Vengalil Krishnan Menon (1896-1974) was an Indian lawyer, publicist, ambassador, foreign policy advisor, defence minister 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.
V. K Krishna Menon was considered to be one of the most influential public figure during his career as a diplomat and politician and also, certainly the most reviled, for though he marked his career as a diplomat, he was far from being diplomatic and his famous brusque behavior earned him the ire of both the western media and the Indian diplomatic and political elite. But his close friendship with Jawaharlal Nehru ensured that he could tide over his detractors, and when he was made the defense minister he even ruled the country’s armed force. As Nehru’s pet Rottweiler, he was the most vocal advocate of the Non-Aligned Movement and the harshest critique of the United States. No wonder he was the favorite enemy of the West as he went on supporting the other side at the height of the Cold War. In all this hullabaloo of his domineering character many tend to forget his immense contributions to the nation particularly in the military. Though many blame him for the loss of face in the 1962 Indo-China war, it is his policies that guided the Indian military to the strength it is at present
Childhood & Early Life
He was born into a wealthy and influential family in Kerala. His father, Komath Krishna Kurup was a very famous and rich lawyer; his mother too hailed from a reputed and wealthy family.
He was sent to Zamorin’s College in Kozhikode to receive his early education. After that he went to Presidency College, Chennai from where he graduated with a B.A. in History and Economics in 1918.
He then went to Madras Law College where he became involved in theosophy. His acquaintance with Annie Besant led to his association with the “Brothers of Service” founded by Annie Besant.
In 1924, Annie Besant helped him to go to London for his higher studies at the University College, London after which he went to the London School of Economics.
He earned an M.A. in Psychology with First Class Honours in 1930 and completed his MSc in Political Science in 1934.
Menon was appointed the High commissioner to the United Kingdom after the independence of India in 1947. He served in this post till 1952 after which he led the Indian Delegation to the United Nations till 1962. At the United Nations he was noted for his criticisms of the United States and adopted the policy of non-alignment. On 23rd January, 1957 he delivered what is considered to be longest speech ever in the United Nations Security Council, which went on an unprecedented seven hours and forty eight minutes defending India’s stand on Kashmir. In 1953, Krishna Menon was elected to the Rajya Sabha and three years later he joined the Union Cabinet albeit as a minister without a portfolio. In 1957, Menon was elected to the Lok Sabha from Bombay and the same year he was appointed the Minister of Defense in the government formed by Jawaharlal Nehru. The reputed Sainik schools were his brainchild, and till date the Sainik School Society runs around 24 schools across India. In 1962, after India’s humiliating defeat at the hands of the Chinese, Menon resigned from his post as Defense Minister. In 1967, he contested for a parliamentary seat but lost. However, he was re-elected 1969 from Midnapore and again in 1971 from Trivandrum.
Krishna Menon was frequently vilified in the Western press, which often described or depicted him as a “snake-charmer”, as in TIME magazine’s 1962 cover portrait. TIME Magazine described as the second most powerful man in India and others, after his ally and intimate friend, Jawaharlal Nehru.
In October 6, 1974, Menon passed away in Delhi. He was conferred upon with the Padma Vibhushan award thus, becoming the first Malayalee to be so honored. The V.K. Krishna Menon Foundation, based in London was instituted in his memory and till date, works towards the eradication of illiteracy and the promotion of Indian arts and culture.
1896: Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon was born in a Vengalil family.
1924: Moved to England to pursue higher education
1934: Was admitted to the English Bar
1947: Was appointed the High commissioner to the United Kingdom
1953: Was elected to the Rajya Sabha.
1956: Appointed a minister in the government.
1957: Nehru appointed him the Defense Minister of India.
1962: Resigned as Defense Minister after India’s humiliating defeat against China.
1974: Breathed his last