V.K. Krishna Menon


When we think of post independence leaders who contributed to strengthening of India's base, to our mind come Pt Jawahar Lal Nehru and Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel. V.K. Krishna Menon, former Defence minister has been almost forgotten. He was co-architect of India's foreign policy along with Pt Nehru. He represented India many times in United Nations on Kashmir issue very brilliantly. Unlike most others, he was proud of India and showed the whites their place. Although he was proud of his Indian origin, he was not obsessed with ancient Indian culture and other traditions. He had a scientific outlook and had positive attitude towards western values and culture.  He liked the western values but never accepted the 'superiority' of the whites. 

His early life and education 

V.K. Krishna Menon

V.K Krishna was born on the third May 1896 in Kozhikode (now Kerala). His father Komath Krishna Kurup was a very successful and wealthy lawyer. He received his early education in Kozhikode. He obtained graduation in History and Economics from Presidency College Chennai in 1918. While studying in Madras Law college, he developed interest in theosophy. Mrs. Annie Besant recognized his talents and helped him travel to England in 1924. Menon was associated with 'Brothers of service' which was founded by Annie Besant. In England, Krishna Menon studied in London School of Economics as well as University college London. He also edited many journals including Penguin and Pelican books.

Participation in Indian freedom movement

While in Britain, V.K. Krishna Menon was associated with India League. He got in close friendship with Pt Nehru and others including Sir Bertrand Russell and E.M. Forster, author of 'A passage to India'. During the period 1929 to 1947, he utilized the forum of India League to gain widest support for India's freedom. 

His role in independent India 

V.K Krishna Menon was India's High commissioner in United Kingdom until 1952. From 1952 to 1962, he held command of Indian delegation to United Nations.  In 1956, he joined union cabinet first as minister without portfolio. Later, he was assigned the Defence portfolio. During the war with China, India suffered humiliation. Menon was blamed for unpreparedness of India defence forces. Consequently, he had to quit the union cabinet.  But the allegation is untrue. In fact, he had done a yeoman service in making Indian army stronger. He tirelessly worked for enhancing production of weapons for defence.  He had also held portfolio of Defence Production. One failure on battle front cannot negate his role.

Apart from Defence preparedness, he was co-architect of foreign policy. The world was divided in two hostile camps led by United states of America on one side and the other by Soviet Union. Many disliked V.K Krishna Menon for his real or supposed leanings towards Soviet Union. Undoubtedly, V.K Krishma Menon was a true patriot, progressive in thoughts and action. He never accepted so called superiority of white races. He was against colonialism and imperialism. This is natural as he had worked for India's independence from British colonialism. This is what makes him unique. He was truly Indian. With all respect to Pt Nehru, it is significant that he once remarked- "I am the last British in India." Menon was Indian first and Indian last. That is why the imperialist powers disliked him. He had taught the white man his place. Naturally, for his foreign detractors, he was 'Nehru's evil genius'. 

V.K Krishna Menon's role in presenting India's case in United Nations is most significant. He was a very forceful orator. He had a very keen sense of wit. He would hit direct and not mince words. Once he fainted while delivering his speech but soon regained conscience and began where he had left. These days we have no forceful orator or statesman like V.K Krishna Menon. 

It is notable that V.K Krishna Menon contested parliamentary elections from different regions- Bombay (Mumbai), Midnapore (West Bengal) and Trivandrum (Kerala). When denied congress ticket from Mumbai on the plea of 'son of soil' or 'local' issue, he contested independently. Although he belonged to Kerala by birth, he truly not only berlonged to entire nation but to the entire humanity. 

Dubbed as a crypto communist

In those days, the west was sufering from Red Phobia. Anyone who did not support them fully was dubbed as a crypto communist. There is a notorious McCarthy doctrine which led to witch hunting in America. Senator McCarthy believed that there were many communist sympathizers or fellow travelers or crypto communists etc.  V.K. Krishna Menon was also considered a communist sympathizer. There were variants of McCarthy in India also. So, they led by Acharya J.B. Kriplani hunted for heads of progressive leaders like V.K. Krishna Menon. The debacle in Sino-Indian war was an opportunity to seek ouster of V.K. Krishna Menon. The aggressive and non apologetic style of Krishna Menon made matters worse. When asked about allegation of being Pro Russian/ communist sympathizer, he retorted: They may even say that I was born in Russia.        

His simplicity       

V.K Krishna Menon was very simple in his day to day activities. His simplicity was real and not a thing of display. While in Britain working as India's High Commissioner, there was a criticism for his using Rolls Royces cars. Menon replied to the criticism saying that he could scarcely hire a bullock cart to call on 10 Downing street.  But it goes to his credit that he used the official car only for official purposes. Privately, he would commute by double decker bus. He abstained from alcoholic drinks, tobacco and non vegetarian food. He did not even draw salary for his post. This is true simplicity.  

But it is also a fact that he went too far in his contempt for the whites. He was not courteous. This is what made him unpopular with many. Once while traveling to United States, his copassenger- a white- initiated talk with him. This is okay for any cotraveler. But Menon did not respond in a courteous way.

The co passenger- Where are you going?

Menon- United states

Co passenger- Are you going for some official or business work?

Menon: United nations

Co passenger: what is your work in UNO?

Menon: Head of Indian delegation. Any more questions?

The co passenger naturally could not say anything in rest of jhourney.  

Known for Forceful oratory and witty remarks

V.K Krishna Menon was well known for his ready short and witty reply. He would use very sharp and brief words that would silence his oponent leaving him with no further argument. When John Foster Dulles, U.S. Secretary of State argued that U.S. weapons were intended solely for defence against soviet attack, Menon snapped that- "The world has yet to see an American gun that can only shoot in one direction."  Once he said- "I am yet to come across a vegetarian tiger."  Once a British novelist made an ironic remark on English language used by Menon. Menon quickly responded- My English is better than yours. You merely picked it up: I learnt it."   

There is another aspect of Menon's personality. If he felt that he had hurt somebody unjustly, he would make up by gesture like sending gift. Once Lt Gen Kaul happened to take a chair meant for service chiefs. Menon sarcastically commented on this. Lt Gen Kaul appeared annoyed. Later V.K Krisha Menon sent some gift to Lt Gen kaul so as to keep him in good humor. .  

 End of an era

V.K Krishna Menon died at age of 78 years on sixth October 1974. Indira Gandhi remarked that 'a volcano is extinct."  Let me conclude the article with words of Ex President K.R. Narayanan:

India has been fortunate to have had not only a glorious heritage of culture and civilization but a succession of great men from the Buddha to Gandhi, from Ashoka to Nehru, from Kautilya to Krishna Menon.  

Images from wikipedia 

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