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Vol. XXIX No. 21 , February 16-29, 2020

Nani Palkhivala in Madras – III

by T.S. Gopal

(Continued from last fortnight)

Tamil Version of ‘Constitution and the Common Man’

The Palkhivala-Rajaji speeches at Bertram Hall and the Cho- Palkhivala event at Abbotsbury had generated considerable interest among local politicians from the ruling party in the State. The name ‘Cho’ always made them nervous. Palkhivala, arguing in the ­Supreme Court in the marathon Kesavananda Bharati case to safeguard our Fundamental Rights, was also very much in the news. The media was covering the case on a day to day basis. I thought, “Why not have the article in English by Palkhivala called ‘Constitution and the Common Man’ translated in Tamil and have it distributed among MLAs and others to create an awareness about the Constitution in peril?’. I suggested this to M.R. Pai, Secretary of the Forum of Free Enterprise and my boss in Bombay. He agreed to my suggestion. I then got in touch with T.V. Balasubramaniam, a close friend and who was earlier commissioned by ­Forum to translate some English articles on economic issues for the Tamil press. He was an excellent translator. Considering the passion of local politicians for their language and alliterations, I suggested to him that the title in Tamil should be alliterative and catchy. Before I could wink, he came out with the title Arasiyal Sasanamum Appavi Kudimaganum (Tamil for the English title ‘Constitution and the Common Man’). The booklets were printed and distributed among members of the Tamilnadu Legislative ­Assembly and a few others. Then I felt that it should reach people beyond Madras.

A.G. Venkatachari of ­Dinamani, a Tamil daily, with whom I used to travel every day by bus from Mylapore to Mount Road (Arts College) suggested that we put a news item in Dinamani about the booklet announcing that it would be sent free of cost to those who respond with a post card mentioning their addresses. This, he said, would take Palkhivala’s voice across the State. Discerning readers from all over the State responded, asking for ­copies. G.K. Sundaram, eminent industrialist in Coimbatore, asked for some copies. We had printed 500 copies and distributed them all. I have another interesting memory concerning this booklet.

We had received a request for 50 copies from a town called Sethiathope claiming that it was for distribution among members of some ‘Youth Group’. I sent the copies gladly. When a request came again from the same town but from a different address, I found the handwriting on the card to be identical to the first letter! In the next few days two more identical requests came from the same town for multiple copies! I did not respond, suspecting that this could be a ruse to get the booklets free of cost and sell it as waste paper, which would perhaps be used by some ­peanut vendor to wrap and sell his roasted product!

Forum’s Chennai Centre during the Emergency

When Palkhivala returned Indira Gandhi’s brief and withdrew from appearing for her, some organisations he was ­associated with came under Government scrutiny. The Chennai centre of the Forum of Free Enterprise was one of them. We got a letter from the Government stating that the Forum office should maintain an ‘Employees Attendance Register’ and that it should be kept ready for scrutiny whenever required. In the Chennai centre, I was the only or ‘all-in-one’ employee! I showed the letter to our Chairman ‘Chitra’ S. Narayanaswamy and told him that I will keep a register in his office and will come in and sign every day and he can initial the same once a week. He merely chuckled and said nothing in reply.

We got another Circular stating certain ‘dos and don’ts’ while arranging lectures/speeches, which included the conditions that we should not criticize the Emergency, the President, P.M., Governor, etc. I was rather perturbed by the ‘etc.’, and told our Chairman that anything from loud laughter to a sneeze or a cough or an applause at the wrong place during a lecture or speech could be construed as criticism and we might get into trouble under the ‘etc.’ clause! After communicating with the Bombay office, we decided to not arrange public events but occasional classes on Economic Theory for student members of the Forum at Srinivasa Sastri hall, Mylapore, addressed by my economics mentor Prof. S. Radhakrishnan. Thanks to the Government of Tamilnadu’s stand on Emergency we were able to have some semblance of activity. We were also able to get some underground material on what was going on in the Supreme Court where Palkhivala was passionately arguing for our rights during those black days. We also had that material circulated among like-minded people, including Cho.

In more recent years, at a book release function in which L.K. Advani was the chief guest, Cho called out ‘Hello Forum Gopal’ when he saw me. I was elated that he recognised me after so many years. That book release event happened a few decades after my Forum days when I was known to many people as ‘Forum Gopal’. The occasion brought back pleasant memories from the ­seventies, ­especially the speech at ­Abbotsbury.

