot be for a public purpose, unless the public purpose is defined as whatever the state says it is; but this is such a narrow and authoritarian definition that I’m sure you will retract it very soon, least you want to pass off as a…what is it again, Maoist?

    More probably, it’s for the oligarchical purpose of favoring some interests over others. What is in the public interest is recognized as such naturally, and does not require intervention by a state. Only useless crap requires force, because no one would normally have it.

    Dan Clore: there’s people fighting back against the state’s grasping hands. You would think this counts as libertarian activity. Also, there’s a libertarian tradition in America; don’t see that there’s a thousandth of the kind of resistance that Indian Maoists are showing.

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