The Dawn: Feb 6, 2015

Punjab Notes: Emergence of new heroes: real estate developer – IV

Mushtaq Soofi 

Description: — AFP/file

— AFP/file

Ernest Mandel, the political economist, narrates that a priest in fourteenth century Europe addressing an assembly of aristocrats and feudal lords said: ‘gentlemen you are not thieves but what you eat is the fruit of theft’.

If this priest were alive today, he would say to our new real estate developer: ‘gentleman, you are not a land grabber but what you have is the outcome of land grabbing’.

And the priest would certainly be wrong since our hero is a land developer, not a land grabber. What is the difference between a land developer and a land grabber can be best understood through an anecdote mentioned in the oral history of American trade unions.

A trade union leader was trying to define capitalism and communism to a group of workers but somehow failed to highlight the difference between the two.

An intellectual, a sort of cynic, sitting at the next table in the canteen came to the leader’s help. ‘Look guys, it’s very simple. Capitalism is a system in which man is exploited by man and in communism it’s other way round’.

Detractors may call our hero land grabber but he is actually a land lover; he develops it. And this is how he does it.

Planners on his payroll spot a chunk of land preferably in an area adjacent to the urban centre.

One of the tough guys of the area who owns a piece of land there is taken into confidence and offered a lucrative deal.

He is paid twice the market price on the condition that the announced price of his land would be a little less than actual market price.

With additional incentive he would start acting as a front man for the developer but in such a discrete manner as if he were the watchdog of the community.

He would gradually persuade the other land owners to sell their chunks for their better future.

They would not only have cash but also new houses with all the modern amenities if they allowed the area to develop, he would argue.

He would cite his own example how his quality of life improved after selling his land. He would get them better price than he got by negotiating with the developer, he would assure them.

So people would gradually start selling their pieces of land.

However there may be some fools, obdurate enough to reject the deal. They are dealt with differently. First, easy access to their land is blocked.

If they go to the court of law, they will have to cough out lot of money as they would have an army of black coats arrayed against them hired by the developer.

In case they refuse to acquiesce at all, the developer as a last resort requests his friends, power wielders of all hues at high places, to sort the matter out. The fools mysteriously disappear for some days. When they return, they seemingly appear happy to sell what they previously refused to part with.

The developer’s links can do for him what his apparently attractive deal can’t. His links allow him to acquire land, in some cases returning a percentage to senior officers as developed plots.

Sons and daughters of serving and retired officers with right connections are offered cushy jobs with irresistible perks and privileges in realty sector.

That’s why it’s so easy for him to even appropriate common land, the community property, without paying a penny.

While in the process of acquiring land, the developer launches an aggressive publicity campaign to the delight of print and electronic media that make tons of millions.

That keeps the skeptics called critics away from the newspapers pages and TV screen making it almost impossible to question the deal that converts fertile agricultural land into a concrete jungle.

Investors and property dealers prompted by the developer collude in a game of speculative buying and selling that constantly raises the land price.

Such a manipulation makes our developer billionaire and his cohorts millionaires. The whole development scheme becomes a game of the rich, by the rich, for the rich with no space for those who genuinely want to build houses for themselves.

In addition to the sale of developed plots, he builds posh town houses, villas and apartments in condominium in the new upscale area which fetch him millions and millions.

The moment the developer’s deep pocket can’t hold any more, in a grand gesture he turns to philanthropy.

His first philanthropic project is constructing a visibly expensive place of worship. He cares for the hereafter as much as for earthly life. Next, he opens a food chain for the poor and the destitute to stay blessed.

At times he comes to the succour of victims of natural and manmade calamities to ease the burden on the government of the day that in any case never feels the burden of responsibility.

He doesn’t grudge the opposition of the government to be recipients of his largesse either. Today’s opposition may be tomorrow’s government. Having built palaces for politicians, seminaries for clergy, houses for officers and kitchen for the hungry, the new hero, adored and looked up to, mounts our social stage as a high achiever.

His money, declared and concealed, spent and squandered, makes him look larger than life. ‘Money’s properties are -- the possessor’s properties and essential powers’.

Money washes all the stains as long as it functions as buyer of goods and virtues. Since money is the supreme value, no one is foolish enough among us to ask our hero where he gets it from.

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