1 09 676
Shortly after this book had gone to press,
Communist China invaded northern India
and soon thereafter V. K. Krishna Menon
was dismissed from his post as India's
Defense Minister amid a chorus of epi-
thets such as "bungler," "national dis-
grace** and "crypto-Communist." The fall
of the man who is Nehru's closest friend
is merely the latest incident in a lifetime
filled with controversy and paradox. Is
Krishna Menon a friend of Communism
and the implacable enemy of the West?
Or is he simply an Indian patriot sternly
resolved not to permit his country to be
drawn into the Cold W'ar? Is he a demo-
crat still able to contribute to orderly
political development in India, or is he
capable, as some suggest, of leading a
leftist coup to seize control of the gov-
Krishna Menon is representative of an
important twentieth-century phenomenon :
the western - trained , Marxi st - influenced
[Continued, on back flap]
JctcTcet design, by Algat Stenbery
Emtt Lengyel is the author
of the following books:
The Subcontinent of India
Cattle Car Express
The Cauldron Boils
The New Deal in Europe
Millions of Dictators
Dakar: Outpost of Two Hemispheres
America's Role in World Affairs
Americans from Hungary
World Without End: The Middle East
Egypt's Role in World Affairs
The Changing Middle East
1000 Years of Hungary
Origin and Consequences of World War II
As We See Russia
The World in Revolt
WALKER AND COMPANY
Copyright 1962 Emil Lengyel
All rights reserved. No portion of this work
may be reproduced without permission except
for brief passages for the purpose of review.
Published simultaneously in Canada
by George J. McLeod, Ltd., Toronto.
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 62-19497
Manufactured in the United States of America
To my son
who has just set out on the exploration
of the wonders of the world
Many people have placed their valuable time and knowledge
at my disposal in the preparation of this book. Special thanks
are due to Bridget Tunnard, secretary of The India League in
London for many years; to Mrs. Emily Rouse, landlady of
Krishna Menon in Camden Town for about a decade; to offi-
cials of the St. Pancras Metropolitan Borough, and particu-
larly to D. C. Whitlum, Deputy Town Clerk; to Leonard
Marcus, Deputy Librarian; also to C. J. Ratchford, leader of
the Council, St. Pancras Metropolitan Borough; to W. Tim-
othy Donovan, former leader of the Conservative group of the
I am deeply indebted to the Hon. Reginald W. Sorensen,
Member of Parliament for Leyton; to the Hon. Julius Silver-
man, Member of Parliament for Aston, long linked with The
India League in London. I am deeply indebted to H. Lyn
Harris, former principal of St. Christopher's School, Letch-
worth, Herts., for giving me so much of his time on the occa-
sion of my unannounced visit.
My profound thanks to Professor Zoe Tsagos, a resident of
Bombay, and to Jacob Sonny, of Kerala, both of whom have
been of much help. Krishna Menon and several of his associates
were good enough to answer many questions in personal in-
terviews, as were delegates at the United Nations, Indian offi-
cials and private individuals in India, New York and London.
Thanks also to The Hindustan Times, for placing its daily
issues and overseas weeklies at my disposal. The interpretations
and conclusions derived from the facts placed at my disposal
are, naturally, my own.
Dr. Peter Sammartino, President of Fairleigh Dickinson
University, Rutherford, New Jersey, placed me under deep
obligation by enabling me to take a fresh look at India. My
thanks also to Dean Glair W. Black and Dean Loyd Haberly
for making it possible for me to engage in such extracurricular
activities as the writing of this book. My colleagues and
friends, Professor Anthony P. Alessandrini and Professor
Kenneth M. MacKenzie helped me greatly with useful sug-
gestions. My friends of many years, Madeleine and Tibor
Mikes, helped me by calling my attention to valuable sources
of information. And Livia, my wife, helped to create the
serene setting which is so essential in my profession.
i. On The Malabar Coast i
ii. The Long Shadow of the Past 1 3
in. In Search of Wisdom 35
iv. In the Camp of the Foe 45
v. The Peregrinating Scholar 62
vi. The Song of India 80
vii. "Friendship Is a Sheltering Tree" 93
viii. In the British Labour Party 104
ix. Facing the Whirlwind 1 1 2
x. "Thy Spirit, Independence, Let Me Share" 127
xi. To Dwell Together in Unity 142
xn. Suez and Hungary 154
xin. Diplomacy and the Man 163
xiv. In the Vale of Conflicts Kashmir 175
xv. China and India 184
xvi. In the Defense Ministry 190
xvii. "Goa Constrictor" 201
xvin. The People's Voice 209
xix. The Image and the Enigma 2 17
On the Malabar Coast
A COMBINED TROPICAL PARADISE and hell is the portion of the
Malabar Coast where VengaKl Krishnan Krishna Menon was
born. The coast is a paradise because of the bluest of all seas,
the Arabian, and the bluest of all southern skies. But it is hell
for those dwellers in this heavenly abode who have not enough
Today the region forms part of one of the states of the
Republic of India Kerala, the southwesternmost state. It
sprawls along the coast toward Cape Comorin, the southern-
most point of the subcontinent. The region of Krishna Me-
non's birthplace is also known as Malayalam, which is the
name of both an area and a language. Mala means hill, and alam
means valley, and so the name provides a concise description
of the region in one euphonious word. However, it is the name
"Malabar" which is best known to the western world, because
it was the magnet that attracted the adventurers of the era of
exploration Indiaward; Columbus, for one. It is the country
of spice hills, the land of the Malabar almond, the Malabar
bark, the Malabar catmint and the Malabar leaf. The very
2 KRISHNA MENON
word mahbar means a Hindu type of cotton handkerchief in
Nature is as generous on this coast as it is capricious. The
monsoon clouds inking out the sky may contain too much
rain, and then there is a flood. Or they may be empty of rain,
and then there is death. The coast has the type of climate that
induces the forces of nature to run wild. The fauna and flora
are overanimated, stirring, swarming, pullulating, sucking one
another's life, boring into one another, overlapping, sti-
fling, choking. Foliage acrobats sling their tendrils across the
branches of the trees, thrusting their greedy sinews toward
the life-giving skies. The fauna swarm beneath a vast canopy,
the "green mansion," which is supported by the stately ten-
ants of the tropical forests sandalwood, ebony and teak.
"Lagoon-studded, palm-fringed, etched against the back-
drop of lush mountains," the tourist guide raves, and indeed
the state is perhaps the most attractive in India. Standing guard
over the coastline are the Western Ghats the mountains-
closing in on the sea here, shying away from it there, affording
the small people a chance to till discontinuous segments of
the rich alluvial soil.
The tousled mountaintops hold converse with the black
clouds, which the peasant prefers to the radiant sky. Wrinkled
by gullies, by angry gaps and perilous chasms, the mountains,
arrowing up to eight thousand feet, provide India s best com-
mercial timber. The sand on the shores yields monazite.
The observer's delighted eyes encompass the High Range,
in the north of the Malabar Coast, known locally as the
Aaanaimalais, or Elephant Hills. Below the High Range are
the magnets of the explorer-adventurers of another day, the
Cardamom Hills, soaring up to seven thousand feet.
The slopes are spiced with the 'fragrance that served as an
ON THE MALABAR COAST 3
aphrodisiac halfway around the world the spices for the
possession of which fearless men were willing to face the
perils of an endless voyage into the darkest caverns of the
unknown. This was the cause of the gleam in the eyes of
Columbus when he set sail westward to explore the sea route
to Cathay, the Indies and the Land of Spice. Those spices are
still there nutmeg, cinnamon, pepper and cloves coveted for
seasoning, although no longer needed for the preservation of
food. The slopes of the Ghats are covered by fields of coffee
and tea. Rubber trees are stabbed for their precious juice,
and cinchona trees are scalped for the medicinal gifts of their
barks. The foothills of the Ghats level off into the tableland,
crisscrossed by streams which were born as foamy mountain
creeks, and also by the canals of sluggish backwater, and the
lagoons. Spreading as far as the eye can see are the beaches
cradling the fishermen's boats.
The houses or rather, hovels are of mud, with palm-
leafed, thatched roofs, huddling close together, but seldom
forming a pattern. They trail off into the distance, seeking
links with other hamlets, not forming clusters around com-
munity centers but congregating around the sanctuaries of
many creeds. These villages live in the shadow of the author-
ity of the panchayats, five-men councils of elders, presided
over by headmen. Only the domineering presence of occa-
sional towns political, economic and social centers inter-
rupts the ageless village life.
Besides the forces of life-giving nature, now munificent,
now scant, there are also the dangers of nature. It is not so
much the big animals, fattened by the life- and death-giving
forces of tropical nature, which present the perils. More dan-
gerous are the tiny creatures that spike themselves into the
plants and people, living on flesh and the food of the flesh.
4 KRISHNA MENON
And whenever their regimented attack prevails, or when the
fish are diverted from their normal routes by the deep heav-
ings of the sea, the acrid smoke of the hovels fails to curl sky-
ward. That is a bad sign, and then people lie down and die.
Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon was born on May 3,
1897. In those days there were no dependable records of
births, marriages and deaths in India, and especially not in this
portion of the South. It was sufficient for neighbors of the
same caste to know who was born and who got married. As
to deaths, who could keep track of them when calamity
struck? The time of Krishna Menon's birth is, therefore, a
The Malabar Coast is different from any other part of
India. Indeed, every part of India is different from every other
part. India is a universe, with ways of life, customs and creeds
as luxuriant as tropical nature. Indians from other parts of
the country know next to nothing about the Malabar Coast-
about Kerala and, especially, about its Malayalam region.
The very components of a person's name are different in
this southern country. They comprise not just the "first" and
"second" names, as, for instance, "Jawaharlal Nehru." Indian
newspapers usually call the subject of this biography Mr.
Menon. That is incorrect. His name is Krishna Menon. But
all of this calls for a word of explanation.
The child received the name of Lord Krishna the Swift,
one of the most beloved figures in the overcrowded Hindu
pantheon. Legend holds that the skin of the god Krishna was
dark, and that is what his name denotes. The range of skin
colors in India is very wide like everything else and goes
from the fairest to the darkest. But irrespective of the hue of
the skin, the Indians' racial traits qualify them as being white.
Yet Indians are highly color-conscious, although reluctant to
ON THE MALABAR COAST 5
concede it. They talk ecstatically, for instance, about the
"golden skin" of the god Indra, who is driven by golden
horses in his golden car. One of the first questions when a
child is born is, "How about the skin?"
The boy's skin color was dark the dominant color in the
Indian South. Just to prove that darkness and greatness can
blend, dark-skinned babies are frequently invested with the
name of the Lord Krishna. It was in one of the most famous
songs of religious ecstasy that Krishna expressed the substance
of the Hindu creed in the Bhagavad-Gita ("Song of the
Blessed One"), which forms a portion of the epic Mahabha-
rata. The admonition of this beloved god was to adhere to the
life-sustaining doctrine of the bakhti yoga, loving devotion,
fused with kama yoga, resolute action.
Fulfillment is within ourselves, the Lord Krishna pro-
The dust hides the mirror
The smoke hides the flame.
The sight of the outer eye
Blinds the insight of the soul,
Behold me, thy true self,
With the spdrit's eye.
Such noble sentiments were expected to spring from the
hearts of boys who were endowed with the sanctified name
The rest of the name of the boy is explained by the cus-
toms of the Hindu community into which he happened to
He was born into a matriarchal Malayalam society, where
family succession is determined by a system named Maru-
makkatayam in which the offspring trace their descent from
a common ancestress. The subcaste into which Krishna Menon
6 KRISHNA MENON
was born is known as Nayar (spelled in half a dozen different
ways, as, for instance, Nair).
It is a part of the lush complexity of Indian life that the
exact place of the Nayars in the Hindu hierarchy is a subject
of dispute. The designations of the castes and the subcastes,
and their numbers, are also subject to many interpretations.
Some people say that the Nayars are a subcaste. Others
maintain that they are a caste. If the former view is sustained,
then there are more than two thousand castes in India. These,
in turn, cluster around the four great caste-groups: Brahman
(also written Brahmin), the priests; Kshattriya, the warriors;
Vaisya, the people engaged in mercantile and agricultural
pursuits; and Sudra, the artisan and laboring classes. Once
the Nayars were a martial race now they are peaceful,
"except," as someone once remarked, "for Krishna Menon."
Members of the caste maintain that they belong to the war-
riors, others say that they belong to the artisans, the lowest
caste. Below them are the "outcastes," whom the Indians
today call the children of Godharijans.
The joint family of the Nayars Krishna Menon's group
is known as the th r war f wad. It consists of brothers and sisters,
as well as the latter's descendants along the female line. The
eldest male member is called karnaivan, "he who does things,"
or the "originator''; he is a kind of major-domo, the manager
of the joint household. According to the rules of tradition,
married male members do not live with their spouses, but
only visit them in the maternal abode. The karnarwan, how-
ever, is permitted to bring his wife and children into the
joint family. Provided the other male members are self-sup-
porting and living apart from the tharivad, they are allowed
to settle down with their wives.
In such matriarchal communities it is the women who own
ON THE MALABAR COAST 7
property at least in theory. However, times are changing
rapidly on the Malabar Coast, and male aggressiveness is
forcing the family system into the patriarchal mold. The
joint households are being split up, and the common property
is being apportioned among their members.
The first word in the name of the newborn baby, Vengalil,
indicated such a matriarchal joint family. The second name
Krishnan indicated the name of the nominal guardian, nor-
mally a maternal uncle. Menon was the name of his clan, a
subdivision of the caste.
There are countless Menons on the Malabar Coast, mostly
unrelated to one another. Menons play important roles in
the Kerala state legislature. They are also members of the
state government and of the judiciary.
The father's name was almost entirely different: Komath
Krishna Kurup. There again the first word designated the
name of his presumed ancestress, through the joint family in
the matrilineal tradition. Kurup was the name of the clan
or of the caste subdivision.
The mother's name was Lakshmi Kutty Amma. Lakshmi
is the name of the goddess of beauty and wealth, created by
the gods when churning a sea of milk so as to produce a
beverage of immortality. Kutty is a pet name something
like "darling little girl." "Amma" means literally "mother,"
and may be employed to designate either a married or an un-
When asked about his caste, Krishna Menon reacts with
an impatient wave of his hand. "What does it matter?" Yet
it mattered greatly in his youth, and matters much even
now. The caste was originally a mutual-aid society, a kind of
guild, and it made much sense. Its members felt secure within
its protective walls. Eventually, it became a curse which en-
8 KRISHNA MENON
tombed Indian society in the unfathomable caverns of in-
flexible system. When she can shake off the thralldom of
the caste system, India's real independence will dawn. And
that may take a long, long time.
The grip of the caste is especially forceful upon the coun-
tryside, where members of the same group are held together
by iron-bound customs. In such a society boy marries girl
because they belong to the same group, and love is an "also-
ran." Woe betide the prospective nonconformist who dares
to buck the elemental force of custom.
The Land of the Dravidians
Krishna Menon's native tongue is Malayalam, one of the
important southern languages spoken on the subcontinent.
It belongs to the Dravidian family of languages, those spoken
by the ancient group of people who have inhabited the sub-
continent since before the time thousands of years ago when
the Indo-European-speaking peoples pushed across the high-
est mountains of the world in the North. It was these aggres-
sive Indo-Europeans who imposed their caste system upon
the indigenous population the Dravidians among them so
as to set themselves apart in privileged groups.
Malayalam itself is a comparatively new offshoot of an-
other Dravidian tongue, Tamil, which, in turn, has been en-
riched by a liberal sprinkling of Indo-European languages
from the North. It is no particular advantage in India to
spring from a Dravidian stock. The bulk of the people speak
Indo-European languages, the most important of which is
Hindi, expected to be the official language of the country in
years to come. Krishna Menon speaks none of India's north-
ON THE MALABAR COAST 9
Krishna Menon's birthplace on the Malabar Coast can best
be introduced by looking at his neighbors in his youth, their
ways of life and creeds. That world in the deep South consists
of a large number of ethnic types, fascinating to observe, all
but impossible to know, because each group lives in its air-
tight compartment. The lushness of the mores of the people
reflects the luxuriance of nature in the Indian South.
At the head of the list are the Brahmans, of course. The
Nambudri Brahmans are the shining stars of the Malabar
Coast, and not even this supremely caste-conscious region
has encountered a more exclusive set. When Krishna Menon
was young, these Brahmans were surrounded by impenetrable
taboos. Their fear of contamination by the touch, and even
the look, of the less privileged masses was immense. Thus
they were called asuryam-pasyanot to be seen even by the
Only the oldest or the two oldest sons are allowed to
marry, in this caste, while the others are to live in celibacy.
The Nambudri Brahmans imposed this restriction upon them-
selves so as to prevent the fragmentation of the ancestral land.
Such a fragmentation would have thrust members of these
thoroughbred families into poverty, which would have been
inconsistent with their exalted status as Brahmans.
Another group, called the Ezhavas, produced one of India's
most enlightened religious leaders, Narayana Guru Swami,
who proclaimed a monotheistic faith: "One Caste, One Re-
ligion, One God." Thus do inflexible social institutions create
their antithesis of nonconformity.
I0 KRISHNA MENON
The People in the Hills
Young Krishna Menon may never have seen the hill people
of the surrounding country, except perhaps on market days.
