Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon (1896-1974) was an Indian lawyer, publicist, ambassador, foreign policy advisor, and member of India's Parliament. He was also one of the most influential men in India as the principal aide to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in foreign policy.
Krishna Menon was born on May 3, 1896, near Calicut in what is now the southern Indian state of Kerala. His father was a lawyer. After receiving a bachelor's degree at Madras Presidency College, Menon worked in the Indian Boy Scout movement for 4 years. In 1924 he left for England, where he remained for over a quarter century, ultimately serving there between 1947 and 1952 as India's high commissioner (ambassador).
In England, Menon studied at the London School of Economics (LSE), where he took a bachelor of science degree with honors and a master of science degree. He was profoundly influenced at LSE by the neo-Marxist thought of Professor Harold Laski, whose interpretation of colonialism and imperialism was to mark Menon's image of the world throughout his public life. Menon also earned a master's degree with honors from University College, London, and a law degree from Glasgow University and was subsequently called to the bar from the Middle Temple.
Work as Nationalist Abroad
But Menon's real career in England was as secretary of the India League, through which he publicized India's national interest and lobbied for independence from Britain during the years 1929 to 1947. He was particularly persuasive among Labour party members, on whom he wisely concentrated his efforts. During these years he became a member of the Labour party, was a borough councilor for Labour in St. Pancras, the first editor of Pelican Books, and editor of the 20th-Century Library of Bodley Head.
Most importantly, in the 1930s Menon met Jawaharlal Nehru, with whom he struck up a deep intellectual and personal friendship that was to last for 30 years until Nehru's death. Menon had represented Indian interests in England, but he had no experience in the nationalist movement in India itself and therefore no political base. His later influence in Indian government and politics was significantly a result of his close personal association with the Prime Minister.
Menon's second career began with his appointment as India's first high commissioner to England, in 1947. This was the first time that an Indian had held such a prestigious and high ranking political seat. From 1953 to 1962 he headed the Indian delegation to the annual sessions of the United Nations, where his outspoken advocacy of India's position and his strong ideological commitments made friends of some nations and alienated others.
During these years Menon represented Nehru at many international conferences. From late 1956 until his resignation in November 1962, following the India-China War, Menon was minister of defense. In 1957 and 1962 he was elected to the Lok Sabha, India's Parliament, as a Congress party candidate from North Bombay.
His Foreign Policy
Menon's major achievements came perhaps in his success as a negotiator and conciliator of conflicting international interests, notably at the time of the Korean armistice and at the Geneva Conference on Indochina in 1954. He has also been credited with contributing to the Suez resolution and the organization and implementation of the United Nation's Emergency Force. His greatest failure was his inability to understand the nature of India's relations with China, a failure he shared with Nehru. The India-China War of 1962 shattered many Indian hopes and misconceptions, a fact which Menon viewed after the events more with regret than with anger.
Virtually all of Menon's thoughts and actions on foreign policy were infused by a deep and pervasive distrust of the United States, which he saw as the primary agent of imperialism, racism, and capitalist exploitation in the modern world. These views were an outgrowth of Menon's political philosophy and his emotional reaction to India's colonial experience. For these reasons he also deeply hated Pakistan. He held that Pakistan was created by British imperialism and supported by United States imperialism and, as a theocratic Moslem state, was a historical threat to a secular India. Pakistan's collusion with China simply strengthened his distrust. His uncompromising position on Kashmir derived from his view of Pakistan and a fear that Kashmir might be the first step in Pakistan's effort to recontrol the sub-continent.
Although some of these positions were less than productive in serving India's interests, Menon made significant contributions to world diplomacy and to India's role in international affairs. His representation of nonalignment as an external form of India's national independence and his efforts to expand the "area of peace" in the world, to press for wider disarmament, and to encourage conciliation in and out of the United Nations were all positive efforts. They reflected Nehru's mind as much as Menon's, and in this sense Indian foreign policy in the decade 1952-1962 was a product of the unique personal understanding between the two.
After his 1962 resignation Menon's political fortunes declined. He was denied a Congress nomination in the 1967 elections, resigned from the party, and was defeated by the Congress candidate when he stood from the North Bombay (East) constituency as an independent. In 1969 he was elected in a West Bengal by-election with leftist support, and in 1971 he stood successfully as an independent from a Kerala constituency. Here too he received the support of the left Communists. His publicly stated views were always consistent with those which he had maintained during the peak of his career.
Menon was often described as being a man of great strength, personality, and ambition. He spent his entire life serving his country. Menon died on October 6, 1974, in New Delhi, India.
Further Reading on Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon
Two biographies of Menon are Emil Lengyel, Krishna Menon (1962), and T. J. S. George, Krishna Menon (1964). The best statement of Menon's ideas is in the extensive transcribed interview by Michael Brecher, India and World Politics: Krishna Menon's View of the World (1968); Brecher's brief analysis of Menon's views covers the ground incisively. Additional information regarding V.K. Krishna Menon can be found in the article "Speech by Dr. Shanker Dayal Sharma President of India at the Birth Centenary Celebration of Shri V.K. Krishna Menon in the Central Hall.