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Krishna Menon

(1896—1974) diplomatist and politician


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(b. Calicut, 3 May 1896; d. Delhi, 6 Oct. 1974)

Indian; member of the Indian parliament 1952–67, 1969–74, Minister for Defence 1957–62 A member of the Menon caste from Kerala, Menon was educated at Presidency College, Madras. As a young man he joined the Theosophical Society and became a member of Mrs Annie Besant's inner circle and was a volunteer in her Home Rule campaign. He graduated from the London School of Economics and University College London. He also studied law and was called to the bar by the Middle Temple.

In 1927 Menon became the general secretary of the India League. He transformed it from a largely student body to the chief instrument of Congress propaganda in Britain and on the continent. Through the League Menon developed a close relationship with Nehru which was to last throughout his life. In 1934 he was elected as a Labour councillor to the St Pancras Borough Council and served until 1947. He became Chairman of the Library Committee on the council. Menon developed close contacts with the Labour Party and became a parliamentary candidate for Dundee. He was forced to relinquish his candidature for speaking at a Communist-inspired meeting in 1941. In addition to his political activities, Menon edited the ‘Twentieth Century Library’ issued by Bodley Head and was the first editor of Pelican Books.

Following the transfer of power in August 1947, Menon was appointed the first High Commissioner to the United Kingdom by Nehru. His period as High Commissioner was frosty. The one major achievement accredited to Menon during these years was the effort he made to keep India within the Commonwealth. In 1953 he was elected to the upper house of parliament in India and became the country's representative on the General Assembly at the United Nations, a position he held until 1962. In July 1956 when President Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, he took a leading part in the negotiations that followed. In January 1957 he made an eight-hour speech to the UN Security Council, spread over two days, on India's position on Kashmir, the longest recorded speech made to the Council.

In 1956 Menon entered Nehru's Cabinet as Minister without Portfolio. In April 1957 Menon was made the Minister for Defence and became the main protagonist of Nehru's forward policy on the Sino-Indo border dispute. Menon like Nehru believed that the main threat to India came from Pakistan and found no reason to change this belief in light of the border dispute with China. Menon, with the support of Nehru, continued to maintain that India's defence forces were capable of confronting any challenge posed by the Chinese over the border issue. These assurances became more and more emphatic following the growing tension between India and China after 1959.

As Minister for Defence Menon was suspected of building a clique within the army to give himself a base from which, after Nehru, he could make a bid for power. Throughout he had an uneasy relationship with the armed forces and interfered in operational and personnel matters. Often this interference led to confusion and demoralization.

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Subjects: Politics.


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