Even today the nomadic Pandarams are untouched by mod-
ern life. Living in the jungle, they shun civilization, sustaining
themselves with their bows and arrows. They live in caves
and in the hollows of trees, deriving their subsistence from
the forest fauna and flora. The honey and wax they produce
are bartered for salt and matches.
Not much more advanced than the Pandarams are the
Uralis, who haunt the jungles of the Cardamom Hills. More
than the others, they may be seen at village markets of the
coastal plains. Their houses are of bamboo and forest grass.
They live on the herbs and roots they scratch out of the soil
with their chopping knives during a part of the year, while
during the other part they live on rice. There are settled
farmers among them, too, who raise paddy rice, which they
barter for city cloth.
The Ullatans form another hill community in the neighbor-
hood, and they, too, belong to the bow and arrow set. Their
method of marrying off their girls is uncommon. The young
lady sits alone in the palm-leaf hut, while hopeful contenders
whirl around it, hurling their bamboo poles into its walls.
The dance over, the girl grips one of the poles, and its owner
becomes her fiance.
Another hill tribe, that of the Mudrans, long ago anticipated
the modern experiment in "companionate marriage." First,
the approval of the parents is obtained, then the boy and girl
withdraw into a cave to find out if they will be compatible
on the marriage couch. They remain there for a few weeks,
ON THE MALABAR COAST H
then return to thek village, announcing their will. If the ex-
periment fails, they have another chance to try.
The Moplahs and Others
The Moplahs have played a special role in this congeries
of exotic groups. It was particularly so in Krishna Menon's
youth. They are Moslems, worshiping one God, Allah, and
performing Islam's rites. However, they appear not to have
penetrated into this region from the North and Northwest
as did most of the Moslems of India. They claim that their
ancestors crossed the great sea from Arabia many centuries
ago. From time to time they turned on their Hindu neighbors
in uncontrollable outbursts of religious fanaticism. These de-
votees held that the gates of the heavens would be opened
to them more readily if they could account for the murder
of a large number of "infidel dogs." Today some of them
are clamoring for the establishment of an Indian state of
thek own, which they want to call Moplahistan Moplah
This part of India has been open to western influence in
modern times much longer than other parts of the subcon-
tinent. The Christians of St. Thomas, also known as Syrian
Christians, claim to belong to the oldest organized Catholic
church in the world. They also claim that the founder of
their rite was one of Christ's twelve apostles, St. Thomas.
Jesus told Thomas to go to India and preach the Gospel
there. He refused, and thereupon Christ sold this "Doubting
Thomas" to an Indian prince, just then on a visit to Jerusalem.
Thomas was transported to India, and there he had a change
of heart. Filled with the spirit of his mission, he founded a
church and baptized the prince, his master. The church is said
12 KRISHNA MENON
to be the site of the Cathedral of St. Thomas in Madras, today.
Subsequently Thomas was martyred, and is said to be buried
The spirit of restraint Indians have imposed upon them-
selves has affected the Christians of the Malabar and Coroman-
del Coasts of Southern India. They, too, are faced with all
kinds of taboos. Marriage among the Syrian Christians, for
instance, is forbidden within seven generations on the father's
side, and five generations among the mother's kin.
The Malabar Coast has also its "Black Jews" and "White
Jews." Their traditions hold that they have lived in Southern
India since the sixth century B.C. the date of the destruction
of the First Temple. Documentary evidence seems to sustain
the view that the Jews of this coast have had established com-
munities here for many centuries. A companion of Vasco da
Gama recorded the fact that the coastal Jews were ruled
by their own elders. Many members of their congregations
were master craftsmen in shipbuilding. In recent times their
numbers have been waning, as they have been moving to
The Long Shadow of the Past
About Krishna Menon' s Reticences
"I HAVE READ IN HISTORY of an incident in my own home
town" Krishna Menon said at the United Nations in a state-
ment on October 23, 1959". . . in my own home town,
where I was born, Calicut, where the emissary of a great
country landed on that coast in 1498 and visited the ruler
of that time who showered him with presents and honors.
The result was that he took away twelve inhabitants of Cali-
cut to his home country and we never heard of them after-
Official government publications give his place of birth as
Calicut, others as "Kozhikode, Malabar." Calicut and Ko-
zhikode are synonymous. The second name seems to have
been the original one, simplified by the British into Calicut.
Yet Krishna Menon was not, in fact, born there. His true
birthplace, Tellicherry, is some forty miles up the coast.
This discrepancy between what the reference books say and
what he has told me himself calls for a word of explanation.
14 KRISHNA MENON
All the information about Krishna Menon's youth is highly
tentative. He is secretive about it, and the sporadic informa-
tion elicited from him is as hesitant as it is sketchy. Why do
the reference books fail to convey the correct information
about his place of birth? Because as an assistant asserts
Tellicherry is unknown to the outside world, while Calicut
is known. But Kozhikode's name is little known as yet in
many parts of India, too. The answer to this comment is a
The Krishna Menon of today maintains that he has few
recollections of his past, has no diaries of his youth and that
these things are insignificant, anyway. He says that what is
important is what a man does, not where he was born.
Can one obtain detailed information about his early youth
on the Malabar Coast? His family in Tellicherry was not
sufficiently important to have aroused widespread interest.
Also, traditional Indian society is so structured that people
are known mainly to members of their in-groups. We have
seen that the Malabar Coast has a particularly fragmented
social structure. People not belonging to one's own group
might as well be a thousand miles away. Besides, how is one
to find neighbors who were adults when Krishna Menon
was still a child? The average life expectancy in the India
of those days was twenty-three years.
Why the Secrecy?
An explanation is hazarded, right at the outset, as to the
motives of Krishna Menon's secretiveness about his back-
ground. Is it explained by an unhappy childhood? By tyran-
nical parents? By the troubles of a born rebel in the coils of
a tradition-bound society? By the belief that the place of
THE LONG SHADOW OF THE PAST 15
his physical birth did not coincide with the place of his in-
The explanation seems to be that this representative of the
revolt of the oriental masses against the occidental claim of
supremacy is a "westerner" both in his hereditary inclinations
and in his philosophical orientation. Today, he refuses to
speak his native Malayalam in public. Nor has he ever learned
any other Indian tongue. The language he speaks, and that
language alone, is English, which is the language of his
thoughts. He grew to manhood on the spiritual and intellec-
tual sustenance of western man.
At the same time, Krishna Menon exhibits a strange ambiv-
alence toward his native land. A generation of life and work
in the West has not been able to loosen the grip of his home
on his emotions. Although he is a westerner, he is strongly
critical of many phases of his own loyalties. He is in human
bondage to two cultures the East and the West. He takes
his revenge on the West by constantly chastising it, and thus
punishing himself, too. A westerner in his attachments, he
feels that because of the grip of the past on him he belongs
to two worlds, and this is tantamount to saying that he hovers
on the peripheries of both.
At the Foot of the Ghats
Tellicherry has today a population of some 36,000 and it
had a smaller population when Krishna Menon was young.
It is a pretty town, undulating on the broad waves of hills
at the foot of the Western Ghats, as they slope down to the
sea in gentle ripples. It is situated on die Madras Railway,
indicating that it has been in touch with the world and that
cannot be said of much of India. It was not an important
l6 KRISHNA MENON
town in Krishna Menon's youth, and is not particularly im-
portant today. A trading center of minor importance, a
small seaport, it was visited by fishermen and some of the
people from the hills. In his youth the ships were protected
only by a natural breakwater of rocks, and vessels were able
to anchor only out at sea, a couple of miles away. Today the
town has a sea wall and a pier. The port is thus available
all year round, even during the monsoon season.
To protect the town from the predatory hosts streaming
southward toward India's golden coast, an old fort was built
north of the town many centuries ago. A mud wall encircling
the community afforded modest protection in the distant
past. The young boy, Krishna, was thus reminded of the
ghosts haunting the history of the Malabar Coast, where the
pungent fragrance of spices was mixed with the odor of
the blood of fighting men.
Krishna Menon's father was a lawyer, a small man in a
small town. His mother was always a shadowy figure. She
died at the age of thirty-eight, which was not very young
in this land of early deaths. The fact that his sisters numbered
four was a tragic fate for them, a tragedy for the family.
The Indian institution of marriage is built upon dowries,
and no legislation has been able to remove this bane in recent
times. How could a middle-class, small-town lawyer find the
means of marrying off four daughters? And, indeed, two
of them were never able to find husbands, wasting away un-
happy spinsters. The other two did get married, and it was
their husbands who died young.
This beautiful land is little different from the rest of India,
in that it has been constantly ravaged by pestilence and
plague. In the very year of Krishna Menon's birth, a bubonic
plague epidemic swept the North, where millions of dead
THE LONG SHADOW OF THE PAST 17
bodies were collected in death's grim harvest. The greatest
killer was malaria, merely a nuisance in the West these days,
but a deadly disease in the East. Then there was the dreadful
assortment of apocalyptic ailments yellow fever, typhus,
typhoid fever, tuberculosis and a virulent collection of in-
One of these intestinal afflictions was bilharziasis, which
the victims acquired in stagnant waters the canals, lagoons
and sluggish brooks. Tiny snails broke open the skins of the
victims, working their way into their intestinal organs and
virtually hollowing them out until the sufferers became empty
shells, walking, reeling skeletons wafting off into death in
a merciful trance.
Many people were also subject to the specifically Indian
disease which people called kola azar, the black affliction. It
was brought about in an anomalous way. The bedbug was
the causative agent a special type of bug. However, its bite
was not fatal in itself. What was fatal was the victim's frantic
rubbing of poison into a self-inflicted wound which caused
an agonizing death.
Two sisters of Krishna Menon's died of tuberculosis when
they were still young.
Yet the Malabar Coast was still better off than most of
the rest of the subcontinent. There the monsoon was more
dependable, especially on the verdant windward slope of
the Western Ghats. Having more natural resources, the in-
habitants were able to develop more diversified and imagina-
tive ways of scratching a livelihood out of the hillside slopes,
the jungle and the sea. And yet even there, famine struck
from time to time. The year of Krishna Menon's birth was
not too bad, and deaths by starvation were not too numerous.
But the years before, and two years later, were truly tragic.
l8 KRISHNA MENON
Five million people died of starvation at the turn of the cen-
tury, official figures admit. But, then, there were too many
deaths in famine years for them to be counted. Many of the
people died in inaccessible areas, with no roads. The survivors
were too famished themselves to render a true account of the
tragedy. In the same years some parts of India produced
surplus food, but transportation was not always adequate
to provide the deficiency regions with the surplus of other
areas. That was one of the reasons why people such as
Krishna Menon's father, for instance rebelled against the
Family Life on the Malabar Coast
How did the family of Krishna Menon live? Inhabitants
of the region do not consider questions about family life
within the legitimate range of the interviewer's interest.
The people of Krishna Menon were pious Hindus, we are
told, performing their rites, listening to the sanctified words
of the Hindu classics. Religion in India is not conserved in
a separate compartment, for holiday use, while the weekdays
are for business as usual religion for the lips, and business
for the hands and brains. The Hindu creed suffuses all aspects
of everyday life. And so it was also in the home of Komath
Krishna Kurup and Lakshmi Kutty Amma, the parents of
the boy Krishna.
Their everyday life was performed within the framework
of certain rites, impinging upon the individual's social and
economic concerns. The prescriptive duties were presumed
to be endowed with eternal validity, guiding the steps of
every person, keeping him apart, if he was a Nayar, from his
neighbors of the other communities, the Brahmans, the Mop-
THE LONG SHADOW OF THE PAST 19
lahs, the Syrian Christians and the Jews, "Black" and "White."
The prevailing intellectual climate discouraged critical think-
ing, except as the neighbors' ways were concerned. In that one
respect, criticism ran wild.
Many an evening was spent in literate homes such as
Krishna Menon's around the kerosene lamp, reading passages
from the Hindu epics, the Mahabharata and the Ramayana.
These stories about gods and godlike heroes filled the spiritual
universe of the Hindus, clasping them together in spite of
the vast differences in their languages, traditions, castes and
ways of regional life.
Tradition-bound families on this coast and in other parts
of India, too have always been in the habit of making pil-
grimages to holy cities on the banks of sanctified streams, to
purge their bodies of the stain of sin. Few people on the
Malabar Coast could hope to get purified in the waters of
the holiest of all rivers, the Ganga (Ganges), in the shadow
of the ramparts of the sacred city of Benares, at the most
auspicious moments of the year. But they had their own
sanctified streams. Also, they encountered gurus, teachers,
from whose inspired lips they heard hallowed incantations
that soothed them as if the sweetest music.
Not only the spirit but also the body was nourished in the
young boy's middle-class Tellicherry home. The most im-
portant staple was then, as it is now, rice, and also tapioca,
from the cassava, which the region produces in large quanti-
ties. This steaming coast turns also to the sea for its food
the sea in which its beauties are reflected. The people who
can afford to have more than one meal a day have kanji for
their breakfast rice boiled in water, a kind of rice soup.
Other important staples are ghee melted butter and yoghurt,
chillies and curries; also occasional scraps of meat, except for
20 KRISHNA MENON
the devout Brahmans, who live mainly on the products of
Sickness is, in these regions, an inseparable companion. The
medical system of the region is Ayurvedicayur meaning
"life," and vedic being a reference to the Hindu Veda classics.
This is not the part of the world where doctors can expect
to acquire affluence. Cures consist of traditional household
remedies, transmitted from generation to generation.
A Young Boy at Work
The instruction at the local school was supplemented by
paternal exhortations. Krishna Menon liked history more than
any other subject, and his greatest delight was to learn about
the people who had been the rulers of India. The history of
the British also fascinated the young boy. Yet his books did
not tell him enough about the annals of his own native Malaya-
lam on the Malabar Coast. The rulers of the country were
the British. Tellicherry was situated in the Madras Presidency
of British India. Although the British maintained their su-
premacy all over the vast subcontinent, they did let a large
number of princes continue to rule in their domains, some
of which were larger than many European countries, some
of which were very small. There was one of these native
principalities, a rather important one, wedged into the Madras
One thing Krishna Menon liked to do more than anything
elseto read. He got some books from the school, and also
from the friends of his family. He scraped pennies together
and with them bought little tracts, instead of spending his
money on sweets.
The books in the schools were provided by the English,
THE LONG SHADOW OF THE PAST 21
and did not contain much information about the struggle of
the English people against their sovereigns for individual
human rights. But they did mention the Magna Cam, the
Declaration of Rights, the Reform Acts passed by the English
Parliament, the Chartist movement and some of the other
endeavors of the British to free themselves from their greedy
lords. Krishna would have liked to know more about them.
Krishna Menon was born into the world of a living legend:
Her Gracious Majesty, Victoria, Queen of the United King-
dom of Great Britain and Ireland, of the Britannic Territories
Beyond the Seas, Defender of the Faith, Empress of India.
Her Diamond Jubilee was celebrated in the year of Krishna's
birth, 1897 the sixtieth year of her reign. Hundreds of mil-
lions of her subjects had never known any other sovereign,
and her empire extended to all parts of the globe.
It was a happy anniversary celebration. The British Empire
was the custodian of Pax Britannica and, indeed, the guardian
of the peace of the world, at the very apex of its power. Brit-
ish countinghouses were filled with the currencies of many
lands, her warehouses were gorged with goods from all con-
tinents, and British vessels flew the proud Union Jack on
all the seas. India herself was a major center of British might,
firmly and so people thought irrevocably fitted into the
realm, the most dazzling jewel in the Queen's diadem. This
India of Queen Victoria was, indeed, the pivot upon which
the might of the empire rested.
The history of India was recalled in connection with the
jubilee celebration. As Krishna Menon looked around, im-
mersing himself in the reading of chronicles, his mind was
attracted to India's past.
22 KRISHNA MENON
The Road to Calicut
It was about 1910 that Krishna Menon's family moved from
TelKcherry to Calicut, and there the young boy found himself
in the midst of history.
Today Calicut has a population of some 160,000; then it
was much smaller, perhaps half its present size. It was the
headquarters of the Malabar district, which, in turn, was a
part of the Madras Presidency, an important portion of British
India, over which the authorities of the United Kingdom
ruled directly. In Calicut, Krishna was cor fronted with In-
dia's "British problem," and also with his own problem.
In all India there was no other place like Calicut. It was
through Calicut that the West had rushed into India from
beyond the seas; it had been the landfall of Vasco da Gama,
and other seafarer-adventurers. Thus it was the window
through which the East and West had been scrutinizing each
Longer than any other region of the subcontinent, the
region around Calicut had been exposed to Europe's direct
influence. This represented both an advantage and a drawback
for the people of the town. This Malabar Coast, clustering
around Calicut and the extended region, known today as
Kerala has long had the highest literacy rate in India, because
of this western exposure. It opened up the region to the world,
made the indigenous population meet Europeans, encouraged
not a few of them, taking their chances, to leave their over-
crowded country and go overseas, to Burma and to South
The area has not only the highest literacy rate, but also the
highest disaffection rate of young people "angry young
men," we would call them today. Krishna Menon became
THE LONG SHADOW OF THE PAST 23
such an angry young man. Illiteracy breeds stagnation and
apathy. Literacy, in such an environment, breeds expectation,
and the nagging sensation of frustration.
