Arguments that someone or the other has not been given their due in history have persisted through the decades since independence. While it’s our duty to ensure that those who carried us on their shoulders are remembered and respected, the names that usually get tossed around are those that received way too much recognition. Certain groups have developed the skill set to promote a given individual from the past and exploit the votes of a section or use that individual to discredit someone else, and hence destroy the voting base of their political opponents.
Rest of the herd follows their lead and despite the apparent sympathy for unsung heroes, the people whose contributions are ignored never see the light of day. No individual has been wronged by history more than Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon. The problem has not just been ignoring or sidelining, but the malicious assassination of character that continues to this day. Even casual references to VK Menon are usually qualified in demeaning and derogatory ways by calling him the “controversial Defense Minister” or “Nehru’s friend”, thereby taking away everything Menon had done for the country, legitimising the demonisation campaign against him and implying nepotism on part of Nehru. VK Menon was a freedom fighter in his own right even before he met Nehru, and one of the most important founding fathers of India. His contribution towards the freedom movement as well as for the stability and progress of free India need to be understood and acknowledged by all Indians.
Indians vaguely understand the freedom struggle on two fronts: peaceful Satyagraha led by Mahatma Gandhi and violent rebellion usually credited to Bhagat Singh and Subhas Chandra Bose. Yet, there was a third front fought by a single man named VK Krishna Menon away from India and at the source of the problem. He lived in the lion’s den, bullied and twisted the tail of the lion, and finally tamed it. There are many who argue that the British did not give us freedom because of Gandhi alone and that British feared INA or RIN Mutiny. But the real pressure on the British was coming from within their own capital where Menon lived and worked.
While INA was only a publicity nightmare for the Allies at one point, RIN Mutiny came too late in the game to have any impact, and in fact, was delaying matters by giving excuses to reactionaries in London. Hence, Sardar Patel’s negotiations with RIN Mutineers in Bombay. In the aftermath of WW2 which was dubbed as the fight for democracy over fascism, it became impossible for the British to continue deluding themselves and their allies as protectors of Indian peoples.
VK Menon lobbied the Indian cause through the India League and pressured the political parties, especially his own Labour Party. For two decades, he travelled through England and elsewhere to gather support from unions and civil society, educated them on the atrocities committed by the British Government in India, and published the articles written by Indian leaders like Gandhi, Azad and Nehru to present the Indian point of view face to face with the British People.
He was instrumental in changing the narratives and mindsets of British people by appealing to the democratic principles that the British themselves preached to the world. Without Menon, the “peaceful” transfer of power could not have taken place. He was the force behind the passage of the Indian Independence Act of 1947 by the British Parliament. When someone politely asked what work he did for a living, he replied that he did not work for a ‘living’ but for India’s freedom. He gave his salary to the League and slept on a bench in its office mostly living on tea and biscuits instead of regular meals. There are claims of that he was anti-west and a communist.
VK Menon was a Fabian Socialist like most of his Labour Party colleagues. Any insinuation of him being a communist is McCarthyism. He was elected four times (by British People) as a borough councillor at St. Pancras until he became Indian High Commissioner in London.
Efforts to destroy Menon and use him as an excuse to destroy Nehru are behind any “scandal” associated with Krishna Menon. One must remember that the Indian Army went on to use those jeeps for a decade after the politics had subsided since there was never anything wrong with those jeeps. Claims of Krishna Menon ignoring the protocols and using middlemen are trumped up to overshadow the real purpose and urgency of his mission. In 1947, there was a shortage of jeeps in the aftermath of WW2 while Indian Army needed them for the Kashmir War and the Hyderabad Standoff.
This fact is not easily comprehended by those who are brainwashed that Nehru did not want to interfere in Hyderabad and that he stopped the Indian Army while they were on the verge of the victory march. Neither of these claims has any truth and will be addressed in my future blogs. The result of the politics is that India forfeited the money already paid while the jeeps that did arrive in the country could not be used for the purpose intended and were left to rust. It is ironic that the same people who stopped jeeps from reaching Kashmir and Hyderabad when they were needed the most, turned around and accused Nehru/Menon of not equipping the army and of being reluctant to carry out warfare.