Page 6-1A view of the crowd gathered outside Abbotsbury to listen to Nani Palkhivala.

Other speeches

While Palkhivala’s budget speeches and lectures on topics falling broadly under the head of economics were held under the auspices of the Forum of Free Enterprise, speeches under other topics were usually held under the auspices of other well-known organisations such as, for example, The Servants of India Society which arranged the Bertram Hall speech in 1971. As I had arranged his speeches under the Forum’s auspices on many occasions, the other institutions and ­associations would usually seek my assistance, especially to communicate with him, while making arrangements for their events.

A Speech on the Super­session of Judges in 1973

In 1973, Palkhivala gave a speech in Madras on ‘Supreme Court and Judicial Independence’ at the Congress grounds in Teynampet under the auspices of the Triplicane Cultural Academy. The subject-matter of the speech was the supersession of three senior Supreme Court judges. He was deeply concerned and the book A Judiciary Made to Measure he had edited was already making waves. M. R. Pai called me from Bombay and asked if the Triplicane Cultural Academy would hold the event in Madras.

I communicated their assent to him. Just as a speech by Palkhi­vala invariably exceeded the expectation of the audience, the strength of the audience invariably exceeded the expectation of the organisers. The Academy was faced with the question of selecting a suitable venue for this event because, by this time in the seventies, a speech by Palkhivala was what a film starstudded event is today for the masses! On the day of the speech, thousands of chairs were placed in Congress grounds but they proved inadequate to accommodate the vast crowd that actually assembled. More number of Palkhivala’s fans than expected had gathered at the venue and a good number of them spilled out to the open grounds beyond the chairs.

K. Subba Rao, former Chief Justice of India, presided. ­Eminent legal minds, including Gopalaswami Aiyangar, were present. Narayanaswamy ­Mudaliar, State Minister for Law, who sat in the front row, was pleased that he had ­arrived quite early because he escaped the ordeal of wading his way through the crowd that gathered later. So large was the assembled crowd that, before Palkhivala’s arrival, clouds of dust rose from the ground due to the rushing of thousands of pairs of feet. I wished and hoped that he did not wear the immaculate white attire characteristic of him because I was certain that it would get quite dirty ­before he ascended the stage. But he did not ­depart from his usual habit and arrived at the venue in spotless white. Nonetheless, to my relief, I ­noticed that the dust had settled down by then. He paddled his way to the stage through the swarming sea of eager faces. Attired in the white that had fortunately escaped the dust, he held the audience spellbound by a speech filled with trenchant observations on the topic.

On this occasion the humour and wittiness that were usually present in his speeches were absent because the topic was a grave one. An exceptional moment when he infused his observations with appropriate witticism was when he said that if the Government succeeded with its Machiavellian idea then there would be more “looking forward” judges than “forward looking” judges. Every member of the audience heard the speech in rapt attention.

The reports of that speech in The Hindu and The Mail (now defunct but for several decades since the British times one of the leading dailies in Madras) carefully preserved by the Triplicane Cultural Academy enable me to share some more details. It was a 90 minutes speech on 12th May 1973. Palkhivala said that a committed judiciary is a contradiction in terms and added, “It is like a boiling ice cream. Either he is committed or he is a judge in the true sense of the term. He cannot be both.” He replied point by point to the arguments raised by H. R. Gokhale, Union Law Minister, and Mohan Kumaramangalam, Union Steel Minister, in support of the Government’s decision to appoint A. N. Ray as Chief Justice of India superseding three senior judges. He said he could not imagine a greater damage done to the cause of freedom than by the promulgation of what he described as the “Kumaramangalam doctrine” that the executive was entitled to have judges of its choice, whose qualification would consist in the fact that they were committed to the philosophy of the ruling party. He said that the Government’s action was a “severe blow and lasting damage to the democratic character of our Constitution much more than complete and total deletion of the whole chapter on fundamental rights enshrined in it.” Later, he warned, “If judges began to uphold the philosophy of the ruling party India would cease to remain as one nation. They would then only witness disintegration of the country.” Subba Rao, who presided, said that they were witnessing a conflict between democratic forces and totalitarian forces.

(To be concluded next fortnight)

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