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When I get time, I listen to music, or read books. If any is left, I blog!

Thursday 29 September 2011

'Personalities Die, But Not Causes'

In 1957 when V K Krishna Menon became the Defence Minister, Indian army’s main weapon was the World War-1 Lee-Enfield rifle. A few squadrons of vintage Canberra, Hunter and Vampire adorned the Indian Air Force. Our defence budget was a 'princely' Rs 305 crores! 

Menon aimed to bring about quick and effective changes. His proposals however, were blocked by political opponents. Speaking on the 1957 Defence Budget, J B Kripalani said, 'The mounting defence expenses must be cut down. The followers of Gandhi and adherents of universal peace cannot increase military expenditure.' Morarji Desai, the then Finance Minister was only too happy to support this argument.

Refusing to be browbeaten, Menon decided to explore surplus production resources within the defence set up to manufacture kettles and cookers, sell them in the open market, and raise funds for his modernisation plans. Unable to comprehend the ingenuity or purpose behind this plan, his detractors alleged that Menon had dismantled the Ishapore Rifle Factory to manufacture coffee-pots!

But nothing could stop Menon in his efforts to create a modern and self-reliant defence structure. The Avadi Heavy Vehicle factory, HAL, Bharat Electronics, production facilities for Avro aircraft and Leander Frigates, research centres like the DRDO, ADE and so on bear testimony to his great vision. Armament factories were set up in remote locations for tactical reasons. Salaries of defence personnel were raised. Such was his involvement that Menon even established a chain of Sainik Schools to prepare the youth for entry into the prestigious National Defence Academy. He also made NCC training compulsory at the school level.

Krishna Menon pioneered India's missiles programme by constituting a study team named SWDT (Special Weapon Development Team). In 1960, he inaugurated the DSL (Defence Science Laboratory) and a year later, the DRDL (Defence Research & Development Laboratory) marking the beginning of an ambitious programme. Menon's initiatives in due course not only helped India develop guided missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads, but also become the seventh country to launch space crafts and satellites.

Menon's passion for defence projects finds mention in Dr. A P J Abdul Kalam's biography. Then a senior scientist at the DRDO, Dr. Kalam recalls how Menon, delighted at seeing a prototype hovercraft, chose to ride in it with Dr. Kalam at the controls, brushing aside all concern about safety.
People who criticise Krishna Menon for India's failure in countering the Chinese aggression in 1962, forget that within three years of this debacle, we won a major war against Pakistan, and six years later a hugely successful military operation in East Pakistan (now Bangla Desh). Today, if any one believes that soon after Menon's exit, the 'mismanaged' defence set-up went into an 'auto-correction' mode, that too in those days of tardy five-year plans and obstructive red-tapism to win two spectacular victories, it would be ridiculing one's own rationale, reasoning and sense of judgement.
Menon was elected to the Parliament thrice (North Bombay in 1962, Midnapore in 1969, and Trivandrum in 1971), perhaps the only one to have represented India form the East, West and the South. He died at the age of 78 on 6 October 1974. Menon-bashing soon became the pastime of self-styled historians and super scribes. Yet, the British media resentful of Menon for his role in the UN during the Suez Canal crisis, gracefully applauded his statesmanship thus:
"In retrospect, the plan presented by Krishna Menon would have salvaged more for British interests than was eventually 
gained (or lost) by force."
- Time Magazine 

Click below to read the earlier parts of this story:

Tuesday 20 September 2011

He Had Nothing to Flaunt, Except Genius

        V K Krishna Menon was an extraordinary person. Aggressive and over- bearing, contemptuous of fools and pseudo-intellectuals, he went on making enemies, caring little for his name or image. The West hated him for his stinging retorts and biting sarcasm, and gave him such choicest epithets as the 'Devil's incarnate', 'Snake charmer' and 'Mephistopheles in a Saville row suit.' Yet, the world listened with rapt attention when he spoke, because of his sound reasoning, quick repartees and power-packed eloquence. 
          Today, as India, devoid of imagination or determination, goes about strutting and stumbling in its international engagements, 'Menon and Menonism' keep returning. Read, how he summarily put in place some of the bullying brow-beaters who strode the diplomatic scene in those days. 