Calicut off ered other reasons for frustration, too. The place
had long since ceased to be a window on the outside world.
Trade had shifted from this "pioneer port" to superior loca-
tions with larger harbors and more highly developed hinter-
lands. It had moved across the peninsula to Madras, on the
Coromandel Coast, facing the Bay of Bengal. Above all, trade
had moved to Bombay, the new gateway of India, and also
to the mushrooming city of Calcutta, in monsoon-scoured
Bengal, with its teaming hinterland of the Gangetic Plains.
Even so, Calicut did retain some trade, and thus continued
to be in touch with the western world, although the fab-
ric which publicized its name calico was no longer a basic
staple. It did remain an entrepot of spices, coconut products,
lumber and coffee. Today it also has its own produce of per-
fumes, textiles and soap.
According to the information he furnished on the "Form of
Enquiry" of the London School of Economics years later, he
attended the Municipal Secondary School and Brennen College
in his hometown of Tellicherry; the Native High School in
Calicut; and Zamorin College-named for the former native
potentates of the Malabar Coast.
The guideline for young Indians' studies had been laid
down by Lord Cavendish Bentinck, Governor-General of
India, many years before: "The great object of the British
government ought to be the promotion of European literature
and science among the natives of India."
Krishna Menon was still in Tellicherry when he heard
Lord Curzon, the top official of the Indian pyramid, proclaim
in his sonorously majestic way: "To me the message is
24 KRISHNA MENON
carved in granite, it is hewn out of the rock of doom that
our work is righteous and that it will endure."
Some Are Born Great
In Tellicherry, Krishna Menon had become acquainted
with the lower subdivisions of British Indiathe pargana, the
fiscal district; the thana, the police division; and the tahsil,
the subdistrict. He knew that the tide of the top official in
his own Malabar district was "Collector," a reminder that
India was mainly a fiscal asset to the British. He heard also
about the "home charges," representing the funds to be re-
mitted from India to Britain for the expenses of the I.C.S.
(Indian Civil Service), as also for the purchase of those stores
unobtainable on the peninsula, and for the interest on the
loans the United Kingdom had incurred. He heard the British
say that these sums were small contrasted with the benefits
India received from them. But the boy Krishna Menon fol-
lowed the local custom of referring to them as "the drain."
Since Calicut was the headquarters of a district of British
India, the boy Krishna Menon was introduced there directly
to the British Raj, or reign. Ruling the vast country was a
tiny layer of British officials, not more than some thirteen
hundred on the top level. They appeared to be decent people,
these British, but they were aloof, so very aloof. The boy
found a French characterization of the British rule of India
in one of the many books he perused: "Just, but not friendly."
The British officials were pink-cheeked and well-fed, in
the midst of the underfed masses. Was this because they were
battening on his land, or were the people of the world di-
vided into two classes: the sated and the hungry? If you were
THE LONG SHADOW OF THE PAST 25
born in India the odds were that you were hungry; in Britain,
you had enough to eat.
The British he encountered looked solid, as if they had
been hewn of granite. What gave these people the strength
to master the Indian universe? What filled them with so much
He must have heard an increasing number of Indians de-
clare, "Britain has deprived us of our freedom." Years later
he said, "I dreamt of the freedom of India even as a boy."
If he did, he was far ahead of his time, because the British
appeared to be part of an immovable design on the subcon-
tinent. It looked as if they had always been there, and were
to remain there forever. Their rule was supported not only
by the apathy of the people, but also by the self-interest of
the more than five hundred local princes whose domains were
protected by the British. And, too, there were the babus, the
Indian officials in British service, giving themselves airs, siding
with the master race.
Yet there had been stirrings of something akin to national
sentiment up in the North. There had been in existence for
several years an organization called the "Indian National Con-
gress." People usually referred to it as the Congress, and later,
as the Congress Party. Strangely, it was the creation of an
Englishman, Allan Octavian Hume, who had suggested that
the "most cultured and enlightened minds of India" take the
initiative in forming an organization for self-improvement.
However, the precocious Krishna Menon knew that the Con-
gress, as it was then constituted, intended to stay loyal to
Britain. Had it not been established as a ruse to deflect India's
genuine aspirations for self-government into innocuous party
channels? The first president of the Congress, W. C. Bonner-
jee, had declared a few years before: "It is under the civilized
26 KRISHNA MENON
rule of the Queen and the people of England that we meet
here together, hindered by none, freely allowed to speak our
minds without the least fear. Such a thing is possible under
British rule and under British rule only."
A Young Boy's Passion
Calicut stimulated Krishna Menon's interest in the history
of India. Now he was mature enough to meditate on the role
of the subcontinent in its historical setting. He asked not only
about the record of the past but too about the possibilities of
the future. Step by step, he acquainted himself with the history
of his part of India. He learned about the Phoenicians who had
sailed the waters leading to India thousands of years before. In
the writings of Pliny the Elder, the Roman scholar, he read
about an emporium on the Malabar Coast with which the West
had been in contact, and which may have been Calicut.
He learned that, according to Christian and Jewish lore,
the southern Kerala village of Puvar may have been the
ancient Ophir to which King Solomon dispatched his trading
ships. The contemporaries of the divine Augustus of Rome
were said to have been the builders of a shrine at Kodungalur,
on the Malabar Coast.
Young Krishna Menon learned that Srivazhum Kode
"Abode of Prosperity" had been the name of the portion of
Kerala known today as Travancore. This may have seemed
to Krishna proof that there had once been prosperity in what
was a poorly fed country.
There was a tendency in the young Krishna Menon to
overstate the greatness of India. This was particularly true
in regard to his hero, Asoka the Great, of the Maurya dy-
nasty, King of Magadha more than two centuries before the
THE LONG SHADOW OF THE PAST 27
Christian era. How Asoka attracted him this unique monarch
who had sought fulfillment in conquest and bloodshed, and
had found it in the healing labors of peace. The more he be-
came engrossed in the history of the Malabar Coast, the more
young Krishna Menon felt that the solution was not war.
How could blood cleanse man of his sins, which were at
the source of the evil? And why should so many people
worship the aggressive and the ruthless, and not the con-
structive spiritual values? He was not aggressive in those days,
this young Krishna Menon of Calicut. On the contrary, he
was a very shy boy, deeply thoughtful, critical in an uncriti-
cal age, looking for answers in an unquestioning environment.
And he tried to find the answers by reading still more books.
With increasing interest he read about the Moslem pene-
tration of India wave after wave, from across the mountains
in the North, from unknown lands of fathomless deserts, and
from areas of exotic customs. The attraction of India, the
Land of the Spices, had been immense. Some of the Moslems
must even have crossed the seas from Arabia. And all had
carried with them the creed of Allah. It was around their
creed that their world revolved, and they were intoxicated
with it. Religion was the Moslem law and it was also the
cause of slaughters. As Krishna saw it, the Moslems had
taken to killing the people of other creeds because the spices
of the Malabar Coast were costly and Europe's grandees paid
for them in gold. They had set up their shrines, these Mos-
lems, and also had constructed their execution grounds for
those who did not worship God in their way. Their strong
beliefs had prevailed over those of the more easy-going Hin-
Thus young Krishna Menon pondered in India two of
the world's great religions were juxtaposed. The Hindus,
28 KRISHNA MENON
inhabiting a world crowded with myriad manifestations of
divinity, rubbed elbows with the Moslems, who entrusted
themselves to their one God, a jealous ruler. The sanctifica-
tion of the one was the abomination of the other, and thus
the seeds of communal strife had been sown.
The destroyers, however, had destroyed themselves, in
Krishna Menon's languid South, thrown back by the resur-
gence of Hindu life, which proclaimed its victory with Vija-
yanagar, the City of Victory, around which arose a new
Hindu kingdom that was to resist the erosion of time until
the sixteenth century.
"Winds and Waves on the Side of the Ablest"
Krishna's new home, Calicut, was the scene of a new re-
incarnation of the southland. There it was that Vasco da
Gama succeeded where the great Columbus had failed. The
Portuguese navigator set sail for the East instead of the
West and reached the land of occidental dreams. He it was
who pried India's gates open. Christianity now swept into
the land-but did not progress very far (although it ac-
counted for the higher literacy rate of the coast, and also
for poverty and oppression). Whatever religious fanatics
touched Krishna Menon meditated became stained with
blood. What was it that the pious people wanted? Cinnamon
was what they wanted, ginger and cloves. What they said
they wanted was to save souls.
The Europeans ran into the ignorant complacency of the
local ruler, the zamorin, who was blinded by his own greed.
He needed coral and scarlet for his wives, silver and gold for
his treasure trove. The Portuguese departed with spices and
THE LONG SHADOW OF THE PAST 29
gems, returned for more, and established their position with
coral and scarlet for the insatiable zamorin.
They founded the first European factory and it was in
Calicut. Krishna could now follow the progress of "imperial-
ism," with which he became so deeply concerned in his adult
life. This was the starting point of another era. Pope Alex-
ander VI was besought by Manuel I (called also "Emanuel the
Fortunate") to issue a papal bull recognizing him as the
"Lord of Navigation, Conquest and Trade of Ethiopia, Ara-
bia, Persia and India." Manuel was also to get Brazil into the
Meanwhile new waves of conquest were cresting the sandy
beaches, assailing the land of the fragrant spices. It was the
restless Moslems, with their dynamic creed, who overcame
apathy in the united forces of Bijapur, Ahmednagar, and
Golconda, turning the Hindus' vainglorious City of Victory
into the City of Defeat. Topping their wave of conquest
were other waves, sweeping the victors into limbo. New
conquerors came, the Kings of Mysore, and the naiks of
Madura. Every inch of the shore was bathed in blood.
The Portuguese adventurers' attention was diverted to
quicker profits in the fabulous land of gold, Eldorado, beyond
the Ocean Sea. Dutch navigators tried to continue the work
begun by the Portuguese, but remained only a brief time.
Eventually they found their own Eldorado, in the myriad
islands of the equatorial waters of the Far East.
Whose Merchants Are Princes
Now came the turn of Britain's merchants, more persistent
than the Iberians and the restless Dutch. Again it was spices,
gems and gold that attracted the "Governor and Company
3 KRISHNA MENON
of the Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies."
Boldness helped them to advance to the exalted ranks of Em-
perors and ICings.
Southern IndiaKrishna Menon's home made a last at-
tempt to salvage its integrity. The men of destiny this time
were Haidar Ali and Tipu Sahib, native potentates who
became "Great Rulers," maharajahs. In their attempt to pro-
tect their land they helped to destroy it, practicing a scorched-
earth policy. Thus the vineyards and sandalwood trees that
had fringed Calicut were destroyed. Tipu Sahib smote the
town itself, because it had not rallied to his cause. He forced
the remnants of the people into captivity and seized the crown
of Mysore. By the sword he lived and by the sword he died.
His domains were partitioned, and it was then that the British
introduced their Pax into the land.
The main concern of the new conquerors was the welfare
of the United Kingdom. They were intelligent enough to
realize that a fertile India would help Britain to prosper.
Their policy was imperialism, to be sure, but it was infinitely
less destructive than that of their predecessors. The reluctant
admiration of Krishna Menon for the British may be traced to
his readings in the history of Britain's conduct on the Coast.
They introduced improvements in the course of time,
moving slowly, never precipitately or in anger. There were
'exceptions, to be sure, but the young student of Malabar's
history was able to overlook many of them. Harnessing rivers,
the British brought water to the thirsty soil. They launched
even more ambitious projects, as the decades became gener-
ations and then centuries. They helped conservation to take
hold on the slopes of the Malabar Ghats. They encouraged
better methods of farming. They built roads and canals, and
created a network of railway lines. Their main concern was
THE LONG SHADOW OF THE PAST 31
strategy, of course, the retention of thek grip on nodal areas.
While much of the Indian vastness remained inaccessible,
they did manage to create a transportation grid. Hospitals
and schools were also built, although never enough to satisfy
the gnawing need.
Not all thek improvements were constructive. The angry
young men of those days Krishna Menon included felt
that die British were also responsible for inexcusable short-
comings. In promoting the interests of thek own industries,
they had all but destroyed India's native handicrafts. The
main beneficiary of most of the improvements had been
British capital. Also, the British had perpetuated certain in-
equalities by introducing the system of parasitic tax-collec-
tors, zamndars, who sequestered the land. The poor had
become poorer and the rich richer in India, just as that
bewhiskered prophet of doomsday, Karl Marx, had predicted.
Too, the British had perpetuated the iniquitous rule of certain
princes, whom they needed for thek game of divide and rule.
Seldom smiling, young Krishna was torn between two
emotions. He was resentful against the British for what they
had done to his land. Yet he could not help admiring them.
This ambivalent attitude toward the British was to accompany
him throughout his later career. He was frustrated, withal,
because he was resentful. Now that he had eaten of the fruit
of the tree of knowledge, he felt a bitter taste in his mouth.
He rationalized his own kck of opportunities into the cause
of India. Greater freedom for his native land would have
entailed greater opportunities for him. His mind was full of
rebellious thoughts. He wanted to know what had made
the English so self-assured. He turned to thek seminal books.
3* KRISHNA MENON
Historical narrative alone did not satisfy him as he matured.
He wanted also to know about the forces that released and
inhibited collective action. What were the thoughts behind
the deeds? Or did the deeds come first, followed by ration-
alizations? No, he decided, in the beginning was the Thought.
He loved to play with thoughts, and also with words, rich,
multicolored words. He also wanted to probe into the mys-
teries of reason. Above all, he wanted to find the inner springs
of the British people's struggle for self-expression in their own
environment. He wanted to become better acquainted with
their parliamentary system. What was the soil like out of
which it had grown?
He displayed great gifts in finding the sources of the birth-
pangs of thought. One of his great discoveries was John
Locke. Here was the Englishman who had wrested the fate
of man from the grip of superhuman powers, placing it firmly
in his own hands. Here was the man who had revealed to the
world that the fate of human creatures was not written in
the starspredetermined by extraterrestrial forces but was
shaped by their own efforts. Man was the molder of his own
destiny. Was this the explanation of the awe-inspiring self-
assurance of the English? Was this the moving force behind
the success of the West, which had enslaved the fate-wor-
shipers outside the purview of European civilization?
Krishna Menon's next discovery was John Stuart Mill,
who became one of his favorite authors. He read and reread
Mill's immortal essay "On Liberty," which (buttressed by
Locke) greatly helped him to support his germinating idea
about the deep motivating force of man's search for self-
expression being the most effective way of releasing his po-
THE LONG SHADOW OF THE PAST 33
tentialities. From Mill, Krishna Menon learned the memorable
words, "The only purpose for which power can be right-
fully exercized over any member of the civilized community,
against his will, is to prevent harm to others.'*
And further: "If all mankind, minus one, were of one
opinion and only one person were of the contrary opinion,
mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one
person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in
Krishna Menon turned to Karl Marx, too, and Friedrich
Engels, as well as to other Socialist writers, finding what he
thought revealing insights, ones applicable to conditions in
India. He and his people, as he saw it, were the victims of
imperialism, in spite of all the improvements the British had
introduced. Was imperialism the corollary of capitalism in
its old age?
He began to compare what he had learned from the great
British writers with the values of his own land, embodied
in its classical literature and the teaching of its sages. And
he was to reach some radical conclusions but that was to be
The King h Dead, Long Live the King
Krishna Menon was still very young when Edward VII,
King of Great Britain and Emperor of India, told his subjects
on die subcontinent: "Important classes among you, repre-
senting ideas that have been encouraged by the British rule,
claim equality of citizenship and a greater share in legislation
and government. The political satisfaction of such claims will
strengthen, not impair, existing authority and power."
The Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909, so named after the
34 KRISHNA MENON
secretary of state for India and the viceroy, followed this
statement, introducing a measure of suffrage into the Indian
legislative councils. To be sure, only a few thousand people
out of hundreds of millions acquired the right to vote, and
the councils' prerogative was limited to giving advice, but
it was a beginning, albeit a modest one. For the first time, the
basic principle was recognized, paving the way for further
reforms. Young Krishna Menon could not foresee at the
time that the Morley-Minto Reforms signaled the beginning
of his own political career.
King Edward died, and George V ascended the throne,
when Krishna Menon was thirteen. Le Roi est mort, vive le
Roi. The British government contemplated a double corona-
tion, one in Westminster Abbey, the other in India. However,
misgivings were expressed on this score. India was now stir-
ring, and what if a fanatical nationalist were to make an at-
tempt on the monarch's life? The ruler himself swept aside
these fears and proceeded to India, accompanied by Queen
All the pomp and panoply of Britain at the zenith of her
might were displayed at the coronation Durbar, in December,
1911. Great empires had risen and fallen, but it seemed that
the British realm was to endure forever. Krishna Menon, an
adolescent in Calicut, followed these events with interest.
He could not dream that he would one day become an im-
portant member of the government of an independent India.
In Search of Wisdom
Learning in the Freshness of Youth
WHAT WAS HE TO BECOME, a teacher or a lawyer? He had
turned his back on the maternal house; too much Hindu piety
there, and a deeply depressed atmosphere. His eldest sister
had become a fighter against sex discrimination, prevalent
even in that matriarchal society. Also, there were the two
sad-eyed, unmarried sisters. He was turning left and right,
engaged in odd jobs. Then he turned in a new direction,
toward a new philosophy and new gods. This was to be
Krishna Menon's new reincarnation.
