"No major political party has made the reinstatement of the right to property as a campaign issue, though the Swatantra Party was galvanised by the proposal of the Jawaharlal Nehru government to replace small farmers with collective farms controlled by the state. There is a good reason why property rights is not a mainstream political hot button issue. The optics have been so bad that no rational politician would have liked to be identified with a campaign to protect property rights, for to do so would have made him appear to be a lobbyist of the rich.
Successive governments chipped away at the right to property by arguing that it was an obstacle in the way of pursuing the social justice agenda embedded in the directive principles of state policy. Consider the issue of farm land. It was very unequally divided when India became an independent country because of the colonial institution of zamindari. The estates kept growing in size as indebted peasants were dispossessed after loan defaults. Think of Do Bigha Zameen, the heart-wrenching 1953 movie directed by Bimal Roy. Even liberals saw the value in land reforms. The implicit assumption all the way till the right to property was removed from the list of fundamental rights was that it was essentially a concern of the rich. The poor had little stake in property rights; in fact, property rights were an obstacle in the battle against mass poverty.
It is now time to turn the argument on its head.
It is the poor who have the biggest reason to cheer a reinstated fundamental right to property. There are two reasons for this. First, the poor have neither the legal resources nor the political heft to fight laws or administrative orders that allow governments take over their land. Second, the poor do not have enough opportunities to make a living in formal jobs in case they are forcibly separated from their property. It is important to reiterate that the most resonant battles for property rights over the past decade have been fought by the poor rather than the rich. The showdown in Singur a few years ago is a useful case in point."
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