V.K. Krishna Menon

V.K. Krishna Menon



V.K. Krishna Menon
V.K. Krishna Menon
    Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon was born on 3 May 1896, at Panniankara, a suburb of Calicut. His father, Komath Krishna Kurup, was a successful lawyer at the Calicut courts.
His mother, Lakshmikutty Amma, was a gifted lady with high erudition in Sanskrit and was an accomplished musician. It was a respectable, Wealthy and talented Nair family in which Krishna Menon was born.
Krishna Menon started his education at the Municipal Lower Secondary School and at Brennen High School, where he studied only for a year. In 1910, the family moved to Calicut and Krishna Menon was enrolled at the Native High School (now known as Ganpati High School) and passed the Matriculation examination in 1913. He passed the Intermediate examination from the Zamorin’s College, Calicut in 1915 and B.A. from the Presidency College, Madras in i918. After taking his B.A. degree, he joined the Law College, Madras but did not complete law studies and started taking an interest in politics. He was a voracious reader and tried to imbibe the writings of Western thinkers like john Locke, John Stuart Mill and others. Later, he was influenced by the writings of Karl Marx and Engels. He had hardly any interest in Indian literature, religion, epics or philosophy.
     While in Madras, Menon came under the influence of Annie Besant and joined the Theosophical Society. He moved into Adyar and into a new life. He was also a lecturer for some time, at the National University founded by Annie Besant. He devoted his energies doing social and political work under the aegis of the Theosophical Society. He also joined and worked for the Indian National Boy Scout Association which was founded by Annie Besant and who was its chief scout’s commissioner. Krishna Menon worked for the Scouts movement in Madras and later (1918) in his home district in Malabar. Impressed by the talent and devotion of the young Menon, Dr. Arundale and Besant decided to send him to England for a short course in education so that on returning to India, he could serve the National University better after exposure to a more enlightened atmosphere. Menon left for England in June 1924. His father, Kurup, agreed to his sons going to England, thinking that he could pursue law there and become a barrister and practice law on his return.
    Krishna Menon got a teachers job on his arrival in London, at St. Christopher School. Letchworth, Hertfordshire, run by the Theosophical Society. In July 1925, he joined the London School of Economics to study political science. He was a student of Professor Harold Laski who was greatly impressed by Menon’s intellectual acumen. Menon passed B.Sc. from L.S.E. in 1928 with first class honours. He continued his studies and got an M.A. degree from University College, London and an M.Sc. degree from London School of Economics in 1934. In the same year he was called to the Bar from the Middle Temple. Menon was thirty-eight by the time he completed his formal education. However, he had been taking part in political activities also since his arrival in England. Annie Besant had founded Commonwealth of India League in 1923, which was an auxiliary of her Home Rule League started in 1916 in India. Krishna Menon started working for the League as desired by Besant, and became its joint secretary. With his efforts, several branches of the League were opened at places like Manchester, Bristol and Liverpool.
      The end of the Commonwealth of India League came with extreme suddenness. At the end of an unfinished annual meeting, 1930) the majority of members in support of outright independence, in place of Dominion status) adjourned elsewhere. The same day they decided to form a new body, calling it India League with V.K. Krishna Menon as honorary secretary. Annie Besant resigned from the Commonwealth of India League, leaving the field for Krishna Menon to run the new India League, which he did, almost single-handedly for the next seventeen years. He managed to get an ideal premise for the office of the India League on Strand Street. The League was formally inaugurated on 11 November 1931. Its aim was educating the British people on India, appealing to their conscience, lobbying among the Members of Parliament, making the India League platform available for all visiting national leaders, publishing pamphlets on India." He also kept the Indian public informed about the activities of the India League and the political developments in England vis-vis India through his write-ups in Indian newspapers. Krishna Menon, at one stage, represented a dozen Indian newspapers in London. He was also regularly writing letters in British newspapers whenever he found misrepresentation of facts about India. The Indian National Congress tried to utilize the services of Krishna Menon. Though not formally affiliated to the Congress, the India League became an outpost of the Congress in England and Krishna Menon its unofficial representative.