A British parliamentarian once boasted, 'Remember. The Sun never sets on the British Empire.'
Menon: 'That’s because not even God trusts the British in the dark!'
John Foster Dulles, the US secretary of state once justified that arms given to Pakistan was only to defend itself against a Soviet invasion.
Menon: 'The world has yet to see an American gun shoot in one direction!'
When India annexed Goa in 1961, Dulles severely castigated the country's action.
Menon: 'Did you expect us to send a postcard to the Pentagon seeking your approval?'
After a heated debate in the UN, the British delegate told, 'No hard feelings, Krishna. We have a very thick skin.'
Menon: 'I know, sir. That’s why you Britons make the best boots in the world!'
An Englishwoman once expressed surprise at his excellent command over English.
Menon: 'My English is better than yours, madam. because you inherited it by an accident of birth. I spent years learning it.'
Kennedy, the US President sent an aide with a get-well message to Menon convalescing after a brain surgery in 1961.
Menon: 'Your boss thinks I am a lunatic. You can now tell him on good authority that you've indeed seen me, and I am a man with a hole in the head!'
To an African delegate who once extolled Britain's international policies, Menon said: 'There's no use asking which one you could choose - British imperialism or Nazism. It's like asking a fish, if it wants to be fried in margarine or butter!'
Menon did not spare his detractors at home also. J B Kripalani was one who was at the receiving end of Menon's sarcasm several times. Once when he criticised Menon for not sharing with the Parliament, information about a defence deal, Menon retorted:
'I can give the respected member all the information he wants. But I am sorry I can't give him the intelligence to understand it.'
          His image as an intolerant and impatient man, obscured many facets of his unique personality, as well as his immeasurable contributions to building a modern India. The fact that Menon was never too enthusiastic to talk about himself or his achievements added to this mystery. What is visible is unfortunately a distorted portrait, his die-hard foes have drawn with a vengeance beyond common sense or decency.
          Click below to read further....

History is not a record of what really happens,
but what is narrated later by some in their own words

Monday 12 September 2011

Loved by Few, Hated by Many & Feared by All

Have You Heard of V K Krishna Menon? Five out of ten may say 'No'. The rest might remember, but most would choose to heap abuses on the man they vaguely knew or knew only through prejudiced caricatures. The super scribes and superfluous historians had always an extra word or two to portray him!
Read the opening sentence of an article that appeared in the Time Magazine of 26 May 1961:
          'In stately procession, the delegates rolled up to the Palais des Nations in Qeneva - the US's Dean Rusk in a black Homburg, India's smartly tailored V. K. Krishna Menon sweeping an arrogant eye over the press gallery, Russia's grinning Andrei Gromyko, China's dumpy Marshal Chen Yi...'. 

The man who rubbed shoulders with the world's mighty and sardonically rubbed them on the wrong side, was on the cover of the Time Magazine of 2 Feb 1962, a rare achievement for an Indian those days. Twelve years later, Time Magazine wrote his obituary thus:
          '- Died. V K Krishna Menon 77, virulently anti-Western former Indian Defence Minister and delegate to the United Nations of an apparent heart attack in New Delhi. Son of a wealthy lawyer, Menon was an ascetic, acerbic, anti-colonialist firebrand who lived in London and agitated against British rule in India for 28 years...'. 

Krishna Menon reached England in 1924 to pursue education. He earned his BSc with first class honours, following it up with MSc in Political Science and MA in Psychology.  He co-founded with Sir Allen Lane two publishing firms, 'Penguin Books' (fiction) and 'Pelicans' (non-fiction), both of which grew to be successful ventures. The partners however split over publishing E M Forster's novel, 'A Passage to India'. Anticipating objections in publishing a book with favourable references to India's freedom struggle, Menon tricked Allen Lane into believing that it was a travelogue!

'Fight the enemy in its own territory' - that was Menon's strategy. He joined the Labour party and was elected Borough councillor for St. Pancras. He held the seat for the next four more terms. During this period, Menon initiated a library movement sponsoring a chain of mobile libraries, book exhibitions and literary meets. The launch of the 'sixpence' books, while at 'Penguin' and 'Pelican' had made him the 'architect of the paperback revolution' in Britain. As a tribute, St. Pancras conferred on Menon, the coveted 'Freedom of the Borough' title, the only other recipient being Bernard Shaw. 

Menon nearly became a Member of the British Parliament when the Labour Party decided to field him from Dundee in 1939. But his refusal to relent in the fight against the British empire cost him that honour. 

He once said, "I have no past, have no journals or diaries. When I die, I will leave nothing behind'. 

As if on cue, Menon's bronze bust by the famed sculptor Fredda Brilliant erected at the Fitzroy Square in 1979 was stolen. A bust that replaced it was also promptly stolen. The third bust erected at Camden Centre is now kept under 'lock and key'!
Why in the world would anyone steal the bust of a much maligned person? 

Click below to read further....

"Nobody in India appreciated the fact that I encroached 
upon 4000 sq. miles of territory belonging to China."
- V K Krishna Menon