Ex Occidente Lux was his motto as it was that of many
other frustrated young sons of Mother India. The West was
strong, imperious and, above all, well-fed. In the West the
average life expectancy was not twenty-three years. There
were no places in the West like Madras a great metropolitan
center where the death rate was higher than the birth rate,
so enormously high was the infant mortality.
But was the West really so successful? What of the sham-
36 KRISHNA MENON
bles it had caused in that Great War which another genera-
tion was to know as World War I? And what of the misery
it had caused with its colonial system? Already voices had
been heard in the West saying that the occidental culture
had run its course. Long ago Arthur Schopenhauer, the mel-
ancholy German philosopher and expounder of pessimism,
had turned his attention to the East. He had dwelt upon ir-
rationality, the unspeakable misery of life, and the seemingly
aimless striving that manifested itself in the world process:
"We must perceive that all willing is vain and pleasure un-
attainable, also that since individual existence is untrue, all
individuals are identical in essence, that all are manifestations
of the one world will."
The answer was oriental asceticism, and the knowledge
of nirvana, the type of nothingness that finds its loftiest place
and truest reality in the soul: Ex Oriente Lux. Schopenhauer
had written on the fourfold roots of the principle of sufficient
reason. Years later, Krishna Menon was to write his master's
thesis on "An Experimental Study of the Mental Processes
Involved in Reasoning." After man's will was unfolded, rea-
son became a useful aid.
It was with such thoughts in mind that Krishna Menon
joined the Theosophical Society, and his fate was linked to
it for five years. The Great War was now over, and a new
era seemed to beckon.
Enter Mme. Blavatsky
An American lady of Russian birth, Mme. Helena Petrovna
Blavatsky, together with Henry S. Olcott, of Orange, New
Jersey, a former United States government official, founded
the Theosophical Society in 1875. Theosophy, which was to
IN SEARCH OF WISDOM 37
gain world-wide notice, called attention to the "wisdom of
the East," to esoteric Buddhism, and to the Hindu scriptures.
Olcott gave this description of the theosophical creed: "A
theosophist is a person who, whatever his race, creed or
condition, aspires to reach wisdom and beatitude by self-
Other expounders of the creed held that the theosophist
had to subscribe to three main objectives: the promotion of
the study of Aryan (Hindu) literature; the investigation of
hitherto unexplained laws of nature and of the physical
powers latent in man; and above all, the creation of universal
brotherhood, without distinction of race or creed. The first
of these objectives was subsequently modified to commit
members to the study of comparative religion.
Mme. Blavatsky herself employed a more mystical language
in her writings. In one of her publications, The Secret Doc-
trine, she named the following principles as the bases of
theosophy: an omnipresent, eternal, boundless and immutable
force, transcending the power of human conception, and out
of range and reach of commonplace thought; the eternity of
the universe in toto as a boundless plane; and the fundamental
identity of all souls with the Universal Over-Soul, "the latter
being itself an aspect of the 'Unknown Root. . . .' " What
she meant by the latter, she did not say.
Theosophist mysteries were often shrouded in cryptic
language. The believers dwelt on karma (Sanskrit for "ac-
tion" or "fate"), which they defined as the "unbroken
sequence of cause and effect, each effect being in turn the
cause of a subsequent effect."
This was somewhat different from the Buddhist karma, the
result of action and, especially the cumulative result of a
38 KRISHNA MENON
person's deeds in one stage of his existence as controlling
his fate in the next.
The theosophists also spoke of reincarnation (a part also
of the Buddhist and Hindu creeds), and of astral and super-
astral auras. They quoted the teachings of such sages as
Pythagoras, and such neo-Pythagoreans as Apollonius of Ty-
ana, considered a miracle-worker, who is said to have visited
India. The theosophists exhorted the believers to immerse
themselves in the Hindu classics, especially the Upanishads
and the Bhagavad-Gita.
Many young Indians joined the Society, which seemed to
sanctify their inchoate aspirations, ascribing deep ethical
meanings to their sacred writs. It illuminated a way that was
their own, and on which they traveled amid cheers, not jeers.
Because they were India's children, they were considered su-
perior creatures in the society, and not inferiors, as was the un-
written British rule.
Because of the close connection of the creed with the wis-
dom of India, the society moved its headquarters there, first
to Bombay, then to Adyar, in the southern part of the city
of Madras, facing the Bay of Bengal. The society had about
a hundred thousand dedicated disciples when Mme. Blavatsky
died in the early eighteen-nineties. The anniversary of her
death is remembered even now as the "White Lotus Day."
One of Mme. Blavatsky's principal disciples had been
The Many Lives of Annie Besant
The First Five Lives of Annie Besant, a massive book of
scholarly merit by Arthur H. Nethercot, deals only with the
beginnings of a remarkable life. Annie Besant entered history
IN SEARCH OF WISDOM 39
at several points. She also entered Krishna Menon's life, most
decisively. She put Krishna Menon "into orbit." She also
influenced awakening India's national guru, Mahatma (Great
Soul) Gandhi Ghandiji, as he is affectionately called and
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, who was to become "Mr. India"
"Human tornado" and "human dynamo" were some of
the terms used to describe Annie Besant. Her marriage to the
respectable Reverend Frank Besant lasted only a decade.
Still married to the clergyman, she joined forces with Charles
Bradlaugh in a whirlwind campaign of "free thought" and
birth control, at a time when mid- Victorian respecta-
bility would not stand for such nonconformity. Separated
from her reverend spouse, an English court rejected this un-
usual British lady's petition for the custody of her own chil-
dren on the grounds that an "agnostic" could not be entrusted
with the guardianship of children's sensitive souls.
Annie Besant was also the co-author, with Bradlaugh, of
a monograph on birth control for which the two of them
were tried on a morals charge, being subsequently acquitted.
She turned her back on agnosticism after a time, and became
Mme. Blavatsky's disciple, a believer in the "Supreme Being"
of the Theosophical Society.
It was in 1889 that Mrs. Besant joined the society; she
became its president in 1907, and served in that capacity for
a quarter of a century. A rich Indian disciple, Damodar K.
Mavalankar, donated a large estate of 266 acres to the society.
It may still be found, south of the Adyar River, in the "aris-
tocratic" part of Madras inhabited by Europeans at the time.
The estate has a large waterfront on the Bay of Bengal.
Annie Besant was also the founder of the "Home Rule"
movement for India. She was honored for this in a unique
40 KRISHNA MENON
way, being elevated to the post of the presidency of the
Indian National Congress, in spite of the fact that she was
a Britisher, not merely a "foreigner" and the Congress op-
posed British rule.
Krishna Menon says he was drawn into Mrs. Besant's
circle because of her Home Rule work. She selected him as
one of her young assistants. At the time she was seventy-two,
and he twenty-two.
Home Rule was not the sole attraction in Adyar. The
pattern of Krishna Menon's life indicates another reason: his
ambivalent attitude toward India. Adyar stood for the Indian's
dignity. The Europeans there headed by Annie Besant saw
values in the East which the British Raj failed to see. Adyar
was also Europe in India, and Krishna Menon was tremen-
dously attracted by the West. What was the reason? Because
the West could offer more learning to him? Because of an
innate snobbishness? Because Adyar was Europe in Madras?
All of these and more.
Krishna Menon was not the only young Indian to be at-
tracted to Adyar. Nehru was also one of the disciples, al-
though not so long as Krishna Menon.
Krishna Menon's part in Adyar was not limited to Indian
Home Rule. He worked on Annie Besant's weekly, JVew
India, for about a year. Also, as a theosophist, he was a
teacher on the estate, and he was teaching one of his favorite
subjects, Indian history. He immersed himself in an extensive
library on many subjects, especially on the occult sciences
and yoga. He read the countless books of his amazing hostess,
on such subjects as The Perfectibility of Man; The Ethic of
Punishment; The Laws of Higher Life; Mavis Life in This
and Other Worlds; Marriage as It Was, as It Is, and as It
Should Be; Natural Religion Vs. Revealed Religion; Occult
IN SEARCH OF WISDOM 4!
Chemistry; A Series of Clairvoyant Observations on Chemical
Elements; Is Socialism Sound?; and many, many others.
Mrs. Besant was filled with the greatness of India, its tra-
ditions, philosophy and art. She made Krishna Menon and
her other Indian proteges feel proud of their magnificent
classics the collections, she told them, of some of the most
exalted thoughts in the world. She admonished them that it
was not enough to consider these books as parts of their
creed, but that the classics must also form the sinews of their
everyday lives. She founded an Oriental Library, containing
not only collections of Sanskrit and Pali manuscripts but also
ancient "books" written on palm leaves.
It was she who founded Adyar College, where Krishna
Menon taught. She also founded the Central Hindu College,
at Benares. The seamy side of Indian life was only too well
known to her. She knew that about 15 per cent of the people
of the subcontinent belonged to the pariah caste. They must
be afforded an opportunity, she decided, to regain their hu-
man self-confidence. She founded five schools for pariah
children in Madras alone. The Madras vernacular press called
her Sannyasini Srimati BeshanteThe Holy Female Ascetic
Differing Views about Adyar
The five years Krishna Menon spent at Adyar were busy
years studying, teaching, performing administrative work,
engaged in the Boy Scout movement. The Theosophical
Society had world-wide ramifications, enjoyed world-wide
fame, and was visited by notable people, some of whom ex-
pressed their views about it in print. These views were con-
Mahatma Gandhi, the father of Indian independence, held
42 KRISHNA MENON
the highest opinion of Mrs. Besant's work. "When Mrs.
Besant came to India," he noted, "and captivated the country,
I came in close touch with her, and though we had political
differences, my veneration for her suffered no abatement."
Although Gandhi himself did not join the movement, he
retained great respect for it as an emanation of Hinduism at
its best and as a force working to foster the brotherhood of
all men. Even later, in the midst of party politics, he was
impressed by the fact that so many Congress Party members
especially at the higher echelons were also theosophists.
Annie Besant had been president of the Theosophical So-
ciety for some time when the German philosopher Count
Hermann Keyserling, author of the international inter-bellum
best-seller The Travel Diary of a Philosopher, visited Adyar.
The Count was a guest of Mrs. Besant. He was critical of
what he saw there.
"Ancient mistakes of humanity," he wrote, "are in all too
many instances not only not eradicated by theosophical be-
liefs, but they experience new reincarnations. Today I am
especially thinking of the time-honored over-valuation of
diseased conditions. I have been induced to consider them
in view of the attitude of the many psychologically and
neurologically abnormal people who belong to the Theosoph-
ical Society. . . ."
The first who swarm around a new center of belief are, with-
out exception, poor in spirit and superstitious, for they want,
above all, to be led. Then come worthy men from practical lif e,
generally brought to this pass by women; and only when his-
tory has faded into mythology (which, of course, can happen
very rapidly in the East), when facts no longer obstruct the
process of idealization, then the first eminent minds follow in
the general wake. And thus it can happen that the members of
IN SEARCH OF WISDOM 43
the Theosophical Society of today, if fortune is kind to them,
will live in history as pioneers.
The messianic expectation prevailing at Adyar also elicited
the interest of the philosopher-Count. Mrs. Besant had found
the "Redeemer," and his name was Jiddu Krishnamurti, whom
she called the incarnation of Maitreya, the World Teacher,
the "successor of Jesus Christ."
It was in the mid-twenties, when Mrs. Besant was about
eighty, that she introduced the "Lord of Mercy," Krishna-
murti, as the founder of a religious order.
Harold Laski, the noted English social scientist, who en-
tered Krishna Menon's life a few years earlier, wrote in 1926
to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Associate Justice of the United
States Supreme Court, about his meeting with Krishnamurti,
I must not forget to tell you that since I wrote last I have met
God. I was at a committee for the relief of miners when Mrs.
Besant turned up with a young man whom she announced as
the new Redeemer. I have never met a God before and it was
a little embarrassing to talk to him. I did not like to mention the
weather, as a comment on continuous rain seemed like an attack
on his will. So I asked if he remembered any of his previous re-
incarnations . . . and he told me thirty-three.
Subsequently, Krishnamurti repudiated the claim that he
was the Messiah; dissolved the Order of the Star; and his
father sued Mrs. Besant for damages. In turn, she withdrew
her assertion that Jiddu was a Redeemer.
The Road to the West
The Theosophical Society was operating after World War
I in some fifty countries, and Krishna Menon had plenty to
44 KRISHNA MENON
do besides his teaching duties. Also, he became active in the
Boy Scout movement in Madras. A few years previously
Lieutenant-General Baron R. S. S. Baden-Powell had launched
the Boy Scout movement in Britain, and it had been an in-
stant success. India was in even greater need of it than the
western countries, Krishna Menon believed. In the summer
of 1920 the first "International Jamboree" of the movement
was held in London. It attracted world attention. Krishna
Menon was engaged in many scouting activities scoutmaster,
scout commissioner, in charge of training camps. Was this
one of the ways to reduce the appallingly high death rate
among the young people of Madras?
Annie Besant helped Krishna Menon to go to England
in 1924. He meant to stay six months, but he remained for
a generation. Thus it was Mrs. Besant who became hand-
maiden to Krishna Menon's destiny, for it was in London
that he came to the attention of Jawaharlal Nehru, the man
who was to become "Mr. India."
When Annie Besant and India collided, she hurled the
subcontinent into space. She began her career by being pre-
occupied with the fate of hundreds of millions, as the head
of the Home Rule movement. But as the head of the Theo-
sophical Society, she set out to save all mankind. She has
been described as a genius and a charlatan. Certainly she
dramatized the wisdom of India, which she sought to transmit
to the West. More than any other Britisher of her time, she
made the world aware of India's plight. On the other hand,
her adversaries charged, she was one of the greatest headline-
stealers since the invention of movable type. Did Krishna
Menon, one wonders, become her disciple in that respect, too?
In the Camp of the Foe
HE HAD INTRODUCTIONS to several leading Labour Party mem-
bers in London, also to some back-benchers, mainly people
who took an interest in India. They were friendly people,
who welcomed the eager young Indian.
"Handsome in a diabolical way," a British periodical was
to write about him. "When he smiles and it is an irresistible
smile he conjures up Mephistopheles gloating over a phos-
phorescent crystal ball. . . . His eyes have a fanatical
gleam. . . . His eyebrows, his aquiline nose, and his hands are
almost as voluble as his lips. . . ."
"His profile," it was noted elsewhere, "is a sculptor's dream,
his restlessness his despair. . . . Hampered by a disability [he
limps] he becomes hunched and round-shouldered when he
walks. When his foot is not troubling him, he moves with
quick, short steps, his walking stick dangling from his arm."
His expressive face still reflects his moods, suddenly chang-
ing: sunshine and storm, a scowl, a sneer and, then, unexpect-
46 KRISHNA MENON
edly, a benign beam. A soft handshake, almost feminine, and
quick reactions, intuitive. Volubility and extreme reticence,
a strange combination. Yes, indeed, he is an uncommon mix-
ture, an extrovert and an introvert. An actor, too. But in
those days, in London, his audience was small.
He arrived in London, in 1924, a young man of twenty-
seven. He had heard much about the country from his guru,
Annie Besantalso from Shakespeare, and Burke, and Mill
and his curiosity to see the land which was both the birth-
place of democracy and the oppressor of India was great.
He had got used to the tall, swaggering stalwarts in Calicut
and Madras, the I.C.S. people, the supermen of the Indian
Civil Service, self-assured, some of them arrogant, others
helpful in a condescending way. There was always a wall in
Iiidia between the ruler and the ruled, the men carrying the
white man's burden and the lesser breeds. But here in London
there was no wall.
He had turned his back on the maternal house (his mother
was dead, anyway). Also, he seems to have lost contact with
his relatives. And so he stayed in London. Why? Secretive
now, as he must have been then, he furnishes no acceptable
clue. His friends say that he spoke so openly against the
British regime in India as to close the gates of his native land
in his face. That is nonsense, of course. He was as yet a
human cipher, and what difference did it make what he said?
The things he said, he said to Englishmen in the capital of
the British Empire, and London was a privileged sanctuary
for such plaints. And what if he was to be consigned to
jail after his return to India? Nearly all the heroes of India's
war of independence spent long stretches of time in prison.
Serving jail sentences later turned out to be almost a qualifi-
cation for high government service.
IN THE CAMP OF THE FOE 47
Thus began his new reincarnation in London. The web of
his life there had many strands, interlinked and looped, with
occasional broken threads. It looks disorganized, and falls
into a pattern only on close observation. It was not a Bo-
hemian life, in the freedom of a new world without too many
taboos, since Krishna Menon was an ascetic. Strong drinks
were not for him, nor, for that matter, any drinks, except end-
less cups of tea, sometimes thirty a day, plus milk and his
favorite tomato juice. Very little food, because he had very
little money and also because he found he could live on next
to nothing. He was a strict vegetarian, and has continued to
be. Nor does he smoke.
As to women, here again the curtain is drawn. He was the
type of young man who might attract young women of the
intellectual type, in search of the exciting "mysteries" of the
Orient, attracted by exotic charm, that warm smile lighting
up his face, his volubility, his complicated inner structure
(or was it really that complicated? ) the extroverted introvert,
aggressive and shy. Was there a young woman in his life?
There are rumors about an English girl whom he en-
countered in the mid-thirties. What happened then? There is
that impenetrable curtain again. He has remained a bachelor.