      Through his teacher, the socialist Harold Laski, Menon was able to befriend several socialists and Labour party leaders like Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Stafford Cripps, Bertrand Russell, Clement Attlee and others. In 1932, Menon succeeded in convincing some British Parliament members to visit India to see firsthand what was happening in India, The India League Parliamentary Delegation, consisting of three Labour Members of Parliament with Krishna Menon as secretary, reached India in August 1932. They travelled to different parts of India, including its villages. During their eighty-three days sojourn, the delegates were shocked by the atrocities committed by the government on innocent people who participated in the Civil Disobedience campaign. The 536 page report when submitted to the government sent shock waves in Britain among people interested in Indian affairs, and the Congress led by Gandhi got powerful support for their campaign. The report became a landmark in the history of the India League and was considered as a personal triumph of Krishna Menon. This also resulted in closer association with the Labour Party, his socialist leanings helping him greatly. Krishna Menon joined the West Pancreas Labour Party in 1934, which is in the east end of London. He was elected councilor repeatedly for thirteen years until he became Indian high commissioner in the U.K in 1947. Another achievement of Krishna Menon in England was in the publishing industry. He is credited with the launching of paperback revolution. Along with Allen Lane of Bodley Head, they started the publishing company, Penguin. Later the Pelican series, with Krishna Menon as its general editor, was started.
   In 1939, Krishna Menon was selected by the Labour Party as a candidate for the Dundee Constituency Parliamentary seat. But his participation in the Daily Bazaar, a People's War platform, revealed his leanings towards communism. He was declared a communist among Labour circles and his candidature was cancelled. The repercussion of this in America was even stronger. He came to be regarded as a mouthpiece of the Soviet Union. He was shunned by the Labour Party and the socialists henceforth. His communist leanings came to the surface even when he was the Indian high commissioner in London. In a letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Patel (6 January 1949) wrote, pointing out the accusations made by Krishnan Menon in an interview with T.G. Sanjivi, director, Intelligence Bureau, against the Government of India. Menon was perturbed by the action taken by the Government of India against the communists who had committed atrocities in Hyderabad, Madras, Bengal and other parts of the country, and indulged in murders, pillage, arson and loot, and were planning an armed insurrection. Menon was not convinced and shouted at Sanjivi: It is you who are murdering the communists." In reply, Nehru wrote to Patel (6 January 1949) I can only explain and excuse it to some extent by imagining that he (Menon) was under some deep mental strain and consequently completely upset. He is often rather ill and sometimes his nerves give way when he is unwell. The views held by Menon about communism and communists are of consequence because Nehru as prime minister was guided by Krishna Menon on foreign and economic affairs for years, resulting in Nehru making some grievous mistakes.
     Menon and Nehru maintained their intellectual and emotional links ever since they met in London in 1935. Of course, socialism was the common link. But Nehru was obliged to Menon for projecting him as one of the greatest men of our time. Perhaps Menon sincerely believed that only Nehru could lead free India. After Independence, Menon was appointed as the Indian high commissioner in London, in which capacity he worked for five years and retired on 13 June 1952. During his tenure there was, the famous Jeep Scandal coinciding with the Police Action' in Hyderabad (1948). He was charged with having entered into a business deal with persons of no substance for the purchase of defence equipment in order to oblige friends. Prime Minister Nehru had a hard time defending his friend in the Parliament. Nothing could be definitely found against Krishna Menon, and the matter was eventually dropped.
     Soon after, Nehru sent him to the U.N. as a member of the Indian delegation. Vijayalakshmi Pandit was the leader. Following her election as president of the U.N. General Assembly, Krishna Menon became the leader of the Indian delegation. When the Kashmir question came up for discussion, Krishna Menon is believed to have made the longest speech in the history of the U.N.O. He was successful in converting a lost case to one of complexity to the chagrin of Britain and America who wanted to see Kashmir independent as well as disarmed. Menon also suggested solutions for many controversial international issues including Korea and Vietnam, which the great powers did not relish.
