There he joined the Anti-British League (ABL) and published Malayan Orchid, which attacked British colonialism and demanded independence for Malaya. All 6 members of the Malayan Orchid group were detained by the British in January 1951, and James was released only in 1951. Resuming his studies at the University of Malaya, he joined the University Socialist Club (USC) in 1953, and the editorial board of Fajar in 1954. The entire editorial board was subsequently charged with sedition for the "Aggression In Asia" article, but eventually acquitted.
In October 1956 he was with the Middle Road group of trade unions when he was detained together with Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Devan Nair and Sydney Woodhull. They were under political detention until 1959, when the People's Action Party won the general elections.
He was detained a third time on 2 February 1963 under Operation Cold Store, a mass arrest of political opponents originally planned for December 1962. The justification for the round up was debunked in official classified British documents: "The fact that interrogations have so far produced little evidence about the Communist Conspiracy or the link up between the Barisan Socialis and the Brunei revolt... This is embarrassing but not altogether unexpected." (CO:1030/1573 p.75, 2 April 1963)
Three detentions are one too many, and James, together with Sydney Woodhull and Lim Shee Ping, were the first among the Operation Cold Store victims to capitulate and sign personal renunciations of their political beliefs as a price for freedom. Lee Kuan Yew himself said in January 2008, "The biggest punishment a man can receive is total isolation, in a dungeon, black and complete withdrawal of all stimuli. That is real torture."
Not everyone has the steel and resolve of Dr Lim Hock Siew, who spurned the Special Branch's offer of unconditional release "so that Lee Kuan Yew would be in a position to explain why you have been detained so long":
"I am not interested in saving Lee Kuan Yew's face. This is not a question of pride but one of principle. My detention is completely unjustifiable and I will not lift a single finger to help Lee Kuan Yew to justify the unjustifiable." (The Fajar Generation, Poh Soo Kai et al, page 151)
A stroke rendered Puthucheary speechless for the last 5 years of his life. He passed away in 2000 after suffering a second stroke. Among the many who gathered to pay tribute to the true politician was former Malaysia Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad.