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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 21 New Delhi May 14, 2016

A Thought on Krishna Menon

Monday 16 May 2016

by K. Vikram Rao

Indian’s most unforgettable Defence Minister, V.K. Krishna Menon, was not remembered in his homeland on his 120th birth anniversary on May 3. But his old friends met at the Nehru Centre in London and talked about his views on public libraries. Menon had said in 1932 that there should be as many libraries and commu-nity reading rooms as there were pubs. Reporting Krishna Menon, I found, required special skills. He spoke 150 words a minute on an average and we correspondents hardly possess that speed and grasp. I had covered for the Mumbai Times of India his historic North Bombay Lok Sabha election in 1967. My friend, George Fernandes, was then fighting the formidable S.K. Patil on the other side in South Bombay. He finally wrested it from the Congress. George, the Jack, had felled the Giant, S.K. Patil. Krishna Menon had then, during the united Opposition poll campaign, predicted that only George would win and all others—including him and the CPI Chairman, S.A. Dange (pitted against industrialist Mahindra)—would fail.

As the Indian Socialists gather in Patna’s Anjum Hall on 17-18 of this month to commemo-rate eight decades of the CSP, they should show decency to remember their old comrade in London who was nominated as the Secretary of the British Socialist Party by the CSP General Secretary, Jayaprakash Narayan, in 1934.

It was in 1962 (third Lok Sabha poll) that the founder Chairman of the Praja Socialist Party, Acharya (Dada) J.B. Kripalani, had been set up by the non-Congress Opposition to challenge Krishna Menon in North Bombay. This was the most attractive poll battle in the Indian poll annals. In the same election Dr Rammanohar Lohia, who was Kripalani’s General Secretary (1954), was fighting Jawaharlal Nehru in his traditional Phulpur constituency in Allahabad. Nehru had announced that he would not visit Phulpur after filing his nomination. But due to Lohia’s hectic campaign Nehru toured his constituency thrice, though Nehru spent more time in Menon’s campaign. Lohia at that time had commented on Kripalani’s candidature : “Fight the Master (Nehru) and not his servant (Menon).”

It is now on record of history that Nehru had never supported any armed action to liberate Portugese Goa though hundreds of Socialist Satyagrahis, including Madhu Limaye, Senapati Bapat and young Lucknow student Dr Dauji Gupta were jailed by the Portuguese. Not a word of sympathy for these satyagrahis came from Nehru. But the same Nehru had ordered the Indian Army, led by General K.P. Candeth, to march to Panjim and kick the imperialists out. The timing of liberation was sheer electoral opportunism. It was just three months before the crucial North Bombay polling. Bombay Goans voted massively for Nehru’s Congress. Menon won. But then came the Chinese invasion of today’s Arunachal Pradesh (October 1962). Under massive media pressure, Nehru had to drop Menon from his Cabinet. Menon was the Defence Minister and ignored the expansion of the Indian Army. He always thought that the military threat came from Pakistan and not from the Chinese “bhais”.

Soon after Menon’s ouster, a “victory” meeting was held in Mumbai. I reported it as the Times of India staffer. Kripalani was the key speaker, Swatantra Party stalwart and once a socialist, Minoo R. Masani, spoke: “You have won the North Bombay election six months after, Dada.” Menon could not be ousted by the voters but Nehru for his sake had sacrificed his closest comrade who was the editor of his Autobio-graphy and the guardian in London of his young unmarried daughter, Indira Nehru. Nehru had named his autobiography In and Out of Prisons. Menon renamed it. He could tell the British: I have learnt English. I have not picked it up like you. The first editor of Pelican Series, Menon worked in England for language dailies Pratap, Andhra Patrika, Kaiser-e-Hind and also Bombay Chronicle. He was dismissed by the Hindustan Times.

Menon never learnt Hindi, as most of the South Indian leaders. So they could not become mass leaders. Once we invited Menon to Lucknow University (1958). It was a massive turnout of students. Our Union President (now a lawyer), V.C. Mishra, had to speak a second time (in English) as Menon said: “I have not understood even a word of your Union President’s Hindi speech.”

Menon was known for his acerbic tongue. He was making enemies per second. Even Editor M. Chalapathi Rau of Nehru’s daily, the National Herald, whose London correspondent was Menon under K. Rama Rao’s editorship (1940), said of Menon after his dismissal by Nehru as an “overrated Indian”.

To prove this point here is an anecdote. Menon was flying from London to New York. Seated next to him was an American business-man. He asked Menon: “On a tourist mission to the United States?” Menon retorted: “I am the ambassador of the sovereign republic of India, going to the United Nations. Any further questions?”

A veteran journalist, K. Vikram Rao is the President of the Indian Federation of Working Journalists (IFWJ). Based in Lucknow, he is the Chief Editor of The Working Journalist.