With Ratan Tata threatening to leave, and Mamata Banerjee holding ground, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is in the mood to buy peace. A couple weeks back Sabyasachi Sen, principal secretary of West Bengal’s commerce and industries department, said the government is willing to pay some more compensation to the evicted farmers of Singur but “We will not make an offer on our own. Let them propose….we’ll see what we could do.” He might as well have said “fair is foul, and foul is fair” (Shakespeare’s Macbeth).
The government of West Bengal seized farmers’ lands in December 2006 on the pretext of eminent domain—the right of the government to take away private property of citizens (with compensation) for public purposes. The provision exists in most civil law and common law countries, known as ‘eminent domain’ in the United States, ‘compulsory purchase’ in Britain, ‘resumption’ in Australia, and ‘expropriation’ in South Africa.
So when policemen armed with guns and lathis came to exercise the government’s rights, naturally the farmers of Singur cried “What about my rights”. Pope Gregory VII would have certainly sided with the farmers. Before the 11th century flagrant expropriation of private property by monarchs was a common and accepted practice in Europe, but it was all to change with the anointment of Pope Gregory VII on April 22, 1073. Till then monarchs derived legitimacy from ‘tradition’, the claim that their fathers and forefathers were rulers; and their powers were unlimited. Pope Gregory VII told the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV in unambiguous words that “the legitimacy to throne lies in the rulers ability to administer natural law, not in tradition.”
Natural law was thought to be a part of the Divine Order in which all men are equal in the eyes of God, and should live free of coercion. In other words, all men have the right to own themselves, and the right to own the produce of their labour, in other words, private property. Moreover, if the ruler disobeyed natural law then a revolt was legitimate.
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