    Menon returned to India in 1956 and was taken in the Union Cabinet as minister without portfolio. He was elected a member of the Lok Sabha in 1957 and again in 1962. In 1957, he was appointed the Defence minister. Two major events attracted global attention during Krishna Menon’s term of office as Defence minister. One was the integration of Goa in December 1961 and the other was the conflict with China in 1962. The Goa affair was a smooth operation but invited strong reaction from the Western block who were eyeing Goa as a naval base. Even Mountbatten, a friend and admirer of Krishna Menon, lamented, Krishna Menon – got this invasion of Goa linked up without Nehru understanding or knowing about it. In doing so, he destroyed Nehru. Nehru was the great idealist, who had always said that force must never be used. In forcing Nehru to bless the invasion of Goa he destroyed him, not only his credibility, his prestige, his reputation, but he destroyed his faith in himself, for he felt that he had been betrayed. And he later killed him with the disastrous Chinese war." The debacle during the war with China in 1962 will go down in history as the blackest spot in the political career of Krishna Menon as well as that of Nehru. Before his death in 1950, Sardar Patel, in a detailed letter to Jawaharlal Nehru, had warned him about the intentions of China. Nehru had ignored the warning Krishna Menon perhaps never cared to read that letter. Worse, when the army chief, General Thimayya, informed Nehru and Defence Minister Krishna Menon about Chinese forces' incursions into Indian Territory, Menon blew up and accused Thimayya of lapping up CIA agent provocateur propaganda. It is believed that General Thimayya submitted his resignation after the incident. Fearing that it might be used further to criticizes the Government and in particular the Defence Minister, who was already under heavy attack for neglecting border defence, Nehru persuaded Thimayya to withdraw his resignation, but news of it leaked out." Krishna Menon’s perception of Chinese policy was coloured by his communist leanings and he believed that China would never attack India. He and Nehru had convinced themselves that China, under Communist regime, was a friend of India and as a cosponsor of Panchsheel, was morally bound to be friendly towards India. They seemed to have never learnt the basic precept of statesmanship that in politics there are no permanent friends, only permanent national interests. The arrogant Krishna Menon would not listen to the plea of the army generals for up gradation of the army to face the challenge of the Chinese. The Chinese knew that the Indian army was ill clothed, ill armed and much smaller in number. The voices against Krishna Menon started getting louder in the media, among general public and even in the Congress circles. Nehru continued to shield his friend but after the debacle in the India-China War in 1962, when the Chinese force almost reached the Indian plains without much resistance by the Indian army, Nehru found it difficult to protect Krishna Menon. Menon had to resign as Defence minister. The prestige of Nehru as a world leader also came under a cloud. Krishna Menon’s political career almost came to an end. He had no following in the Congress party and was denied a Congress ticket in the 1967 Parliamentary elections. He resigned from the Congress party. After the death of Nehru, he was almost pushed into oblivion. He started to practice at the Supreme Court as a progressive lawyer, taking up cases of the leftist leaders like E.M.S. Namboodaripad. His health deteriorated and he was in and out of hospitals most of the time. He died on 6 October 1974 in Delhi.
    An agnostic and a bachelor throughout his life, he had made few friends. With his haughty, arrogant and superstitious nature, it was easy for him to make enemies. No Indian politician faced more bitter criticism, both at home and abroad, than Krishna Menon did. People have forgotten his service to the nation through India League, fighting for Indian independence in a foreign land for more than two decades and only remember the humiliation which the country suffered at the hands of the Chinese in 1962 when he was Defence minister.
    He did not write much about himself. I do not believe in what is called autobiography," he once said. Whatever we know about him is through his friends and his enemies. He did not write any book of substance; only some pamphlets, though he was certainly a distinguished intellectual. Lord Greenwood, who knew Krishna Menon from his court days in London, paying a tribute to Krishna Menon after learning about his death said, Vitriolic, intolerant, impatient, exigent Yes! but generous, sensitive, considerate, a great teacher too. I doubt if I shall ever meet a great man or one who will leave behind him so many so deeply in debt to him for all the lessons he taught to those of us who will cherish his memory."

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