V.K Krishna Menon: True To Himself

March 17, 2007

V.K Krishna Menon's colorful personality emerges from the pages of modern Indian history in dramatic relief to what has sometimes been a personally featureless political landscape.

A recent article in Outlook captures some of the engaging peculiarities of this enigmatic and unpredictable man.

Scion of a prominent and wealthy Keralite, family his early life played out the archetype of the educated elite in Pre-Independence India. He transitioned smoothly from an undergraduate degree at Presidency college in Chennai up to higher studies at the London School of Economics. In the U.K he fell under the spell of the director of the LSE, Harold Laski, as well as the prevailing intellectual fashion of the time, Fabianism, a uniquely British and enlightened variant of Socialism.

On return to India he served as secretary of the India League from 1929 to 1947, becoming in the process a prominent figure in the Independence movement and a close confidante of Pandit Nehru.

Following Independence, appointed to the the position of High Commissioner to the United Kingdom he managed to rankle British authorities in so many interesting ways during his 5 year stint at the job. Sunil Khilani's article captures the enigma of the man whom both British Intelligence or MI5 and the Americans regarded as an almost Mephistophelean figure; they had him under almost constant secret surveillance .

Much was made of the angular lupine features, the Communist sympathies,the shady associations, and the unpredictable love life. The unfocused picture that begins to emerge, cleared of all of the real politik misrepresentations, is of an intensely loyal, passionate, intelligent, albeit mildly disturbed man who lived an atypically unprescribed life.

Consider a few of Menon's interesting asides and try not feel an affinity toward him:

* He delivered the longest speech in the history of the United Nations spelling out in only 8 hours and in no uncertain terms India's position on Kashmir.

* During the war he had made friends with a shady figure, Bob Cleminson, whom the British later regarded as an agent provocateur of some kind. Menon had befriended him once and continued to remain loyal even when it was no longer politically expedient.

* Menon kept the strict control of funding in his own department in his own hands and yet did not pocket any of the money for his own needs. Instead he used the funds to among other things bolster Nehru's book royalty checks so that the great man would believe that the public actually cared about what he wrote.

* Sir Alec Cuttleback, the British High Commissioner at the time, referred to him as "Nehru's Evil genius".

The last alone stands out as a kind of testament to the man vilified for an unwillingness to play the old cliche: the sycophantic Indian. Menon may have only been guilty of being hard to understand and fiercely independent and thus refusing to offer the assurance he could be manipulated.

A second generation Indian once removed from my birthplace but now rejoined in new ways. Have a wide array of interests, among which India is the most important. http://lazurusrising.blogpot.com/
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