The Indian Faust
There is something Faustian about his early years in Lon-
don, his appetite constantly sharpened by the appetizers of
knowledge-political science, philosophy, psychology, some
economics and, above all, history, and, of course, law. Krishna
Menon continued to respect that remarkable aged woman
at Adyar, Annie Besant, still very young in spirit and full of
adventure. But he had had enough of the presumed mysteries
48 KRISHNA MENON
of the Orient, and did not want much more of theosophy.
He wanted to be introduced to the clarities of western life.
What made the West tick? Why did people live so much
longer there? Why did they have the capacity to smile and
laugh? He was now at the very f ountainhead of knowledge.
To learn, yes, but also to teach, to disseminate knowledge
about India. He was attempting to do that all the time, but
it was only his sideline at the beginning of his London life.
He wanted to engage in his studies in the western way,
the organized way; to study not only for learning's sake, but
also for its practical use. But did he actually know what he
wanted? Should it be the law? The idea attracted him. He
visualized himself in the forensic setting, analyzing complex
cases, drawing upon the spontaneous brilliance of his insights,
his eloquence sweeping the jury off its feet. Yes, the study of
law did appeal to him. "Law," he still says, "is the application
of common sense to litigious cases." He was quite sure he had
common sense, and the gift for dissecting problems and pre-
senting his findings to others. Yes, law was very much in
Krishna Menon's mind. Eventually, he qualified as a barrister.
And so was teaching, almost for the same reasons. He was
thinking of history as his specialty the history of men's
thoughts as well as of their actions. He liked to compare the
real with the potential, the peoples' pressures, the leaders'
motives, the great emotional upsurges of the masses, the in-
terplay of contradictory forces, the innate drive of people
to oppress others and the opposite drive to free themselves.
He believed in the Hegelian dialectic: the operation of histori-
cal forces, beginning with a series of statements, a series of facts,
swinging to antistatements, a cluster of opposite facts, coming
to rest at a new balance of synthesis. Out of this Hegelian
dialectic was born his absorption in Marxist dialectical materi-
IN THE CAMP OF THE FOE 49
alism: the importance of the interplay of economic forces-
bread, loot, capital accumulationand the class struggle. Yes,
he would have liked to engage in the teaching of history.
He also obtained a teacher's diploma.
Politics appealed to him, too, but that road was crowded
with priority-minded people, natives of the land who had
English for their native tongue. First, he must get acclimated
in London and, above all else, immerse himself in his studies.
In London there were no forbidden books, and he entered
the public libraries with awe. He wanted to remain a student
all his life, even as a teacher.
The Year of Miracles
"The war to end all wars," America's President Woodrow
Wilson had called World War I. It had been a traumatic
experience for Britain, presumably shielded from rude out-
side contacts by its moat. In the charnel house of the battle-
fields of France, the best of Britain's sons had been ground
into the mud.
During the war Krishna Menon had been a student at the
Law College, Madras, where he had gained his B.A. degree.
When asked about his war service some years later at the Lon-
don School of Economics, he answered: "India Defence Force,
1917." What, if anything, this meant is unclear. Probably it
was merely a fanciful bit of self-dramatization.
The United States now occupied Britain's former place
as the main creditor nation, and the government in Washing-
ton insisted that London repay the funds it had obtained for
the conduct of the war to "make the world safe for democ-
racy." Meanwhile, vast funds had been transferred from
London's Lombard Street to New York's Wall Street. Amer-
JO KRISHNA MENON
ica was now the center of the capitalist world, and, indeed,
the United States was the incarnation of capitalism.
The Socialist friends of Krishna Menon in London de-
tested the United States. At home the young Indian had paid
scant attention to America, a country shrouded in the clouds
of distance. Now, however, he heard much about the overseas
republic. And most of what he heard about it was highly
critical. Was this the beginning of his attitude toward the
Nineteen twenty-four, when Krishna Menon arrived in
London, was the annus mirabilis, the wonderful year. It was
the year in which the lion and the lamb were lying down
together, living in fond amity, the expected Year One of
perpetual peace. Britain had now a government that was
headed by a former Scottish miner, an illegitimate son-
Ramsay MacDonald. This time Labour got a larger number
of seats in the House of Commons than the Liberal Party. It
received the support of the Liberals against the Conservatives,
who now moved across the Commons aisle to the side of
His Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition. Peace, indeed, was
to dawn on the world. It was this same Labour Party which
a few years later was to vow at one of its annual conferences
never to take a part in any future war and, if necessary, to
declare a general strike to prevent Britain from entering such
Still more miraculously, the two presumed hereditary foes,
Germany and France, were now in each other's embrace.
Dreams were to come true in a few months more, when the
two nations' spokesmen negotiated a basic pact about their
borders, which were to endure forever, thereby insuring
IN THE CAMP OF THE FOE 51
The Labour Tarty and Krishna Menon
Many Conservatives considered Labour 'left wing." Not
all of it was, and, indeed, it has never been a monolithic
organization. It had its right and left wings, as well as its
center. The right wing approached the ideal of the Christian
Socialists, with their program of aid to the lower classes so
as to improve their standards, abolition of the great inequal-
ities of wealth through steeply progressive taxation, and cre-
ation of the conditions for a peaceful world.
The left wing agreed with all this, but it went far beyond.
One of its spokesmen, John Strachey, held that the great ad-
vantage of socialism over all other political systems was its
ability to think and act in social terms, rather than in the
interest of privileged individuals and classes. Socialism meant
to them the type of economy in which the entire country,
acting through its government, was engaged in a measure of
planning for the public benefit. These Socialists asserted that
capitalism, too, was engaged in planning, for private profit
through monopolistic schemes. This wing of the Labour
Party favored the public ownership of the key industries
engaged in the production of those goods which the entire
economy needed. It also favored a much broader extension
of social services, especially in the field of public health.
Also, the left-wing Socialists of Britain were cordial to the
idea of friendly relations with Soviet Russia. These Labour
members held that the time had come for Britain to confer
more extensive civil rights on the people of India.
Krishna Menon felt closest to the Labour "Young Turks,"
the rebellious spirits of the left wing. But he became ac-
quainted also with the stolid and solid bureaucratic Labour
grandees, as for instance Clement Atdee (who was to be-
52 KRISHNA MENON
come the Prime Minister of Britain) and Ernest Bevin (the
future Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs) in a way that
was to thoroughly transform the life of India and of Krishna
Enter Professor Laski
No Englishman or scholar ever made a greater impression
on Krishna Menon than did Harold J. Laski. "He was one
of the greatest men of the twentieth century," Krishna Menon
told me, and he is not a man to hand out bouquets. Laski,
already one of the most controversial political scientists of
the English-speaking world, had lectured at Amherst, Har-
vard and Yale, and at that time was lecturer in political science
at Magdalene College, Cambridge, and a member of the fac-
ility of the London School of Economics and Political Sci-
ence. In great demand in many parts of the world, Laski
also lectured at Trinity College, Dublin, and at the Institute
of Soviet Law, in Moscow. At the time of Krishna Menon's
arrival in London, Laski was a member of the executive com-
mittee of the Fabian Society, the home of intellectual Social-
ists. Later, he also became a member of the Labour Party
executive committee, and held numerous posts in the govern-
ment. His name had been established by his authorship of
such seminal books as Political Thought in England from
Locke to Bentham (which was in the field of Krishna Me-
non's special interest) and Karl Marx. Later, he was to write
basic books about the United States: The American Presi-
dency and The American Democracy. Although the differ-
ence in their ages was not great, Laski was to become the
young Krishna Menon's guru.
Years later, in 1954, Krishna Menon was instrumental in
the establishment of a "Harold Laski Institute of Political Sci-
IN THE CAMP OF THE FOE 53
ence" in Ahmedabad. In his message to the inauguration of
the Institute, he recalled that he had been Laski's pupil for
ten years, most of it not in classrooms and seminars, but in
discussions and conversations. Then he added: "Professor
Laski's life has been the moral foundation on which many
of those who really knew him and loved him have set out
to build the essential structure of their thinking and social
Outstanding in the group of Labour scholars with whom
Krishna Menon became acquainted was Sidney Webb. Webb
and his wife Beatrice formed a remarkable writing team.
Another Labour party leader with whom Krishna Menon
became acquainted early in his career was Sir Stafford Cripps,
who was to play a great role in the history of India. The son
of Lord Parmoor and the nephew of Beatrice Webb, Sir
Stafford was a man of great intellect and unusual achieve-
ments, a chemist as well as a highly successful corporation
lawyer. He was an extreme left-winger, who, at one time,
was read out of the Labour Party because of his deep com-
mitment to a united front with the Communists. He was not
only reinvited subsequently, but was also called upon to play
historic roles in Britain's World War II cabinet. Krishna
Menon was particularly close to him.
And then there was the well-known Socialist editor and
writer H. N. Brailsford, as explosive in his likes as in his
dislikes, and deeply involved in attempted solutions to India's
problems. Also, Bertrand Russell (later Earl Russell), far-
famed mathematician, philosopher, Nobel Prize-winner, and
"aggressive pacifist," was another early contact of Krishna
Menon's, a contact which continued through the years. And
there were many more Labour Party leaders and members
of Parliament, some of whom were to play important parts
54 KRISHNA MENON
in The India League, which later became Krishna Menon's
The Age of Gandhiji
In the course of time, Krishna Menon came to be in great
demand in Labour parliamentary circles because of his zest
in presenting India's cause. He became also the mouthpiece
of the Congress Party, and especially of the ideals expressed
by a shrunken little man, Mahatma Gandhi, whom his ad-
mirers called Gandhiji.
"The Age of Gandhi" began at the Congress Party's special
session at Calcutta in 1920, and it lasted until his death (with
a gap in the twenties when he kept in the background).
Gandhi was working for India's increased participation in
her own government, and eventual self-rule, in a new way.
He did not call on the Indians to rise against the British and
sweep them out of the land. On the contrary, he advocated
peace. Force, he said, begat force and solved no problems.
If an attempt was made to employ physical force, might not
emotional people, many of them famished and illiterate, get
out of hand? India's noblest tradition, he declared, was satya-
graha, the force of the soul, the steadfast grasping of truth,
and this became the pivot of his creed. His philosophy was
contained in one short sentence of the Upanisbads, the Hindu
classic: "Truth always wins." Non-violence, ahi?nsa, was the
practical application of this philosophy.
Krishna Menon had Gandhi's writings at his fingertips, and
he quoted them freely to his English friends:
Strength does not arise from physical capacity. It springs
from indomitable will. . . . Non-violence is as much the law of
our species as violence is the kw of the brute. The spirit lies
IN THE CAMP OF THE FOE 55
dormant in the brute and the only kw he knows is physical
might. Man's dignity commands obeisance to a higher law the
strength of the spirit. ... I am not pleading for non-violence
because India is weak. Being conscious of her power I want her
to practise non-violence. . . .
One of his disciples said that Gandhi had the capacity to
turn clay into heroes. Also, he had an uncanny way of as-
certaining what people wanted, and then dramatizing their
wishes in such a way that the world had to take notice. In-
dians considered him a holy man, and they flocked to see
him in countlesss numbers. Eventually it became physically
impossible for him to address such vast masses, but then peo-
ple had their fill by just looking at him. They went on their
way contented because they had seen him.
Although Krishna Menon became a spokesman of the
Congress Party in his circle of English friends, he was not in
agreement with all of Gandhiji's policies. Gandhi was travel-
ing in the middle of the road, Krishna Menon far to the left.
"The poor will be always with us," Gandhi seemed to say.
With that view in mind, he collected money for the Lord of
the Poor, daridnarayan, to help the poverty-stricken wretches
through charity. Because he considered the poor the special
favorites of the gods, Gandhi virtually encouraged people
to remain in their status. Indeed, he glorified poverty. With
this stand Krishna Menon could not agree.
Gandhi also advocated national self-sufficiency, and es-
pecially a return to the simple ancestral craftshandlooms
producing khadi, cotton cloth. Krishna Menon believed, on
the other hand, that industrialization was the answer, along
with modernization of all the other productive processes of
56 KRISHNA MENON
Differences in Views
The Labour government was at the helm only for a few
months. It was defeated at the autumn elections and returned
to power again only five years later. Krishna Menon observed
that Labour Party parliamentary members were readier to
heed his words when they were out of power than when they
were at the helm. Of course, the Socialists were in a minority
in their first government, and had to consider the strong views
of more conservative Englishmen on India. The belief was un-
shakable that India was the pivot of the British Empire, and
that were she to go the entire imperial structure would col-
There was another point on which young Indians in Brit-
ain, including Krishna Menon and many Labour parliamen-
tary members, could not agree. To these latter the Soviet
Union was the abomination of abominations, the betrayer of
the proletarian cause, the enemy of democracy, and no better
than the extreme right.
The enemy of the Indians was imperialism, with which
they had first-hand acquaintance. They had never been in
the Soviet Union, and had no clear picture of its way of
life. They 'were familiar with its professed beliefs. Heading
the list of these was the Soviets' opposition to imperialism
and this was in the center of the Indians' interest.
Also, India was wretchedly poor, Britain rich. Was Britain
the oppressor in India because of the call of gold? The So-
viets denounced money as the great seducer. Again the ex-
patriate Indians sympathized with the Soviet view. Further,
while many people were soon to look at the Kremlin as the
powerhouse of expansionism, Indians saw in it the exponent
of ideas they liked. Were they Communists themselves? Was
IN THE CAMP OF THE FOE 57
Krishna Menon a Communist? He was not publishing his
tracts as yet, but when he started doing so they read much
like Communist propaganda. Occasionally, he advocated
causes which stood close to Communist hearts. But he was
not then a Communist himself, nor did he ever become one.
Not only appearing but sometimes also sounding like Meph-
istopheles, he was a perennial "sayer of nay." He liked to see
white where most other people saw black. To submit to Com-
munist Party discipline would have contradicted his innermost
nature as a nay-sayer, an incarnation of the nonconformist.
At the Marble Arch
One of the great British national institutions is the soapbox
the decrepit soapbox which people of all political persua-
sions lug to the Marble Arch in Hyde Park. They set down
the soapbox and do it to this very day and start exercising
their prerogative as free citizens of a great country. Royalty
is, to England, more than a collection of people; it is a hal-
lowed national institution, a historic symbol, the embodiment
of ancient tradition. On any day, at Marble Arch, a speaker
can stand up on his soapbox and demand that the Queen of
England be ousted. The police are there, watching the pro-
ceedings and seeing to it that the man has his say without
Krishna Menon was thoroughly impregnated with the idea
that Britain had done injustice to Bharathis land of India-
exploiting the people, battening on their miserable livelihoods,
preventing the free expression of just opinions and clapping
the best of them in jail. He resented injustice, and the in-
justice perpetrated on his people was, he felt, an insult not
only to them but to all mankind. His thoughts clustered
58 KRISHNA MENON
around India. A conversation with a neighbor might begin on
any subject, but it was bound to end with Bharat. "The sun
is lovely," the neighbor would remark, and Krishna Menon
would answer, "Yes, but British rule in India is atrocious."
He was bursting with zeal to let the world know how he
felt about this. And so off he marched to the Marble Arch.
Audiences stimulated him, and the larger the audience the
greater the stimulation. Repartee quick as the fencer's rapier
was his forte, but his humor usually shaded into heavy sar-
casm. These impromptu speeches helped him to polish his
oratorical technique, and he would return home, with his
soapbox, filled with a glow of satisfaction as he recalled the
thrusts he had scored.
Curious people, these English, he reflected. Here he was,
in the lion's cage, twisting the tail of the Lord of the Jungle
to his heart's content. The audience was pleased, mostly,
flashing him encouraging smiles, and the lion was meek. A
brave young Indian he was, deserving of accolade. England
was the lion's own realm. What would have happened to
lion-tail-twister Krishna Menon in India? He could not have
twisted the lion's tail there. Off he would have been marched
to jail. And that was the paradox: safe in the lion's cage,
but not outside it. The British were, indeed, a strange breed
of men so understanding at home and so autocratic abroad.
In Camden Town
Thus he remained in England, a student at first and a part-
time teacher. He kept on living frugally, almost like those
Indian ascetics who were able to live on air for days on end.
Yet he was not poor, because he was free to say and do the
things he wanted to. He was not poor even from the financial
IN THE CAMP OF THE FOE 59
point of view, although he had little enough money. Poverty
was mainly a state of mind, he found, except when it became
a reality in countries like India.
Where did he live? First in Bloomsbury, just beyond Uni-
versity College, in a boarding-house district filled with stu-
dents' "digs." Thirty shillings was about the maximum he
spent a week for rent, and a private bathroom was a luxury
beyond his reach. Later he had a room in Hampstead, not a
bad neighborhood, and in Highgate, to the north. Most of
the time he lived in one part or another of the St. Pancras
municipal borough, mostly in its center, Camden Town, as
typical a working-class district as he could find. And the
rooms there were cheaper, too.
His flats in Camden Town were rickety places, the sooty
paint peeling from the walls, and the staircase a disgrace.
Even his bare lightbulb seemed to be almost a luxury in that
naked setting. He filled his iron stove with all the inflammable
junk he could lay his hands on, sitting close to it swathed in
clothes even during the height of the summer season, re-
creating the climate of the Malabar Coast. And there was
always that battered teapot, which must have been one of the
most overworked utensils in London Town.
