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."
gained (or lost) by force."
- Time Magazine