NEW DELHI — The attack on former JNU student Umar Khalid outside the Constitution Club of India (CCI) has revived interest in an institution that played a foundational role in the political life of India in the years immediately after independence, and remains an important staging post for each subsequent generation in search of their political awakening.
The storied campus has witnessed heated debate on everything from the birth of the Constitution, the rise of the socialist movement, the imposition of the emergency and now the ascent of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
The CCI was set up in February 1947 for the members of the Constituent Assembly who drafted India's Constitution. When that exercise was concluded in 1950, the club was reconceptualized as a forum for existing and former parliamentarians.
As the years passed, the club became a meeting place for activists and politicians of all stripes to meet journalists and supporters, primarily because it was a short walk from Parliament and was run by MPs from various parties—rather than by government committee.
Historian, author and former Jawaharlal Nehru University professor Mridula Mukherjee recalled that in the early days, the CCI "was always a very open space. It was not very fancily appointed, relatively simple buildings, modestly priced... I don't know how many meetings I must have attended there!"
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The original building on Curzon Road (later renamed Kasturba Gandhi Marg) "was not fancy. Now, of course, it is all done up and all that. It's only in the past 2-3 years that they have made it into a five-star place," added Mukherjee.
In its current avatar on Rafi Marg, the CCI houses three different buildings, two of which have multiple large halls for hosting public meetings. A third building hosts the Mavlankar Hall which, said Mukherjee, may have been the biggest indoor meeting space in Delhi until Talkatora Stadium and others came up. BJP president Amit Shah has also addressed meetings here and Mukherjee believes this openness to different political viewpoints marks the CCI's character.
When asked if before this, the CCI has witnessed political violence of the sort witnessed last week when an assailant pulled a gun on Khalid, her categorical response was, "Never."
Former Rajya Sabha MP and Janata Dal (United)'s national spokesperson KC Tyagi, a life member of the club, also has fond memories of the CCI.
Of the Rafi Marg building, he said: "It used to be very peaceful. The CCI used to be a left-wing paradise in the 70s. So many anti-Indira Gandhi meetings were held there in 1974 and '75 before Emergency was imposed but no Youth Congress member ever dared attack the opposition," he said.
Tyagi earlier belonged to Chaudhary Charan Singh's Lok Dal, which also had an office in the vicinity. He recalls dozens of political parties being launched in the area surrounding the CCI.
"In 1978, Indira Gandhi's Congress party was born in the vicinity of the CCI. Any big meeting would happen in the adjacent Mavlankar Hall... After coming out of jail and becoming an MP in the elections held soon after the lifting of emergency, George Fernandes' first address to people was at Mavlankar Hall. Many people had come to hear him," Tyagi said.
As the country's politics changed over time, the CCI's nature also saw a shift. It is definitely not the "left-wing paradise" of the 70s anymore. Even so, it retains its openness and inclusivity.
After the attack on Khalid, CCI appears to have taken the issue of security more seriously. Governing council member and MP from Odisha, Kalikesh Singh Deo said, "We will have to start ramping up, looking at the security aspect of the club itself. It used to be open for everybody in the policy field or journalists and so on, but if such attacks are happening (and) if there is a possibility of people coming inside with weapons, I think it's time that the club becomes stricter."
When HuffPost India visited the CCI a day after the attack, it first seemed like there was nothing out of the ordinary. Many people had turned up to attend events and meetings and the policemen deployed prior to Independence Day were also present. However, there was a palpable wariness in the air.
A person who works at the private security agency which looks after the CCI's security said that they were being more careful after the incident.
"We changed the guard at the front gate because so many people were coming up to him and making inquiries that he couldn't work. We need to keep a record of vehicles visiting the club. How can it be done if we keep answering people's queries? We have added staff to monitor the premises," he said on condition of anonymity.
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