Camden Town's inhabitants were mostly workers in the
nearby railway yards and furniture and piano-making plants,
or were the usual "service" people, delivering the mail and
milk, driving the trucks. Many of them were narrow-chested,
insignificant-looking people, shuffling off to work in the
morning, shuffling back in the evening, sallow-faced and
weary. A dispirited bunch of people they looked, and not at
all the Uebermenschen of his younger days on the Malabar
Camden Town is crisscrossed by a network of rails, ending
60 KRISHNA MENON
in three terminals. Long before the break of dawn, the bulg-
ing suburban trains are swishing into town, and what a noise
they make! Although London is a monstrously bloated mega-
lopolis, Krishna Menon would never have suspected that
so many people lived in its northern suburbs, disembarking
at the nearby King's Cross Station. And what a flood of
people streamed into town from the northeast, arriving at
the Midland Railway's massive St. Pancras Station. The
Euston Station was the outlet for bringing the northwestern
suburbanites into town. The residents of Camden Town
could listen to the wailing whistle of the fast trains, shaking
the very crust of the earth in their swift advance; and the
nocturnal operations of the railway yards provided a shat-
tering counterpoint. Eventually he got used to these sounds,
too. What right did he have to complain about a fate which
he shared with so many others? This type of life became his
He stayed longest at 57, Camden Square for the entire
duration of World War II and some years before and after
approximately ten years. The square is pleasant enough and the
small flower-garden behind the house is attractive, but both the
square and the house had seen better days. The environment is
prominently multiracial today.
Krishna Menon had a room and the use of the bath. His fur-
nished room had a bed, a table, a couple of chairs, a wardrobe
and a sideboard. Come hell or high water, he had to have his
morning bath, and hell often broke loose when the Luftwaffe
set out to put the torch to London. Krishna Menon's landlady
is still puzzled about this. Did he, she wonders, insist on his
morning bath because of his religion? He paid a pound per
week for rent, including the price of his breakfast tea and
toast. The rent was modest even for Camden Town.
IN THE CAMP OF THE FOE 6l
Krishna Menon used his room only for sleeping. He never
gave any parties nor did he entertain guests. In the evening he
returned at irregular hours, and if it was not late, he asked Mrs.
Rouse for tea. While Krishna Menon was meticulous about his
clothing, he left his room in Bohemian disarray. It is with some
amusement that Mrs. Rouse recalls that his discarded clothing
was scattered all over the room and that he seemed to be unable
to fold his towels "neat-like."
He never talked about India or his court cases. Sipping his
tea in the ground-floor apartment he would make the expected
comments about the weather. It was not part of his plan to
convert his landlady and her son, a tool designer, living in the
same house, to his creed of freedom for India.
The landlady's son summed up his and his mother's reaction
to Krishna Menon in a simple comment with which it is dif-
ficult to take exception: "He's not matey."
The Peregrinating Scholar
The "Chela" and the "Guru"
STUDENT, SCHOLAR, TEACHER, BARRISTER, he continued his
studies until he was thirty-seven. He managed to remain
penniless most of the time, because of his haughty disdain for
the "profit motive." To this day he seems to be proud of
the fact that he never carries money in his pocket. Still, he
had to pay the weekly twenty shillings for his rent, keep his
overworked teapot boiling, buy in the market the little food
he needed, and pay for his "flannel bags." Proudly he tells
the inquirer even today that he got his bachelor's and master's
degrees with first-class honors. But we have to line up the
periods of his life in proper order.
His connection with the Fabian Society paved the way for
his scholastic career. The Fabian Socialists believe in gradu-
alismthat history's innate forces take their own good time.
No revolutions evolution and the "inevitability of gradual-
ism." Many of the immortals of British letters came to believe
in the Fabian creed, and Krishna Menon came to know them
THE PEREGRINATING SCHOLAR 63
all. He seems to have won them over with his arguments
about the "inevitability of gradualism" as applied to India.
That is how he established his contacts with George Bernard
Shaw, H. G. Wells, Harold Laski, the Webbs, and many
others. Yet the Fabian creed was too tame for Krishna Menon.
Just the same, he cherished the connections he made there,
and above all cherished his contact with Harold Laski. He
claims that Laski was his principal guru, and that he was
Laski's chela, disciple. According to Krishna Menon, Laski is
supposed to have said: "Yes, I taught Krishna Menon, but it
was not always he who was at the receiving end."
And this leads us to the London School of Economics.
The London School of Economics
It all began with Sidney Webb that pudgy little man with
the enormous forehead and the quizzical look in half-smiling
eyes at the time when Krishna Menon was still a resident
of the Malabar Coast. A former member of the Fabian So-
ciety, Henry Hunt Hutchinson, left an estate of 10,000
a large amount in those days to be spent on any cause, at
the discretion of Sidney Webb.
A Fabian Socialist, Webb agreed with orthodox Marxists
that economics formed the framework of many of the
thoughts and deeds of man in his social environment. He also
agreed that economics as an academic subject was badly
neglected, considered a "dismal science" since the doleful
days of Rev. Thomas Malthus, who had said some dire things
about the hopeless race between the food supply and the
rapidly increasing race of man.
Webb believed that thoughtful people should know more
about economics and political science. Therefore he deemed
64 KRISHNA MENON
it a good idea to invest the money left by Mr. Hutchinson
in a school specializing in these subjects. This was the begin-
ning of the London School of Economics and Political
The school was designed to be close to Labour, and to
laboring men who lacked the funds to study at Oxford and
Cambridge. People working during the day would find its
gates open to them at night. Research workers were welcome
eager amateurs with the perceptions and willingness to work
on intellectual hobbies. Women were also welcome.
It was at the turn of the century that the London School
of Economics was incorporated. It filled a gap and, therefore,
was a success. Then came World War I, which delayed its
growth. But it had a great spurt after the war, helped along
by the success of the Labour Party. Cabinet members, M.P.'s
and other "big names" considered it an honor to lecture
there. Because of his connection with Labour people and his
own inclinations, it was natural that Krishna Menon should
be attracted to the London School of Economics, which was
by then incorporated in the University of London,
The scholarships and bursaries of the school stood impecu-
nious young people from India and elsewhere in good stead.
The school was sufficiently broadminded to offer a public
forum of great respectability for the airing of a variety of
political views. The chairman of the governors was Sidney
Webb himself, and the staff of the school was excellent, some
of them of East Indian and European birth. The brightest
star in its academic firmament was Harold Laski.
THE PEREGRINATING SCHOLAR 65
The Center of the World
Krishna Menon's life centered around the school, which,
in turn, was located in the "heartland" of the artistic and
intellectual life of the capital. What a concentration of treas-
ures the man from the Malabar Coast found within that
magic circle, with its radius of slightly over a mile. The
British Museum was within walking distance and Krishna
Menon could not afford too many underground fares and
how right was the noted art critic John Ruskin when he
said that the museum contained the "grandest concentration
of human knowledge in the world." The Victoria Embank-
ment was no more than a step away, and Krishna Menon
loved to stroll there. The Houses of Parliament were nearby,
and it was easy to get a "member's order" to the strangers'
Promenading along Whitehall, he reflected on the innate
strength of the governmental organization which was strong
enough to control a global empire. He liked to walk to St.
James's Park, with its India House, sedate and serene, on the
dust-covered desks of which was decided the fate of hundreds
of millions of people. At South Kensington, a longer walk, he
found a branch of the Victork and Albert Museum the India
Museum, erstwhile property of the defunct East India Com-
pany, containing a matchless collection of India's ancient and
modern arts and crafts, confirming his belief in the power of
regeneration of the people of the subcontinent.
Harold Laski and India
A stunted little man spoke in his high-pitched voice, and
an empire took heed. Gandhiji was a master of public rela-
66 KRISHNA MENON
tions, for India and for himself. He proved that stronger than
the mightiest firearm is the human spirit. He aroused not
only the intellectuals, but also the masses of the people. Gandhi
called for non-violent non-cooperation against the British,
the boycott of British merchandise and non-payment of taxes.
Endless bouts of hartals (strikes and sabotage) affected Brit-
ain's money-nerves. Japanese goods penetrated into the eco-
nomic blood stream of India. Britain found that lofty disdain
was no longer in place. An Indian statutory commission under
the chairmanship of Sir John Simon, one of the last great
Liberals, was laboring to pierce the fog surrounding the
problems of India.
Ramsay MacDonald was again at the helm in 1929, the
leader of Labour. Two years later he headed a coalition gov-
ernment which was to last until 1935. Was The India League
of Krishna Menon about which more later instrumental
in pricking Labour's conscience in regard to the Indian im-
broglio? Labour did have an uneasy feeling about India, but
the time was not yet ripe for drastic action. It was, however,
ripe for a more serious study of the problem than it had
received heretofore. And Krishna Menon's guru, the "brain-
truster" of the Labour Party, Harold Laski, had a hand in
The Indian conference, in which Harold Laski was in-
volved, took place in 1931. The former Lord Chancellor of
England, Viscount Sankey, was the chairman of this Indian
conference, and Laski worked with him. We can follow the
details of this work in the highly interesting correspondence
between Laski and Oliver Wendell Holmes already men-
tioned. This section of the correspondence began when Laski
wrote to Holmes, on September 17, 1931, "Half the time I
THE PEREGRINATING SCHOLAR 6j
am a kind of eminence grise for Sankey at the Indian confer-
Laski's letters enable one to look into some of the Indian
problems. It was the Indian princes who created the greatest
difficulties, he wrote his great American friend. They were
prima donnas, difficult to handle. Krishna Menon said of
them that many of them were detestable creatures.
"They are ill-educated, tyrannical" Laski wrote "with no
conception of negotiation. . . . They take you straight back
to the East India Company and make you feel that discus-
sion with the likes o' them is folly and that one ought to
act like Warren Hastings with them." (His reference was
to the eighteenth-century governor-general of India, who
had sought to break the princes' hold.)
The "communal problem" was another affliction about
which Laski wrote. This was the chronic feud between the
Hindu majority and the Moslem minority, beholden as they
were, and are, to different sets of values proceeding from
different historical paths of development, sharing contrary as-
pirations, dreaming different dreams.
Laski dwelt upon the Moslem spokesmen's role at the con-
ference table: "Their religious fanaticism is terrible."
Sankey tried to urge him to talk to the Moslems, and Laski
wrote to Holmes in another letter: "I had their leader here
for hours, trying to find a basis for discussion. But it was
like talking to a wall."
This Moslem saw his own religion as the ultimate and only
truth, and even when talking about secular matters he never
relinquished the field of theology.
A Maharajah was Laski's dinner-table neighbor on one
occasion, and "a more banal idiot I have never met. For no
other reason than drawing attention to himself and giving
68 KRISHNA MENON
orders he had windows opened and closed." Laski was then
bidden to dine with another prince, who made nine speeches
in the course of one evening. "I enjoyed the first five because
one never knew what he was going to say next."
The Sankey committee had a limited task to prepare, if
possible, a bill providing for the federation of the Indian states
and provinces. Further, it was to pave the way for provincial
autonomy. Participating at the conference was Mahatma
"The drama of this wizened little man with the whole
power of the empire against him is a terrific spectacle/' Laski
wrote. "The basis of it all is, I think, the power of an ascetic
over eastern minds who resent the feeling of inferiority they
have had for 150 years. And to watch his people hang on
to his words, he who has neither eloquence nor the gift of
verbal artistry, is fascinating But at least I understand now
why Christianity in the first century appealed to the poor
and the oppressed. Through Gandhi the ryot [peasant] feels
himself exalted; he embodies for them their own impulse of
"Gandhi is really remarkable," Laslti wrote in another let-
ter, "and there is no difficulty in understanding the veneration
he inspires. He is quiet, precise, subtle and there is an inner
dignity about him, which is of supreme quality."
Laski found it fascinating to watch Gandhi at work, and
he tried to penetrate into his secret the spell he cast over
"It comes, I think, from what the Quakers call the inner
light a power of internal self-confidence which, having es-
tablished its principles, is completely impervious to reason."
The Indian students who surrounded Laski found the
supreme image of Indian aspiration in Gandhi. They formed
THE PEREGRINATING SCHOLAR 69
a majlis, or assembly, as they called it, in the London School
of Economics and other parts of the University of London.
Gandhi's value to their cause was inestimable. Here was a
saint, the opposite of the ideal of western materialism, the
oriental Parsifal, pure in spirit, cleansed of the dross of every-
He was simple in his habits simple as the food he ate. Not
for him the aspiration to rise above his people in the amenities
of life; the lowest-class train coach was his usual means of
transportation. Members of the majlis in London, however,
neglected to tell their English friends that the saintly Gandhi's
simple food cost his party friends a fortune because it had
to be of a special quality and was extraordinarily difficult to
obtain, and that they had to buy up all the tickets of a rail-
way coach for his travels so as to keep him from contamina-
tion from those unwashed masses whose supreme teacher he
was. It cost the National Congress Party vast sums to keep
Gandhi in the style of poverty to which he had become ac-
Some of the majlis members also knew that the Gandhian
simplicity was contrived, and that he was a consummate
actor, one of the greatest the century has seen. But he did
have deep empathy with his people, was the perfect sounding
board for their aspirations. Had he been a real "saint," with
no personal aspirations and deficient in histrionic ability, he
might have been one of the nameless millions to die of star-
vation in countless unnamed villages.
The countless conflicts between the Hindus and Moslems,
the princes and the British administration, could not be rec-
onciled, and the conference was a flop. In those days many
Englishmen, even of the most liberal persuasion, were con-
vinced that should India whirl out of the imperial orbit the
70 KRISHNA MENON
United Kingdom would be reduced to the status of a third-
rate nation, unable to sustain its population on the "tight little
island" and forced to inaugurate a large-scale movement of
And what of the influence which Krishna Menon hints that
he exerted on Laski? The Laski-Holmes correspondence is
printed in two large volumes of more than 1,600 pages. Most
of the names mentioned are those of people whom Laski met,
since Holmes, very aged, wrote fewer letters. The index for
both men contains some 380 names. Krishna Menon's name
is not mentioned once in the entire correspondence. This may
be due to the fact that he was merely one of several people
from India in Laski's entourage, not much different from
the others. But it is difficult to escape the impression that
Krishna Menon may have provided no special fare for Laski's
thoughts in connection with the Sankey conference.
The Appetite Increases with Eating
In the meantime, the lanky Indian with the greedy eyes
kept on studying. His voracious reading was eclectic. In India,
his passionate interest had been aroused by the annals of the
subcontinent. Now his main interest shifted to the history
of the United Kingdom. He read about it not only as an
exercise ^ la recherche du temps perdu, but also as the tenta-
tive solution of an enigma. How could an isolated people,
parochial in its views, create a global empire? What were the
secret ingredients of the British mind? And what was the
explanation of that other anomalydemocracy at home and
He re-read his favorite authors with the penetration which
a better knowledge of their intellectual climate had stimu-
THE PEREGRINATING SCHOLAR yi
lated. He thought that Burke's Thoughts on the Present Dis-
content was so modern in its views that it could have been a
product of the contemporary world. Except that the refer-
ence should now be to India, not Britain. The policies of the
Tory government had been oppressive to a public opinion
in England which was bursting with the belief that even the
unlettered person could know what he wanted. The English
had reacted to the Tory policies successfully. What about
John Stuart Mill continued to be Krishna Menon's favorite
author. Krishna Menon became absorbed in the narrative of
Mill's Indian career first a junior clerk, then in charge of
relations with the native states (an important post), and,
finally, chief of office. He relished also Mill's Representative
Government and Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform.
Krishna Menon's highlighted reading list of those days
indicates his specialized interests. One of his great favorites
was the History of England in the Eighteenth Century, by
William Edward Lecky. The same author's Democracy and
Liberty and The Map of Life impressed him as the classical
expositions of the progressive faith. He liked the Histoire du
Peuple Anglais au X/Xe Siecle, by Elie Halevy, which he
was to publish in English in another of his reincarnations.
The uncommonly prolific Trevelyan family left a great
impression on him. So many great men working in closely
related fields: Charles, Walter, George, then "the second
Charles" of the Grand Dynasty, and finally George Macaulay
Trevelyan. He was fascinated to see how many of Britain's
great historians had dealt with India's special problems. For
instance, there was Sir Charles Edward, of the Dynasty, strik-
ing hard on the main problem of the subcontinent in his
seminal book On the Education of the People of India. This
72 KRISHNA MENON
particular Trevelyan had also known Krishna Menon's own
Malabar Coast. The Indian chela, reading in his Bloomsbury
student "digs," was fascinated by the offbeat book of Sir
George Otto Trevelyan, Cawnpore. Among the latter-day
members of the Dynasty, Krishna Menon appreciated George
Macaulay Trevelyan's British History in the Nineteenth Cen-
tury, a subject particularly close to his heart.
