Was Krishna Menon A Sick Man ….
Was Krishna Menon a Sick Man, as revealed by British Intelligence, MI5. It also suggests that he had indulged in the recreational use of “illegal drugs” while in London. And reviles him as “a sick man whose relations with fellows can never be normal or happy” and “utterly unscrupulous impairing the whole conduct of India’s foreign relations”.
When Krishna Menon died at the age of 78 in October 1974, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi provided the most appropriate summing up of that eventful life. “A volcano is extinct”, she said. And observed, ‘Krishna Menon was a person of deep conviction, with great intellectual power and passionate dedication to the country’s causes. His pioneering work as the spokesman of our freedom movement in Europe and as a link with radical movements of other countries is part of our nation’s history….He was a crusader for the building of a new international system. He worked with persuasion to push the country towards self-relianc’.
The ace diplomat, who had worked with Krishna Menon at the UN and later served as India’s Ambassador to the Soviet Union, K.PS. Menon made a brief and proper assessment of Krishna Menon when he said, “Krishna Menon’s services to the nation – not to our nation alone – have been truly meritorious. Year after year, for whole decade, he led the Indian Delegation to the UN. No more powerful voice was ever heard in the UN; it was the voice of India, nay, the voice of resurgent Asia and Africa. Unequivocally Krishna Menon condemned all acts of injustice and oppression wherever they occurred. He denounced the lingering remnants of imperialism and the fitful manifestation of neo-imperialism in remorseless terms”.
Lord Listowell, Britain’s last Secretary of State for India, said “Krishna Menon will be rightly remembered as a great patriot and one of the founding fathers of the Indian Nation”. Lord Greenwood who knew Krishna Menon from his court days in London said: “Vitriolic, intolerant, impatient, and 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 lesions he taught to those of us who will cherish his memory.”
Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy and first Governor General of India as early as in 1947 wrote while thanking Krishna Menon for “helping him in the difficult negotiations for the transfer of power. Felt that history will show that you have helped the future of India very much by the advice you gave me.”
Edwina Mountbatten, who perhaps played an equal role in the transfer of power negotiations, added as a postscript, “I must send you a line to tell you how much your friendship and wise counsel as well as your confidence has meant to us in these last months. The path has not been an easy one and I can never be sufficiently grateful for all you have done to smoothen it out for all concerned and for your invaluable advice and real vision as well as sound judgement.”
While as a student in Presidency College in Madras, Krishna Menon came under the influence of Dr. Annie Besant. According to former President Venkataraman, who was great admirer of Krishna Menon, Dr. Besant made a rare find and she was fully aware of it. To secure for him the facilities for higher education, which his talents so clearly required, she arranged for 28 years old Krishna Menon to go to London.
The journey that began then was no ordinary journey; it was the beginning not just of an encounter but of a relationship that had in it elements of passion and pathos, trial and triumph. While as a student in London, Krishna Menon equipped himself intellectually and politically with vigour and a vision hitherto rarely equalled. Apart from his law, Menon studied Political Science at the London School of Economics under Professor Harold Laski, who was later to describe Menon as – “the best student I have ever had”.
One of Krishna Menon’s most crucial roles was organising Jawaharlal Nehru’s programme whenever the latter visited London. A bond of confidence and esteem grew steadily between the two of them. Their common abhorrence of fascism, their faith in socialism and secularism made Nehru and “Krishna” as Nehru always called him kindered spirits. In 1936, Menon accompanied Nehru on a tour of war-torn Spain. The roles of Britain and France in that war were unedifying. Nehru wrote in his Glimpses of World History: ‘Even from the point of view of self interest, if not from love of democracy, one would have expected England and France to give legitimate aid to the Spanish Government to put down the rebellion. But here again we see how class interests move governments even at the cost of their national interests’.
For Independent India in 1947, Krishna Menon became the most logical choice for the post of first High Commissioner in London. The task was one that called for careful handling. Indian missions were being inaugurated at that time in all parts of the globe. But here was one being opened in the capital of the country from which India had won freedom. It was essential that the new office and its role command respect. Krishna Menon ensured this. He held that post for a period of five years with great dignity and great effect.
Krishna Menon and retired as High Commissioner on 13 June 1952. The tenure was an arduous resulting in tremendous physical and mental stress. The Jeep Scandal was one of the causes. This transaction concerned the purchase of Jeeps for the India Army which was engaged in police action in the Hyderabad (1948). India suffered an unfortunate loss over the purchase of these Jeeps. The issue rocked Parliament which absolved him of any responsibility for the scandal.
From London perch, Menon moved to New York as Nehru asked him to join Indian delegations to the United Nations. At first as Deputy Leader under Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit and then as Leader, he spoke of India’s mind on the Korean issue, the Arab-Israel conflict, membership of the Security Council, the debates on Kashmir, the Algerian issue, the admission of China into the United Nations , the Suez crisis, Hungary, Disarmament and Apartheid. All these debates found Menon at his forensic best.
As Minister for Defence, Krishna Menon brought to bear his great knowledge to strengthen national self-reliance. He was to so modernize and indigenize our defence as to bring them on par with the best anywhere. After a decade of relative inaction, Indian defence industry acquired, under Menon, direction as well as momentum. He was the first to acknowledge that the defence production base, in the ultimate analysis, could not be divorced from the economic and industrial infrastructure of the country.
Menon’s stint at helm of Defence Ministry ended following the Chinese aggression in November 1962. Blame for the humiliating defeat was put at his door step. With hindsight it is possible for critics to realize that attempts to pin the responsibility for 1962 reverses on Krishna Menon were grossly unfair. Speaking at the Krishna Menon memorial lecture former President Venkatraman stated while the reverses of 1962 were the result of earlier policies, true evidence of the success of Krishna Menon’s efforts was really available in the results of the 1965 and 1971 conflicts when Indian troops firmly repulsed aggression.
“Today when we sit secure in the thought of our Army is vigilant guarding our land frontiers, our Navy defending the vast sweep of the seas and the Air Force guarding the skies, we cannot fail to realize the monumental contribution of Krishna Menon to India’s defence,” Venkatraman said.
If Menon had a large number of critics, he had a large number of admirers within and outside the country. Behind his exterior, he was an adorable man with a warm heart, genuine sympathy and a most helpful disposition. He helped a number of students in London and a number of others in the United Nations and other international bodies.
*The writer was Press Secretary to Former President R Venkatraman.
- Asian Tribune -