During the height of the cold war, the very news that
V.K. Krishna Menon was scheduled to speak in the General
Assembly was good enough to cause a stir in the United
Nations and a minor stampede in its galleries. Nobody
in that 81-nation body could have been trusted to put
up a presentation as ingeniously as this adept emissary
of Jawaharlal Nehru.
was amazing to watch how Menon could go on developing
the subtleties of his brief for hours without consulting
notes. His five-hour speech on Kashmir followed by another
two hours and 48 minutes the next day set up an all-time
record in any international locution or UN declamation.
He could be charming and conciliatory but if required
he could move on to a prolonged vituperation against imperial
hubris and great-power chauvinism and then switch over
to an erudite philosophical and legalistic discourse.
and intense, Menon was endowed with a remarkable presence.
He was always draped in a modest but decent suit. His
eyes piercing and forehead broad merging into the silvery,
dishevelled lock of hair. His hawked nose, sensuous lips,
heavy voice and tapering fingers always busy explaining
ideas and moods supplemented his extraordinary mind. His
intensity was occasionally relieved by his sardonic sense
of humour, his homme d'esprit and a mischievous smile.
was a formidable logician, an irresistible speaker endowed
with a biting sarcasm;his tactlessness in dealing with
individuals was compensated by his alert instinct, his
discriminating sense of history, his finely tuned fund
of principles and his hunger for knowledge and self-improvement
-- all marinated by a childlike simplicity.
the UN delegate's lounge, he was a steady subject of conversation.
He surpassed every one in providing international formulae
for peace. He taught the developing societies the way
the UN could be used as an instrument of change. His peace
plan for Korea, his contributions to the ceasefire in
Indo-China, his sensitive handling of the Suez crisis,
his intermediary role during the deadlock in the disarmament
talks, his face-saving formula allowing France to return
to the UN having walked out of it over Algeria being a
dedicated all his energy to impress upon the western powers
the importance of non-alignment. The vision of a world
order, fashioned by Nehru and Menon, constituted a significant
paradigm of international politics.
disliked by western diplomats in the UN for his perspicacity
and comprehension, his mastery of diplomatic nuances and
his commitment to the cause of the Third World, Menon
was dubbed as "Mephistopheles in a Saville row suit",
"the devil's incarnate", "the bad fairy of the UN", the
"old snake charmer" and also as a diabolical combination
of all "three witches of Macbeth". At times, western public
opinion concluded that a divergence of opinion persisted
between a suave and good-humoured Nehru and a destructive
was against such a grim backdrop that the American public
was called upon to assess the role of Menon in the then
strife-ridden world. The critics watched with a mixed
feeling of gloom and dismay, Menon's consistent advocacy
for the admission of China in the UN, his proposal for
the ban on hydrogen tests, his assault on the inadequacies
of western democracies and in contrast, his alleged soft-pedaling
of the wickedness and inhumanity of communist regimes
and his so-called blatant bias in Korea, Indo-China and
rational observers were constrained to conclude that Menon
was a crafty fellow-traveller and, hence, a possible threat
to the US aspirations. Others felt that probably Nehru
had been somewhat indulgent to this petulant crusader
because he sought to use him as his sounding board and
as a releaser of his trial balloons. Little did they realise
that right from their first meeting at the office of the
India League in London they were unwavering comrades within
the ambit of complete confidence. Over the years Menon
spoke for Nehru. Over the years they thought remarkably
role of the League encompassed a range of political activity.
It continued to persuade the British public opinion to
respond positively to the Indian cause; it developed the
most effective Indian lobby in the British Parliament;
it established an affinity with a section of the Labour
and Communist parties.The voice of India's freedom was
carried to the very heart of a mighty empire, at once
haughty, subtle and imperious.
made hatred of Menon the passion of their lives. But Menon
had decided to throw his mind and energy into the ring
of life. Often he bled with it, he suffered and pined,
saw the moments of his greatness flicker, witnessed new
hopes in the rising sun of life and his trice of ecstasy
synchronised with the hour of Independence.
man of paradoxes, Menon remained an enigma. He attracted
as well as repelled. His political career came to an abrupt
end with China's military operations against India in
1962. He was held responsible for the debacle. For nearly
30 years he remained the most trusted lieutenant of Nehru
and it was the Congress that ultimately denied him a ticket
for Parliament. But paradoxically, his contributions to
India's defence production laid the foundation for its
was mistrusted by the power-elite of the capitalist world.
Yet he was loved by Afro-Asians and Latin Americans and
by those who lived below the thin upper crust of the capitalist
societies. Menon lived and died amidst controversies.
But he regaled himself with all his critical faculties,
his wit and his sense of social obligation even though
he became increasingly lonely in his splendid isolation.
Suhash Chakravarty is the author of Khyber
to Oxus, Anatomy of the Raj, The Raj Syndrome, Raj Charit
Manas, V.K. Krishna Menon and the Indian League, 2 volumes.