I was a People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) functionary in Bihar from 1981 to 1991* and at the national level from 1988 to 2016*. The Bihar chapter of PUCL had members from various political parties including the different CPI(ML) parties. Karpoori Thakur, the tallest leader in Bihar, was a member of the Executive Committee till his last breath.
Ravi Shankar Prasad (the current law minister) was one of the secretaries till 1987 and was unanimously elevated to general secretary in 1988 (he left when he joined the BJP since a member of a political party cannot be an office bearer). The PUCL stood for the human rights of everyone including the Naxals. It enquired into the violation of rights committed even by organised non-State players like SENSA and the Naxals. When we enquired into the violation of the human rights of the Naxals, the members of the team consisted of persons unsympathetic towards them (PUCL has a rule not to have any person on the fact finding team who is sympathetic towards any of the parties to the dispute).
Often, Ravi Shankar Prasad and I were on the team constituted to enquire into the atrocities committed against Naxals. PUCL spoke for any victim, whether a victim of police atrocity or Naxal violence or of atrocity committed by landlords or the police against the Naxals or their followers. Bihar was an area of Naxal activities right from the early ’70s (Jayaprakash Narayan spent several years at Mushahari , Muzaffarpur where the Naxals had been very active). They were both victims and perpetrators. PUCL spoke against them when they committed actrocity against anyone and stood by them when they were victimised (Bihar PUCL has published a 1000 page report of its activities from 1981 to 2006). PUCL has also published reports against the RJD government and the Nitish Kumar government. The organisation has no axe to grind and has been acting strictly according to its constitution.
But no government has called us Naxals for speaking against an establishment that violated the rights of the Naxals. They could differentiate between an organisation opposing violations of the human rights of Naxals and supporting their politics including capturing power with gun. The BJP, which is a creature of the RSS also could see this difference under Atal Bihari Vajpayee because he was not a ‘creature’ of the Sangh as Narendra Modi is. Atrocities were committed even under him. In fact, innocent individuals were implicated in false cases as supporters of Naxals by all governments, but the entire rights movement was never branded as Naxals as has been done by Modi.
Narendra Modi, unlike Vajpayee, is a complete child of the Sangh, which has been a great admirer of Hitler and Mussolini. He spent his life preaching the ideolody of the Sangh, which is fascist and views a section of our citizenry as unwelcome outsiders and is intolerant of dissent. Its intolerance has increased ever since strong dissent has obstructed its move to acquire the land and forest of the Adivasis and the others to give to his paymasters for their projects. Now, they want to bulldoze the Adivasis and the other poor and want to silence the rights organisations so that there is no one to speak against their terror.
Let the government take me as a sample of an ‘urban Naxal’ for the last 42 years*, enquire into my role as a PUCL functionary and otherwise to decide whether I could or did support the ideology or acts of the Naxals. If they find that I am not an ‘urban Naxal’, they should end this propaganda, but if they find I am really a Naxal masquerading as a human rights activist, they should proceed against me according to the law.
But I would like to reiterate that I would fight against the violation of the human rights of any human being (as I have been doing) regardless of the allegation against him. That does not make me an ‘urban Naxal’ or a terrorist or supporter of terrorists .
*I have been with the PUCL since its inception during the Emergency. I have been vice-president, Bihar PUCL, since 1981, president from 1981 to 1991, secretary or organisational, National PUCL from 1988 to 1990, national vice-president from 1990 to 2009 and three-term president from 2009 to 2016.
I am the best specimen to investigate whether I have been an ‘urban Naxal’ working for the Naxals or not. The other ‘urban Naxals’ have been Justice V.M.Tarkunde, Justice Rajinder Sachar, Prof Rajani Kothari, socialist leader Surendra Mohan, Prof Amarik Singh and many others all of whom were with the PUCL till their ends.
The following are the criteria of the membership of the PUCL:
Every adult person shall be eligible to be member of the organisation if he/she believes that civil liberties must be maintained in India, now and in the future, irrespective of any economic or political changes that may take place in the country” .
Every member has to sign a declaration that he/she subscribes to the aims and objects of the PUCL and pledges to abide by its constitution.
The aims and objects of the PUCL exclude political ideologies and issues and and confine themselves to the issues of civil liberties to make it possible for the people committed to different ideologies and the members of different political parties to join the organisation to make it a powerful champion of civil liberties in India.
Most importantly, the PUCL is committed to use of peaceful means for itself and does not accept violence as a means of achieving political objectives.
The PUCL has been publishing a monthly bulletin since 1981 which may be referred to for finding its stand on violence including its disapproval of Naxal violence.
Note: Arun Shourie and Arun Jaitley were actively associated with the adoption of the PUCL constitution at the Delhi conference of November, 1980. Arun Shourie was elected general secretary and Arun Jaitley a member of the executive committee.