Politician Jairam Ramesh, who wrote a book on the late diplomat and politician, shares anecdotes about the man at a literature festival in Kerala.

Knowing Krishna Menon once the second most powerful man in IndiaVK Krishna Menon in 1950 / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
news Books Sunday, February 02, 2020 - 18:53

Most people that he met in Kerala would have lots to say about VK Krishna Menon, late diplomat and politician and close aide of independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. But Jairam Ramesh says that few among them would know that Krishna Menon, a Malayali, had opposed the creation of the independent state of Kerala back at the time of states reorganisation. “Menon wrote to Nehru, asking him not to create Kerala because it will become a bastion of Communists!” says Jairam Ramesh, economist and politician from the Congress party, who has written a biography on Krishna Menon, the man who was once known as the second most powerful in India, after Nehru.

The book A Chequered Brilliance: The Many Lives of VK Krishna Menon was discussed at a session of the Mathrubhumi Festival of Letters, during which many interesting little anecdotes about the late diplomat and politician were talked about.

Nehru and Menon (that there were many Menons in Indian politics and all of them were fighting each other is another tale Jairam drops) first met each other in 1935, after two years of writing to each other. “It was love at first sight for both of them,” Jairam says with his trademark humour. Within a month, Menon was appointed Nehru’s literary agent. He led the campaign for Indian independence in England – ‘he has spoken to crowds that numbered from 1 to 1000’. “He bought a Rolls Royce but never used it, only to tell the British that Indians can also own one, that the brown man has arrived.”

After independence he was instrumental in crafting India’s foreign policy. He became the Indian representative to the United Nations post independence and holds the record still for the longest speech (8 hours) at the UN. He became an MP and a Union Minister of India too. Menon coined the word non-alignment and ‘hated it later’. He also helped founding two publishing houses, including Penguin Books.

Still blamed for 1962

“But 1962 is the only lens through which we look at him,” Jairam says, referring to the Indo-China war that year, when Menon was the Union Minister of Defence and got squarely blamed for the lack of military readiness of the country. Menon resigned that year, or, Jayaram says, Prime Minister Nehru’s resignation would have been demanded. “He was more a scapegoat than a villain.”

But he never said a word against anyone even when he was denied a ticket later, Jairam says. Menon had won all the times he stood for parliamentary elections, twice from Mumbai, once from Midnapore in West Bengal, and finally from Thiruvananthapuram. He barely campaigned for his elections, didn’t even know the language (not Hindi or Marathi in Mumbai, no Bengali in Bengal, and not even Malayalam in Kerala) but he won, Jairam notes.

Menon had his charm, especially when it came to attracting women, Jairam says, but he doesn’t delve deep into the ‘masala’ in his book. “Men found him obnoxious but he had a great capacity for attracting women.” The author has found that many young women in the UK, attracted by Menon’s charisma, had given up their studies and fought for Indian independence. He, however, never got married.

Insecure Menon was confused by Gandhi

Despite this, Menon was also known to be insecure. “He felt the entire Congress party was against him,” Jairam says. There was a lot of jealousy, he adds. Menon had never been to jail, not gone for a hunger strike, had no khadi or even a Gandhi cap, and yet, when he came back from the UK, he was winning elections. This had not gone down well among Congress men and Menon felt insecure. “He has written suicide notes but I think he had no intention of carrying them out,” Jairam says.

Some also suspected he was a Communist. Sardar Patel for one thought so. Menon would simply tell the skeptics, “But I can’t help it if the Communists love me. It doesn’t mean I love the Communists.”

Menon also could not understand Mahatma Gandhi, Jairam says. “He would write to Nehru, ‘what’s this Gandhi saying’, to which Nehru would reply, ‘My dear Krishna, if you want to understand India, you should understand Gandhi’.”

Offended many with outspokenness and humour

Perhaps, one reason he angered everyone, including all the other Menons (and this included KPS Menon and VP Menon) was his outspokenness. “He put people off by speaking (arrogantly) and by his silences too,” Jairam says. He was even angry with the writers who wanted to write his biography, and threatened one with legal action.

 

 

Menon’s humorous one-liners too at times, offended people at the UN. Jairam quotes an anecdote when Menon visited Thiruvananthapuram’s present-day MP Shashi Tharoor’s father, who had a heart attack, and commented, “It’s the first time I discovered you had a heart!”

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