The young Indians of those days were fascinated by the
"Soviet experiment." Western newspapers were filled with
criticisms of this new Russia, to be sure, but the Indian stu-
dents at the London School of Economics were contemptu-
ous of their strictures. What else could these western news-
papers say? The emergence of the Soviet state had placed
capitalism on trial. The more the Soviet Union was attacked,
the less the young Indians believed the papers. The West
had oversold its case, and the East no longer trusted its criti-
Marx and Engels were "classics" by now, their volumes in
the British Museum thumbed to shreds. There was also Lenin,
especially his Imperialism as the Last Stage of Capitalism,
the very tide of which sounded like a trumpet call. And there
was that errant genius Leon Trotsky, and Karl Kautsky
concerning whose prevarications the Indians were of different
minds and, above all, that grand old German Social Demo-
cratic party leader and author, August Bebel, whose book
The Woman and Socialism was hailed as a masterpiece.
Krishna Menon was well into his thirties when he gained
his master's degree with first class honors at the London School
of Economics (he never received a Ph.D.) . Now he could add
"M.Sc." to his academic titles. And there was his thesis, with
its impressive title: "An Experimental Study of the Mental
Processes Involved in Reasoning." What did his subject reveal?
THE PEREGRINATING SCHOLAR 73
It revealed his growing awareness of the shortcomings of the
intuitive processes, an awareness which had been long in vogue,
in the explanations of the French-Italian sociologist-economist
Vilfredo Pareto and especially those of Henri Bergson. It
dwelt on the fact that cognition is the uniquely human trait,
operating within vastly broad borders, the full extent of which
have yet to be explored. It expatiated on the possibilities of an
intellectual realm whose building blocks must resemble the
atoms of the physical universe, and which must be ferreted out
if the full scope of the potentialities of the mental operations is
to be grasped. The scholarly Indian was ages away from the
mystic world of Adyar on the Coromandel Coast, and theos-
"Gladly Would He Learn, and Gladly Teach"
Krishna Menon was also engaged in a modest measure of
teaching while studying. He did this in a setting which impels
the chronicler to pay a brief visit to the English countryside.
"When Dante placed the gateway to Inferno in Italy he
displayed a lack of imagination. He should have placed it in
the Midlands of England."
Having begun the industrial revolution, England turned
a part of the verdant countryside into a wasteland. The in-
centive was production, and the price paid for it in the de-
struction of natural beauty was deemed of no account. As
long as the factories paid, the countryside did not count. Yet
what more enchanting rural scenes can one find than the
rainsoaked beauty of the English landscape, where it has
escaped industrial corrosion? What could be more entrancing
than meandering along byways lined with hills, or keeping to
the rural road as it climbs the slope to the nearest hill and then
74 KRISHNA MENON
dips into the grassy vale on the other side? Was it possible to
reconcile the interests of industrialization with the values of
esthetics and the people's health? Krishna Menon was pro-
jected briefly into the midst of such an experiment.
It had been launched by a "dreamer of dreams ... the idle
singer of an empty day," as he called himself: William Morris,
poet, practicing artist, lover of the arts, dreamer a man of
genius. He had a dream, and it was a strange one. It told
him that the free gifts of nature belonged to all people, not
merely to private interests, and that these gifts could be
reconciled with the interests of a producing community.
Morris saw no sense in having eyesores mated with eyesores
in the ravaged countryside. He believed that a serious effort
should be made to combine the useful with the beautiful,
that factories should be installed in the midst of meadows or
woods, and that they should be flanked by workers' cottages
surrounded by flower banks. He wanted the ruthless mega-
lopolis de-urbanized and garden towns built.
William Morris was one of the founders of socialism in
Britain, and his idea was embraced by the Labour Party. Its
interest was not propelled merely by a reawakened esthetic
sense, but also by a measure of politics. What the Tories had
destroyed, Labour would reconstruct. While, for technical
reasons, the first "garden city" was not established in the Eng-
lish Midlands, eventually its scorched earth was also to be
redeemed. The first flower-framed industrial city was to rise
a few miles north of London, within commuting distance,
The dream of Morris was translated into action by an erst-
while clerk in a stockbroker's office, London-born Ebenezer
Howard, the official stenographer of the Chicago law courts,
THE PEREGRINATING SCHOLAR 75
later official reporter to the Houses of Parliament, and author
of Garden Cities of Tomorrow.
The "ideal town," Letchworth, was protected by a "green
belt" of some three thousand acres. The industrial plants
themselves were so spaced as not to encroach upon the peo-
ple's rights to light and life. The individual cottages were
placed in garden settings. The rent charged by the munici-
pality also included the cost of the social services which this
ideal community was to provide. At the same time, the in-
crease in the value of the land resulting from the expected
rise in population density was to be distributed among the
householders as "unearned increment."
It was through his theosophist contacts that Krishna Menon
became a student-teacher at St. Christopher School, Letch-
worth, for a full academic year shortly after his arrival in Lon-
don. St. Christopher is recognized as a leading progressive co-
educational private school. Principal Emeritus H. Lyn Harris
describes Krishna Menon as a "brilliant teacher" and "good
historian," who has maintained amicable relations with the
noted Letchworth school to this day.
There was an epilogue to the dreamer's dream of garden
towns replacing the eyesores. Still another attempt was made
to establish such a community at Welwyn, a score of miles
from London. It proved abortive. Town developments could
not always be forced into the straitjackets of ideologies. But
whatever he may have inferred from Welwyn, Krishna
Menon is fond of recalling his Letchworth experience.
A Remote Observer
Meanwhile he noticed the growing ambivalence of British
attitudes toward India. He was struck particularly by the
76 KRISHNA MENON
contrast between Lord Reading and Lord Birkenhead.
Lord Reading was for a time the viceroy and governor-
general of India, and a more progressive-minded, humani-
tarian and highly respected man it would have been hard to
find. The former Rufus Daniel Isaacs, ex-solicitor general,
ex-attorney-general and ex-lord chief justice of England was
all that a creative statesman should be. Why was it, then, that
conditions were getting worse in India? Why was it that a six-
year jail term had been imposed upon Mahatma Gandhi,
whose name was now a legend?
Krishna Menon compared Lord Reading with the man
whose offices he often saw in St. James's Park the office of
the secretary of state for India. The incumbent of that office
was Lord Birkenhead, the arch-Tory, about whom even his
biographer had to say, "Humility is not one of his faults."
"His indrawn lower lips," Quincy Howe, the American
historian and radio commentator, wrote, "accentuated the
perpetual sneer in which his mouth had set, and he took the
superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race as much for granted as
Hitler took the superiority of the Teutonic."
Why were conditions in India so intolerable, in spite of
Lord Reading's decency? Because he, too, like everyone
else, was entangled in the coils of a bad system as Krishna
Menon saw it, the enslavement of man by his fellow man.
Lord Birkenhead did the dirty work while Lord Reading
Britain was not doing well economically, and so she de-
cided to improve her condition at India's expense. She raised
the value of the Indian rupee by 12 1 / 2 per cent. This did not
look like an earth-shaking event to the English, but it did
shake the world which was India. Raising the cost of her
currency, it also increased the prices of the goods of Indian
THE PEREGRINATING SCHOLAR 77
exports, pricing many of them out of the market. "The death
warrant of millions of Indian farmers," the Congress Party
called it. But it was a challenge to the Indians to disentangle
themselves from the British coils.
Even though Lord Birkenhead was convinced that Britain's
rule in India would endure, the honorable members on the
benches occupied by His Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition
found an issue about which to ask embarrassing questions.
Why were Japanese textile sales in India increasing, British
textile sales decreasing? Why were capital investments on
the subcontinent stagnating? What about the non-violent
non-cooperation campaign oriented toward swaraj self-
government and how was it affecting British interests? What
about tax collections? Sometimes, even what about the famine
epidemics? Something was wrong with British rule in India.
Something had been wrong, but now something had to be
done about it.
There was ferment in the world which even Tories like
Lord Birkenhead could not ignore. The Soviet Union had
just announced the First Five-Year PhuPiatiletka. Was it a
propaganda gesture? What if it was not, and what if the In-
dians were to begin to take a serious interest in Soviet meth-
ods? Sir John Allsebrook Simon, junior counsel for the
British government in the Alaska Boundary Arbitration, way
back in 1903, former solicitor-general, attorney-general, and
home secretary, received His Majesty's orders to head an In-
dian statutory commission. It had the proper frame of refer-
ence, and a generous time allotment.
The honorable members of the commission took their time
in getting started, and reached India in the leisurely way of
those days. They were given a reception at Bombay harbor.
jS KRISHNA MENON
Scrawled on the seawalls were the words "Simon, Go Home! "
The year was 1929.
Balak and Balaam
Meanwhile Krishna Menon continued to live in those quar-
ters of London which the guidebooks usually describe as
"shabby districts." He liked these shabby districts, and he
felt at home among the English people, poor English working
people, who did not look through him, nor look down on
him because he was "different." He was one of them. He
found the English tolerant, and "They are civilized people,"
he says. To this very day he has never ceased to repeat that
His circle of acquaintances was now much broader. Orig-
inally mainly Labour left-wingers, now they also included
the established bureaucrats of that party, solid officials who
were once again to become His Majesty's government in pur-
suance of the alternations in the standard electoral dialectic.
He found interest for his cause even among the Tories, the
very people who stood to occupy high position in India.
And thus it came to pass that the man from the Malabar
Coast, who had expected to find enemies, or, at least neutrals,
in hostile country, found many friends.
The Bible tells us about the Moabite Balak, who summoned
the diviner Balaam to proceed into the land of his foes, Israel,
and there utter a curse. And Balaam went on his mission, as
directed by his royal master. But as he journeyed into the
land of Israel, his ass reproved him for what he was about to
do. The animal knew that its master's heart was not in his task.
And when he reached his destination, Balaam, the Moabite
prophet, uttered not a curse but a blessing. And so it was now
THE PEREGRINATING SCHOLAR 79
with Krishna Menon, formerly an Indian chela and now some-
thing of an Indian guru. He had gone to England to utter a
curse, but he had found enough just men there to change his
The Song of India
The India League
"THE HOME RULE FOR INDIA LEAGUE" had been a creation of
Annie Besant, and it was to serve as a legislative lobby and
information center. Its name was changed to "Commonwealth
of India League" in 1921. For several years it was moribund,
and might have expired without arousing interest had it not
been for Krishna Menon. He resurrected it in 1929, under
the name "The Indian League."
It had a dingy little office at 156, Strand, one of London's
great arteries connecting the West End with the City. It was
a decrepit affair, the most conspicuous feature of which was
the battered teapot. Krishna Menon appointed himself the
"honorary secretary" of the league. He assumed the "honor-
ary" title to indicate that he received no salary. He stayed at
his post until 1947, when India became independent.
More than ever, the Indians felt, the need for such an or-
ganization was urgent. A place was needed where the people
of the capital of the British Empire could obtain information
THE SONG OF INDIA
about the point of view of the Indian National Congress and
about the swaraj, its aspirations for self-government. A center
was needed where lectures on India could be held, no matter
how modest the setting, and where distinguished visitors could
be invited. A center was needed to issue publications associ-
ated with the name of Gandhi, and also, increasingly, with
that of Nehru. Also, a corporate image was needed for
Krishna Menon himself, to make him part of an "institution,"
instead of merely a private person. The growth of the insti-
tution was to enhance his prestige.
Finally, a meeting place was needed for nostalgic Indian
students to get together after their class periods were over, to
reminisce about their native land and exchange information.
A place where they could peruse newspapers and literature
which they lacked the funds to buy.
Bertrand Russell and Sir Stafford Cripps were frequent
guests. On one notable occasion Cripps spoke to the league
about the "white man's burden." This myth, he said, had
currency not only in high-toned Mayfair drawing rooms, but
also in the modest homes of millions of working people. They
assumed that their own jobs would be jeopardized if India
were to become independent. Yet they should know, Sir
Stafford said, that an independent India was in their best in-
terest, too. Such an India would be a willing trade partner,
and an asset, not a liability.
Sir Stafford spoke the language of the Labour left wing
of those days when he added:
I do not suggest that the British Empire can be changed to the
B.S.S.R., British Soviet Socialist Republics. But I do suggest that
we can develop upon the lines of a closely linked group of na-
tions, planning their economic life for the good of the free peo-
ples of the world ---- Such a group of countries, associated with
82 KRISHNA MENON
the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a free France and an en-
franchised French empire would indeed become a unit of such
power and size in the world that it could effectively protect the
liberties not only of its own peoples but of other peoples as well.
Krishna Menon the Speaker
Increasingly, Krishna Menon spoke to India League and
other audiences. "He was completely absorbed in India," one
of his former acquaintances recalls. "He was reading, writing,
thinking, dreaming India." "You could almost hear the pound-
ing of his heart," a member of an erstwhile audience noted.
"It happened to be a labor group and the audience liked him.
He made them feel good in a roundabout way. Some of the
members of the audience may have appreciated their own
broad-mindedness, by being so appreciative of his strictures.
Others thought they fulfilled a party duty by expanding their
intellectual horizons. Still others were enthralled by the
throbbing hubbub of intellectual companionship. Some of
them were fascinated by his un-English ecstasy. Not a few
people in the audience were delighted to be anywhere as long
as it was not home."
When talking to an audience his features became very
mobile; he was another man. The perpetual grimace which
looks like a sneer vanished from his face. He seemed to have
lost himself in making his points. His eloquent eyes and emo-
tion-laden words helped the audience to grasp the occasional
meaning which became hidden in the convolutions of his far
from correct grammar. "What he said" a sophisticated lis-
tener recalls "would not have looked well in cold print, but it
sounded well on his warm lips." The intensity of his soul-
force compensated for his lack of coherence. Words tumbled
THE SONG OF INDIA 83
past his heavy lips, getting into one another's way, while his
eyes gleamed with rapture. He stepped up the attack against
colonialism and imperialism, his bete noire. Occasionally his
face screwed into a grimace of disdain, while his expressive
arms revolved windmill fashion. He liked the intoxication of
having people under the control of his mind.
An increasing number of people took notice of him, and,
curiously, there is an impression of him in an ephemeral
French newspaper of the extreme right, published in Paris,
the correspondent of which was looking into the "Blooms-
bury mentality" of the so-called intelligentsia. The corre-
spondent described an emotional outburst of Krishna Menon,
with some exaggeration, no doubt: "// cracba son deft au
visage de FAngleterre"he spat his defiance in the face of
He asked questions and answered them. "Would the peo-
ple of India be able to govern themselves?" They had, for
centuries, and not any worse than many European countries.
And, further, this was a new age, and India had learned many
lessons from history. He quoted Macaulay: "One learns
swimming in water not outside of it." He repeated about
government what he was in the habit of saying about law:
"Government is common sense coupled with human de-
cency." The two of them were twins, anyway. The greatest
obstacles could be overcome through good will. Technical
skills were in short supply in India, but that was not India's
fault. They should be acquired, and Britain could be of the
greatest help. Both countries would profit from partnership.
Two points usually emerged in the discussion period. One
of them was the communal problemthe relations between
the Hindu majority and the Moslem minority. How would
84 KRISHNA MENON
these two communities get along in one country? Were their
He blamed the British officials for having fostered commu-
nal discords in application of the old adage of great empires
divide and rule. But, he contended, it was absurd to assert
that religious differences played a role in this century. Not
only many regions of the Middle East, but also many Euro-
pean countries, were multisectarian. Should there be two
Switzerlands one Catholic and the other Protestant? Should
there be two Kingdoms of Iraq one Shiite and the other
Sunnite? Should there be Baptist and Presbyterkn states in
America? India was a natural unit as natural a unit as any on
the globe. She was governed as a single unit under the British
economically speaking and the interests of all her parts
were interlinked. A dissection of this natural unit would result
The other standard question he had to tackle referred to
Britain's welfare after India's secession. What would happen
if the United Kingdom lost the Indian market?
Britain was more likely to lose that market if she kept on
holding India, Krishna Menon asserted. The National Con-
gress Party was determined to fight for India's rights in that
way which would hurt Britain's economic interests most by
a buyers' strike. Also, a look at the world would show that
free countries were better markets than unfree ones, because
freedom stimulated all forms of human activity, including
imagination, organizational talent and the desire for more
goods. Britain was still the mistress of India, and yet she was
now fully exposed to the flood of Japanese imports. She was
bound to benefit from her free association with an independ-
And so, Krishna Menon's lectures ended.
THE SONG OF INDIA 85
"He usually ended his talks with a flourish," said an ob-
server, "finding it difficult to come to a natural stop. When
he did, he would assume a posture that looked almost like a
defiance, thrusting out his lower lip, as if ready to catch the
first hostile syllable. The audience would fall silent. He had
said much which could not be digested promptly. The boiler
was still working and he still had lots of steam to go. But the
audience had enough."
In the course of time, Krishna Menon collected an impres-
sive array of names to put on the stationery of The India
League. The chairman was Bertrand Russell, who remained an
inseparable companion. The vice-chairman was the noted car-
tographer, F. J. Horrabin, long interested in colonial affairs
and a Fabian Society stalwart. Anne C. Wilkinson was the
treasurer, and Tom William, M.P., was the parliamentary
secretary. The letterhead listed now the names of two sec-
retaries, James Marley and V. K. Krishna Menon. We may
assume that the working secretary was the man from the
The object of the league was now officially stated to be
"to support the claim of India for swaraj (self-rule)." The
league also issued a considerable number of tracts, sold for a
penny or twopence. The reader was assured, "Publications of
the India League are carefully written and designed to be
informative. Every care is taken to verify facts and figures."
Then, another word: "When pamphlets appear under the
names of the authors, they represent the free expression of
their views and their analysis of a particular problem consist-
ent with the general purpose of our publication."
