Brilliant, astute, and point blank, V.K. Krishna Menon was undoubtedly one of the most successful yet aggressive diplomats and statesmen from India. He served at several top positions as the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s close political confidante. The power he held was so immense that it is no surprise that the ‘Time’ magazine called him the second most powerful man in India, after the then Prime Minister Nehru himself! Such was the power he commanded. He was very outspoken and did not think twice before uttering politically incorrect comments if he felt he was right. He was often seen as a bold champion for India in the Western world where he left no opportunity to speak up and defend his motherland. A highly intelligent and hard working man, he had served as India’s High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and as the country’s Defence Minister. As a young man he had been an active participant in India’s independence movement and had launched the India League in London to garner support for the cause. A headstrong person deeply devoted to his country, he dedicated his entire life to the services of the nation.
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.
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He began his career in the 1930s as an editor for ‘Bodley Head’ and ‘Twentieth Century Library’. He took his career in publishing further by also working with the Penguin and Pelican Books in 1935.
He was a socialist and joined the Labour Party in England where he served as the Labour councilor for the Borough of St. Pancras from 1934 to 1939. He was being prepared to be nominated as a candidate from the Dundee Parliamentary constituency in 1939 but the plan was derailed.
He served again as the Labour councilor from 1944 to 1947. He established the St. Pancras Arts and Civil Council in 1944 and was made the chairman of the Education and Public Library Committee the next year.
Over this time, he had become friends with another nationalist, Jawaharlal Nehru. This friendship would last for many years ending only with the death of Nehru.
Menon worked to ensure that Nehru would emerge as a leader of the Indian independence movement and would be selected as Independent India’s first Prime Minister.
Menon became the high commissioner to the United Kingdom in 1947 after India gained independence. He held this post till 1952. He had always been highly distrustful of the U.K. and the British politicians too viewed him as a menace.
He was made the leader of the Indian delegation to the United Nations in 1952. He became very popular for his brilliance in solving complex political problems. He worked in this position till 1962 during which he had engineered a peace plan for Korea and a ceasefire in Indo-China.
He was been against nuclear weapons and passionately opposed their proliferation throughout the 1950s by collaborating with Bertrand Russell.
He became a member of the Rajya Sabha in 1953 and joined the Union Cabinet in 1956 as Minister without Portfolio. In 1957, he was made Minister of Defence and began to create a domestic military industrial complex in the face of much opposition.
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He delivered an eight-hour speech at the United Nation’s Security Council on 23 January 1957 defending India’s stand on Kashmir. The speech remains till date, the longest ever delivered in the UN. The speech ended only when Menon collapsed with exhaustion.
After India’s defeat to China in the 1962 Indo-China War, Menon’s role was severely criticized and he was forced to tender his resignation.
In 1967, he resigned from the Congress and contested the parliamentary elections as an independent, after he was denied the party ticket from the North east Bombay constituency on the grounds that he was a non-Maharashtrian. But, he lost the election.
In 1969, Menon contested the parliamentary election as an independent from constituency of Midnapore in West Bengal and won it.
In 1971 parliamentary election, Menon contested from the constituency of Trivandrum, in his homestate of Kerala, and won the election.
Personal Life & Legacy
Menon lived a very simple life and even as the high commissioner refused to take a salary. He lived in a single room residence and preferred to use public transport whenever possible. However when he went to social gatherings, he was impeccably dressed. He was a vegetarian and teetotaler who never married.
He died in 1974 at the age of 78 years.
In 2006, The V. K. Krishna Menon Institute was established to commemorate the life and achievements of Menon.
This Indian diplomat was often referred to as "India's Rasputin" or "Nehru's Evil Genius".