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PUCL Bulletin, March 2006

Tarkunde Memorial Function

The first Tarkunde Memorial Function was organised, as per the decision of the National Council, on November 23, the date on which the Constitution of the PUCL was adopted in 1980.

The function was held in the Seminar Room of Dyal Singh College, Delhi. Prof. Rajni Kothari, a former President of the PUCL, and, in the words of late V.M. Tarkunde, “a foremost political thinker today”, was invited to speak on V.M. Tarkunde. Unexpectedly Rajni Kothari developed a health problem when he was about to leave for Dyal Singh College. Because of some technical reasons a message from him was received very late. In the meanwhile, it was decided that Surendra Mohan, a founding member of the PUCL, who was associated with JP and Tarkunde, be asked to say something on the PUCL and Tarkunde’s role in the PUCL.

Eminent journalist, political editor of The Indian Express, Neerja Chowdhury presided over the function. K.G. Kannabiran was also present. George Mathew, president Delhi State PUCL welcomed the guests. Surendra Mohan spoke in eloquent terms about Tarkunde and said: The PUCL was started in a different form from what it is now. During the Internal Emergency imposed on June 25, 1975, when the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution was introduced in the Parliament, there was a strong reaction. Civil Liberties had been abrogated and most of the leaders of political parties were in jail. The impression was that Smt. Gandhi was trying to institutionalise the powers that she had obtained during the Emergency. In order to build a bulwark against such intensions the need was felt of an institution that would guard Civil Liberties and defend Human Rights. Eminent jurists, social, and political activists conceived and brought into existence such an institution and named it PUCLDR (People’s Union for Civil Liberties and Democratic Rights). This organisation was mainly conceived by Jayaprakash Narayan. Justice Tarkunde, Krishan Kant, Acharya Kripalani, Era. Sezhiyan, and myself were associated with it.

Tarkunde was its President and Krishan Kant was the General Secretary. When in 1977 a new Party, Janata Party, assumed power, all the colleagues of JP were a part of this new set up and it was thought that now the need of Civil Liberties organisation would no more be urgent. But soon this proved to be an incorrect impression. A large number of members of Marxist Leninist Parties were rounded up. After a midnight meeting between some of these leaders and George Fernandes, Madhu Dandawate, and myself at the residence of Y.P. Chhibbar, It was decided to call upon Chowdhury Charan Singh, the Home Minister. As a result a large number of detainees were released. However, it was observed that Prime Minister Morarji Desai, Home Minister Chowdhury Charan Singh and other Ministers did not show much interest in the issue of Civil Liberties and Human Rights. By the time of the return to power of Mrs Gandhi people like VM Tarkunde had started feeling that the need of a strong Civil Liberties movement could not be overlooked and it was also felt that such an organisation should have safeguards from the painful influence of Political Parties.

A Conference was held in which PUCLDR was clothed with a Constitution under the name of PUCL. Some members of the PUCLDR, like Shri Gobind Mukhoti, did not agree with the shape of things and separated from the PUCLDR, which was now christened as PUCL, and formed PUDR. It was decided that PUCL would not get involved in Political questions. The issue became very relevant soon after afterwards. There was a demonstration in front of the Soviet Embassy as a protest against the incursion of Soviet troops in Afghanistan. Tarkunde led the demonstration and made it clean that he was doing it in his personnel capacity and not as a member of the PUCL, of which he was also the President. However, this did not go down well with the left parties.

The latter, therefore, wanted some change in the PUCL policies and practices. Conditions were put forth for extending PUCL work to West Bengal and Kerala where the left parties were in power. The idea appealed to be that the PUCL be in control of the parties in power. Tarkunde, Rajni Kothari, Kuldip Nayar, Madhu Limay, and myself met with them but the matter could not be resolved. The basic principle that the PUCL should not get involved in political aspects of problems has ever since become well established. Throughout such controversies Tarkunde’s clear thinking and strong commitment to the basics proved a great source of strength for the PUCL. An important issue that Tarkunde raised was that the PUCL should relate with grass root workers and groups. If it were to remain a forum for lawyers only, Tarkunde believed, the PUCL would lose its social significance. Tarkunde, therefore, asked the PUCL to organise jointly with the CFD, in Hyderabad in 1981, a Conference of grass root workers in which 39 organisations participated. Swami Agnivesh and Arun Shourie were a source of strength to Tarkunde in that Conference.

Another issue that became very important, especially in the south, was raised by M.V. Ramamurthi in a meeting at Hyderabad. It was the question of private violence vis-à-vis State violence. Cho Rama Swami, in Tamil Nadu, was also very much agitated on this issue. Tarkunde was firmly of the view that State violence struck at the roots of Civil Liberties and Human Rights and private organised violence was a reaction to State violence. Both have to be condemned but it is the responsibility of the State to see that it itself does no become a terrorist. These were times in which the basic policies of the PUCL were taking shape and Tarkunde’s stamp was everywhere. The PUCL has functioned smoothly and the continuity that has been observed in its work is rare in a voluntary organisation.

This is because of its General Secretary Dr. Y.P. Chhibbar. On a request from Tarkunde I had suggested the name of Dr. Chhibbar for taking charge of the National office as Executive Secretary when Arun Shourie was the General Secretary in 1980. In the National Council meeting at Jabalpur, Tarkunde observed that Dr. Chhibbar should be persuaded to become a General Secretary along with Arun Shourie. When Arun Shourie parted ways Prof. Dalip Swami became a General Secretary along with Dr Chhibbar.

The main task that any team of office bearers in the PUCL has to perform, about which Tarkunde was also very much concerned, was that it continue to function even when Tarkunde was not at the helm of affairs . I think it is the biggest tribute to Tarkunde that the PUCL has continued to grow from strength to strength even though he gave up its Presidentship in 1984. Rajni Kothari, Rajindar Sachar, and K.G. Kannabiran as successive Presidents and Y.P. Chhibbar as its General Secretary since 1984 share this credit. (The remaining part of the proceedings will be published in the next issue of the ’Bulletin) – Chief Editor .

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014