V.K Krishna Menon (1896-1974)
Before I go through Menon’s life let me preface it with a truism: anyone who involves himself in public life must realize politics as played in India or anywhere else is no different. I recall an anecdote from the life of an illustrious Athenian who did yeoman service to his City as Menon did to the country. There are more than two millennia separating Themistocles and V.K Krishna Menon.
Themistocles from his youth wanted glory and was also impetuous. He wanted to make a name for himself and politics was what interested him most. His father desirous of persuading from an uncertain career as politics one day took him for a stroll along the seashore. He pointed many ruins of galleys abandoned pell-mell among the rocks and said, ’This is how people deal with the very vessels that have become of no use to them.’ Themistocles learned hard way that it was indeed so. V.K Krishna Menon’s case was no different. Our Indian Identity may give us certain contours in our attitudes and a frame of reference but these are superficial. In the very core principles we are like every body else.
Krishna Menon was the third child and eldest son of a prosperous lawyer in Tellicherry, in those days part of Malabar Presidency. In 1915 he went to Madras where his debating skills were honed and his intelligence and forceful character brought him in contact with people like Annie Besant and Dr. Arundale. The latter took him to London where he studied under Professor Harold Laski and emerged with first class Honours in1927.
In the newly emerged India League he was the moving spirit. He worked indefatigably for making Indian cause better understood in England. When the Labor Government came in power in 1945 he became the listening post for Nehru to understand the mood of the British government. His service paved the way for a strong bond between him and Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister.
He became the first High Commissioner of India in the UK. Perhaps much of his rapid rise and fall partly owe to the very character: he could be very cutting when aroused and spoke straight off the cuff. He had many enemies abroad and in India. The so-called Jeep Scandal (this was peanut compared to the present day land scam or 4000 crore Hawala scam) and led to his being recalled in 1952 before the five year ended. He was appointed as the leader of Indian delegation while the Cold War was spreading across the world. In 1957 he was able to persuade the USSR to drop its opposition to the admission of 16 Afro-Asian countries as new members of the UN. By the same year he became the Defense Minister in Nehru’s cabinet. Among his many enemies the US also came in and he was in so many ways made to look as a stooge for the Soviet Russia.
As the Defense Minister he made the first efforts to modernize Defense Establishment and developing indigenous sources of supply for all consumable items. His first ministerial efforts were effective.
In early 1962 he stood for election from the same Bombay constituency against Acharya JB Kripalini. He was returned to Lok Sabha with his new popular mandate.
It was the era Nehru’s slogan ‘Indi-Chini- Bhai-Bhai’In Oct.1962 China entered into NEFA area with ease. The failure of India was as much a failure of mistaken foreign policy towards China that had nothing to do with V.K Krishna Menon’s handling of his portfolio. Nehru was indispensable whereas Krishna Menon who had to rely only on himself was expendable. As his successor in the Defense Ministry said, ’The true evidence of the success of Krishna Menon’s success is really available in the results of the 1965 and 1971 conflicts when our troops firmly met and repulsed aggression’. Anyway the Chinese Border debacle sent him into political wilderness. He was not reinstated or his great service to the nation before her independence or after were justly rewarded. It was only fitting and his due for his selfless service that the nation should have celebrated his birth centenary in 1996 but then he had become a footnote to Indian history, – and a forgotten hero.
(Ack: A Forgotten Patriot-a tribute by CV Narasimhan- The Hindu-23-2-97)
It was the era of McCarthism. Sri.V.K Krishna Menon led the Indian delegation of the U.N General Assembly in New York. He was invited to Meet The Media, a TV program moderated by one Mr. Anatole Stormwell, a favorite of the Senator McCarthy, and a nasty character to boot.
News reached Mr. Krishna Menon that the meeting was going to be a sort of inquisition by a panel, who were handpicked by Mr. Stormwell and noted for their bias. Mr. Menon noted the names and collected some background information on his interviewers.
On the day of interview Mr. Stormwell after a perfunctory welcome briefly traced the career of the guest, dwelling more on the aspects in a way to denigrate by innuendo, and said how he had become the favorite of Mr. Nehru. ”That is wonderful, Mr. Menon from log cabin to White House in a manner of speaking. But tell me Mr.Menon-is it true that you are a communist?”
There were a few raised eyebrows and looks of agitation among the panel and Mr. Menon replied,” Thank you Mr.Stormwell, I would like to return the compliment; you too, sir, have risen from humble beginnings, from selling newspapers in the streets to leading this distinguished panel. I believe that you draw a salary higher than that of the President of the United States. Now that is wonderful,Mr. Stormwell, but tell me is it true that you are a bastard?”
The second Menon did not play second fiddle to any but he wielded a pen and it was formidable as V.K Krishna Menon’s oratory. He authored a book Kazhinja Kalam(Past Perfect) and he ran a vernacular Newspaper Mathrubhoomi (Motherland)
K.P Kesava Menon (1886-?)
At a meeting in Calicut (Kozhikodu) convened by the loyalists during the WWI to collect funds towards the war effort, Kesava Menon was invited to speak in a meeting. As he stood up to deliver his speech in malayalam he was called to order by the Collector as well as the all-powerful British officers present. He walked out rather than having to be to be told his mother tongue was not good enough to express so vital topic of life and death. (There were ten thousands of soldiers recruited and sent abroad to fight for the cause of the Imperial Britain. Besides food supplies were sent out to feed the army on foreign soil than feed the people at home)
Following the example of Kesava Menon the majority of the audience also walked out.