After handing over Palestine to the Jews, USA and UK were desperate to placate Muslims, and Kashmir was their opportunity. VK Menon was the one-man army against the diplomatic assault spearheaded by Pakistan that received support from elements in the west. His argument was plain and simple. The accession of Kashmir to India was final when the Maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession. While The United Nation’s Security Council (UNSC) has no jurisdiction to question the Accession, it is UNSC’s duty to get the aggression of Pakistan vacated from Indian territory.
Countering Pakistan’s argument, he retorted that if India really wanted any judgement on the legality of accession, it would go to International Court of Justice and not UNSC. Unfortunately, it is Indians who undermine their own country in their obsession to demonise Nehru/Menon by insisting that the Instrument of Accession became void when Nehru approached UNSC. It is precisely that flawed argument which the separatists and Pakistan exploit to declare Indian “occupation of Kashmir” illegal. Indians, thus hand ammunition to the enemy, then wonder what went wrong and look for solutions elsewhere. Indians seem clueless that the current “Kashmir Problem” had started in the late 1980s with which the events of 1947 have nothing to do. While ignorance has consumed us today, in 1957 Menon was hailed a hero and elected overwhelmingly from North Bombay.
Matters that have no consequence to India, like the Hungarian Crisis of 1956 are twisted and magnified to global proportions while in fact, Menon had acted morally and in compliance with India’s policies and interests. To put the context and consequences in perspective, readers should know that two months after that incident UNSC had considered a similar resolution to send international troops to Kashmir which was vetoed by USSR. There are many Indians these days who sling filth under the pretext of ‘learning from history’. Those people unfortunately never read, and hence can neither learn history nor learn from history. VK Menon was the ideologue and architect behind the Non-Alignment – which BJP government now goes around the world bragging about.
President R. Venkata Raman who was a Defense Minister himself, called Menon the best defence minister India ever had. His contributions to the defence establishment (institutions such as DRDO, ISRO Thumba, NCC, Sainik Schools) have been unprecedented and unparalleled. The ignorance of so-called historians when they blamed him for making pressure cookers and coffee makers was appalling. Menon had in fact answered those stupid arguments very effectively in the parliament in April 1960. Soldiers are deployed in high mountains for months at a time and need to cook food, drink coffee and cut their hair and therefore, he manufactured them at 1/3 cost demanded by the private suppliers which enraged the capitalists who unleashed their media against him.
Claims that Menon had been producing those items instead of arms and ammunition were meant to deceive. 15 new ammunition factories were built under Menon with a five-fold output. When he was the Defence Minister, India produced Avadi Tanks, Shaktiman Trucks, AVRO and HF-24 (supersonic) fighter aircraft. These days there is much hype about Make in India while Nehru and VK Menon were ‘making’ in India in the 1950s and 60s. It is extremely sad that while the equipment that won the 1965 and 1972 Wars against Pakistan like the Gnats, MIGs and INS Vikrant were procured by Menon, the credit was given to YB Chavan. He was also accused of diverting military budget to Socialist Welfare Programs. That so-called ‘Socialist Program’ in fact was for the welfare armed forces and their families, providing them with housing and health care. During Partition, the Indian Army had lost 1/3 of the soldiers but 2/3 of the housing. The soldiers returning from Kashmir and Nagaland camps in the late 1950s had no housing and hence the need to build massive cantonments and infrastructure.
Menon was an easy target for those who could not dare to criticise Nehru. He was hounded by the politicians outside Congress and within. Finance Minister Morarji Desai took sadistic pleasure sabotaging his defence budgets. JB Kriplani and the Socialists raised alarm at the increased defence spending and asked Nehru as to why he is allowing Menon to turn Gandhi’s India into a warmongering nation. Ironically, the same people turned around and accused Menon of not equipping the army in the aftermath of China Conflict in 1962.
Here are a couple of recent examples that would put the hysteria against Menon in perspective. In 2013, an Air Force Sergeant killed his wife in the context of an extra-marital affair. Had that incident taken place in 1960, Defense Minister would be accused of promoting immoral behaviour in the armed forces and would be held personally responsible for the infidelity as well as murder. In 2017, a question paper had leaked before an army recruitment exam and that incident passed almost unnoticed. Had it been 1960, the defence minister himself would have been accused of plotting in collaboration with China to recruit incompetent people, and thus weaken resistance against his “communist ally”. Those who blame Menon for so-called defeat against China are conveniently ignorant of the fact that India defeated colonial Portuguese and liberated Goa under his leadership.