86 KRISHNA MENON
The excellent relations of The India League and the British
trade unions were indicated in a note: "Made and printed in
Great Britain by the Fairleigh Press (T. U. throughout )"
with the added emphasis of italics.
The India League tracts all covered various aspects of the
same problem: self-government. Some of the pamphlets were
written by Krishna Menon, who seems to have been the India
League most of the time; others were written by Nehru, or by
some British sympathizer with the Indian cause.
For instance, Krishna Menon analyzed the low productivity
of the Indian peasant in one of the tracts. Was the peasant of
the subcontinent an inefficient creature? No, he said, all this
was not the fanner's fault, but that of the British ruling circles.
It was in their interest to perpetuate the peasant's attachment
to tradition. The device served the purpose of keeping the
people less efficient, burdened as they were by the accumu-
lated debris of discarded ways.
For instance, why could the American fanner do the work
of fifty Indian villagers? He was not fifty times taller. But he
was fifty times more efficient, because his government so
Krishna Menon arguedgave him a helping hand. And, turn-
ing to another subject, why did the British government do so
little for education in India? Because educated people often
serve to awaken public conscience. They are the type of peo-
ple who may cause trouble simply by thinking and talking.
Britain's Prisoner was the tide of another pamphlet writ-
ten by Krishna Menon. The prisoner he wrote about was
Jawaharlal Nehru, in jail for the eighth time in nineteen years.
He had been brutally assailed by the police while participating
in a peaceful demonstration. He had been beaten, arrested,
dragged before the provincial magistrate and sentenced to
four years of rigorous imprisonment.
THE SONG OF INDIA 87
And there was that pamphlet on Faimne Politics (by
Reginald Sorensen), an indictment of British policies by an
incensed member of Parliament. Then there were the pam-
phlets by Nehru, published mainly during World War II:
What India Wants and Peace and India, among others. Nehru
had to contend with much opposition within his own Con-
gress Party before he was accepted as the leader, and it is to
be noted that Krishna Menon opened the publications of The
India League to him, and not to his opponents.
Condition of India
For three years the Simon Commission had been laboring,
talking to British officials all over India, analyzing the prob-
lems of the subcontinent, and offering remedies. Finally, its
findings and recommendations were published in a massive
report. The comment of India was: "A cup of milk for the
famished lion." The recommendations for provincial self-
government or at least a large measure of it were imple-
mented. But the central problem remained, and that was the
establishment of self-government on a federal level. The ob-
stacles were numerous: the relations of British India and the
India of the princes; the communal problem of Hindus and
Moslems; and, above all, the problem of British vested inter-
Now Krishna Menon's India League decided to have a
hand in this matter, to have a "Simon Commission" of its own
travel all over India and talk not only to British officials,
who represented only one aspect of the problem, but also to
Indian leaders of thought and action, and above all, to the
Indian man in the street, and in the field, too.
Members of the delegation were announced as Monica
88 KRISHNA MENON
Whately, Ellen Wilkinson, Leonard W. Matters, and V. K.
Krishna Menon, "M.A., B.Sc." They ultimately produced a
book under the tide Condition of India, "Being a Report of
the Delegation Sent to India by The India League in 1932,
Published by Essential News, 534 Pages, with Tables and
Members of the delegation sailed from Venice on August
5, 1932, reaching Bombay twelve days later. They spent
eighty-three days in India, leaving again by way of Bombay on
November 7. They covered the subcontinent from Kashmir
to Cape Comorin, and from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian
Sea. They visited nearly all parts of India, including the
troubled region of the Khyber Pass. They consulted all strata
of Indian Hfe, including spokesmen of the "silent masses";
representatives of kisan sabhas, peasants' groups, in the United
Provinces; the "Redshirts" of the Northwest Region; and
followers of the Khilafat movement in the Punjab, strongly
slanted toward Islam. Members of the delegation had to live
frugally, since they were not well endowed with funds. On
October 22, for instance, they had to spend the night on the
terrace of the Temple of the Goddess Ahapuri (Fulfiller of
Hopes), dreaming, presumably, about the problem of obtain-
ing funds to complete their tour. They were some ^ 200 short
of their minimum budget.
The framework of the delegation was broad. What were
the real living standards of India, objectively assayed, and
what was the extent of starvation? Too, what was the extent
of affluence? What about the government officials, their con-
duct and influence-the I.C.S., the police and the courts?
What was the condition of the jails? What about labor and
wages; the press and public opinion? Were the peasants aware
of the work of the Congress Party? What was the extent of
Gandhi's influence? What did the people of India want?
Keen eyes were focused on the delegation throughout their
tour. The members noticed a bus full of policemen shadowing
them at one point. They claimed later that several people
they had consulted were subsequently beaten and jailed.
Eventually, the book was published. The Preface was writ-
ten by Bertrand Russell, chairman of the league. He addressed
himself to two practical problems. He recommended that a
roundtable conference be convoked without delay so as to
prepare the way for full Dominion status, and he also urged
that all political prisoners in India be released without delay.
The most significant part of the report contained the con-
clusions of the members of the delegation about the political
awareness of the people of India. "We tested for ourselves in
a number of cases" the delegation reported "the extent to
which the peasant appreciated and understood the causes in
the pursuit of which his property and person are subjected to
losses and risks. In a Madras village we spent quite a long time
in questionings and cross-examination of villagers. We found
that the economic and social conditions were very live ones.
We heard about poverty, taxation, foreign exploitation, and
neglect of education. We found that the villagers knew what
the Congress stood for; although they had no illusions about
the enormity of the task before the country."
The book contained an extensive historical part, and credit
for its writing was given to Krishna Menon.
"A Good Book h the Best of Friends"
Krishna Menon was now well established in London. He
was called to the bar in 193435 a member of the Middle
Temple, London-but he does not seem to have engaged in
90 KRISHNA MENON
much practice, either because legal work did not interest
him or else because The India League consumed too much of
his time. But he did come to play a role temporarily at least
in a new development in the field of British book publishing.
It all began with the Lane brothers, Richard, Allen and
John, zestful and filled with what they thought was a great
idea. They launched a publishing firm, Penguin Books, to
publish soft-cover reprints of contemporary "classics" at a
very low price. There were three types of these: novels, in
orange and white jackets; detective stories, in green and white;
and popular biographies, in blue and white.
Most of the established English publishing houses took an
extremely dim view of this venture. It was true, they said,
that soft-cover books had previously been published in Eng-
land, when people wanted a slender volume they could slip
into their pockets on a trip via that modern means of trans-
portation, the railway. They recalled "The Run and Read
Library," "The Railway Library" and "The Travellers' Li-
brary." But that had been long ago. In the twentieth century
people wanted hard-cover books which they could show on
their drawing-room shelves and also, occasionally, read. They
would not buy flimsy paperbacks.
The Lane brothers did not have much to lose and so they
decided to try just the same. They published reprints, such as
Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, Andre Maurois'
Ariel, ou la vie de Shelley (in English translation) ; and Eric
Linklater's Poet's Pub. The print orders were very small at
first, but then they began to rise.
Bookish Krishna Menon's dark eyes were wide open for
new developments in the publishing world, and he took due
notice of the Penguins' progress. Also he had an idea, which
he hastened to bring to the attention of the enterprising Lanes.
THE SONG OF INDIA 91
The idea was even more enterprising: to move heavily into
the nonfiction field, and to publish not only reprints but also
original works by big names.
This was all very well, but the publishers needed some as-
surance that important schools and other organizations would
take note of this venture. Krishna Menon had by then lined
up an impressive number of contacts, not only in the political
but also in the educational world, contacts which the three
enterprising Englishmen lacked as yet. So he introduced the
Lanes to influential fellow Britishers whom he knew, and who
could be of some help. Among these were the secretary of the
British Institute of Adult Education, W. E. Williams, and
H. L. Beales, an influential faculty member of Krishna
Menon's own alma mater, the London School of Economics.
They agreed that the books envisioned by Krishna Menon
would be useful in adult education not the least reason for
this being their drastically reduced price and that therefore
they would be ready to lend a hand. This is how the Pelican
series of the Penguins came into existence. Krishna Menon
became its general editor.
The bang with which Krishna Menon started the Pelicans
resounded in the publishing world. Among his first tides,
starting with 1937, was a book by George Bernard Shaw.
The title of the original volume was The Intelligent Woman! s
Guide to Socialism. (A Tory author countered with The
Socialist Woman's Guide to Intelligence.) Krishna Menon
himself induced the terrible-tempered Mr. Shaw to add two
new sections to the book one on sovietism, and the other on
The early titles of the Pelicans reflected Krishna Menon's
eclectic tastes. They included a reprint of one of his favorite
books by Elie Halevy, A History of the English People in
92 KRISHNA MENON
/ 82$; Julian Huxley's Essays in Popular Science; Vision and
Design, by the English painter and critic Roger Eliot Fry;
Social Life in the Insect World, by Jean-Henri Fabre, the
French entomologist; The Mysterious Universe, by Sir James
Jeans; Literary Taste, by Arnold Bennett; and Civilization,
by Clive Bell, the art and literary critic.
Subsequent volumes included works by Harold Laski,
Krishna Menon's idol; the unbelievably prolific H. G. Wells;
Harold Nicolson, famed as a diplomat and author; Sir Nor-
man Angell, Nobel Prize laureate; and Wickham Steed.
By this time the Axis powers were throwing their weight
around in the world Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy,
and the war lords' Japan. Krishna Menon waged his own cold
war against them as the editor of the Pelicans. He published
reprints of Blackmail or War?, by the "French Cassandra,"
Genevieve Tabouis, and Edgar Ansel Mowrer's Germany
Puts the Clock Back. Altogether he seems to have edited some
Unbusinesslike Krishna Menon had no contract with the
businesslike Lanes, and so their cooperation faded into a dense
cloud of misunderstandings.
On the occasion of the Silver Jubilee of the pioneering
Penguin books, Sir Allen Lane, the managing director, noted:
It was in the political field that we first commenced original
publishing, when we found, somewhat to our surprise, a number
of authors who were prepared to chance first publication of
their books in paper covers at sixpence, with a royalty of a
farthing a copy, in place of the more certain returns which pub-
lication through normal channels would have ensured. . . .
Thus began the great "paperback revolution" of the pub-
lishing business in the twentieth century.
^Friendship Is a Sheltering Tree 55
Meeting the "Brahman
THE OWLISH-LOOKING LITTLE WIZARD, Mahatma Gandhi, with
his dothi draped around his middle, was the symbol of India.
But the world of the thirties was becoming more and more
aware of the importance of the "Crown Prince," the successor
and the reflection of the image, and therefore himself sancti-
fied Jawaharlal Nehru. A vigorous worker for Indian inde-
pendence, he had been president of the Indian National Con-
gress three times.
Nehru was an aristocrat among aristocrats, a Brahman
whose ancestral home near the divine abode was in Kashmir,
the clouds of which popular belief held to be the sheets of
divinity. The family had descended from the mountain peaks
to the Gangetic plains, into the city of Allahabad, City of
Allah. Its name recalled the injunction of the Prophet of
Allah to put the infidel to the sword, for Allahabad had been
a Moslem center. It was situated on the plain of the Ganges,
most sacred of all Indian rivers, life-dispensing source of the
94 KRISHNA MENON
richest portion of the subcontinent. It symbolized anew the
great Indian duality, the communal problem, calling for the
reconciliation of seemingly irreconcilable views.
Nehru's father, Motilal, had also been a nationalist leader:
member of the United Provinces legislative council, founder
of the Independent, an Indian nationalist newspaper, former
president of the National Congress, member of the Indian
legislative assembly, author of the Nehru Report, advocating
Dominion status for India. In carrying out the recommenda-
tion of the report, he sponsored the continuation of a cam-
paign of disobedience against the British.
His son, Jawaharlal, was a product of Harrow and Cam-
bridge, a disillusioned ex-theosophist (unlike Krishna Menon,
who never became completely disillusioned with theosophy)
and a distinguished "jailbird," imprisoned by the British so
many times that he almost lost count. The authorities got so
much into the habit of incarcerating him that he was put in jail
even by the court of an Indian potentate, the Maharajah of
His family background and education might have condi-
tioned him to become an arch-conservative. He might even
have become a pillar of the extreme right, had he been born
in Britain. But he was born in the City of God the Moslem
God and he was a Brahman of the Hindus. Also, he was en-
dowedblessed or cursed with a strong sense of justice. He
was blessed, too or more likely cursed with such a strong
sympathy for the poor that he was in a state of constant
His heart was hurt by what he saw in his Indian world.
The English, whose basic traits he admired, saw no incon-
sistency in the discrepancy between their professions of faith
and their deeds. They accorded brutal treatment to people
who wanted no more than a portion of the rights the British
considered every man's heritage. And he noticed something
else too: even though the British lodged him in jails, they
treated him less brutally than they treated people of less ex-
alted line, because they knew he was an aristocrat, and be-
cause he had a Harrow and Cambridge background.
Nehru agreed with Gandhi that satyagraha was the indige-
nous Indian way to react to the treatment meted out by the
British trying to influence the oppressor through the force
of the soul, and not through soulless force. Thus, in a sense,
Nehru and the people of India paid a great compliment to the
British, the compliment being this: that they believed the
British would change their ways even though they were not
forced to do so by firearms; and that the soul of the victor
would react to the soul of the vanquished, respecting its desire
to share in the benefits Englishmen themselves had obtained
through their fight for freedom.
Also, Nehru and his companions saw another monster
emerging from the primeval mud of man's emotional heritage.
This was the ideology which the world had come to know
under the name of fascism. It was the glorification of that
physical force which the people of India had decided to for-
sake. It boasted of expressing the innermost nature of modern
man, and of being the "wave of the future." Nehru held to
the view that it expressed the innermost nature of a diseased
At the time, neither Nehru nor most of his companions in
the struggle for India's freedom saw communism the way the
West was to see it later. They looked at it from their own
highly selective angle, detaching it from the externals which
they did not consider of importance to themselves. What they
saw mainly was that communism professed to be anti-imperial-
96 KRISHNA MENON
ist. They also saw that it was violently opposed to fascism.
They heard it pay lip service to peace. These professions of
faith pleased many of the Congress people. They were not
Communists, but most of them professed to be Socialists.
"Socialism for me," Nehru said, "is not merely an economic
doctrine which I favor; it is a vital creed which I hold with
all my head and heart."
He was in the habit of expounding his creed to large gather-
ings of people, and they listened to him with reverence. Many
of them did not understand the language he spoke (which was
Hindustani), while others understood some of it but could
not follow the context. That did not matter, however. Simple
people in India and in other regards, perhaps elsewhere, too
are often able to be in tune with a speaker's thoughts with-
out comprehending his words. As was true of Gandhi, people
were perfectly happy just to look at Nehru. Perhaps they
thought he exuded some emanation of divine grace, and that
thus they would be fused with a substance which like the
waters of sacred streams removed the taint of sin and pre-
pared the soul for an exalted reincarnation.
That was how Jawaharlal Nehru acquired status. People
began to call him Bharat Bushan India's Jewel and also
Tyagamurti Embodied Sacrifice. And when the people ut-
tered these words many thought they were approaching the
Meeting Krishna Menon
Nehru was to become "Mr. India," the incarnation of the
collective will of his countrymen. His stature was at full
growth. Eventually, his policies were to be all-pervasive, and
his collaborators all of his own choice. Krishna Menon was
"FRIENDSHIP is A SHELTERING TREE" 97
perhaps his most important selection. It was therefore an im-
portant occasion when the man from Allahabad met the man
from Malabar. The year was 1935.
Indians in London knew about Krishna Menon, and were
also familiar with the fact that he played an increasingly im-
portant role as the spokesman of their continent in the capital
of the empire. The India League was also much in the public
eye. The National Congress Partysome people said had a
one-man powerhouse in London Krishna Menon. He had a
surprisingly large assortment of important contacts, some of
whom were of the highest echelons. The India League book
about conditions in India had been published, and had called
attention to him. Nehru had good reasons to get in touch with
a man who was working so strenuously on behalf of India in
the heart of the British Empire.
Nehru visited Europe in 1935. His primary aim was to be
at the bedside of his wife, hospitalized in Lausanne. From
there he made a side-trip to London, and there he at last met
Nehru had work to do in the capital. He was looking for a
publisher, and he wanted to get in touch with influential poli-
ticians on both sides of the aisle in the House of Commons.
Nobody could have been more helpful to him in all these
matters than Krishna Menon. He introduced Nehru to a pub-
lishing firm which, subsequently, printed his autobiography.
He arranged public lectures for him and introduced him to
people of influence in Britain's political life.
From the outset, Krishna Menon seems to have made an
impression on Nehru. Increasingly, the man from Malabar
became the principal London contact of the National Con-
It was not a monolithic organization, except in one respect
98 KRISHNA MENON
it single-mindedly wanted swaraj for India. But ideological
differences on the higher levels were pronounced. There were
many leaders with divergent views: Chakravarti Rajagopala-
chari, of Madras; Abul Kalam Azad, who was to become presi-
dent of the Congress; Abdul Ghaffar Khan, known also as
the "Frontier Gandhi"; and Vallabhbhai Patel, the conserva-
tive leader of the "Big Business" wing. Several of these leaders
disapproved of Nehru's socialist views. Krishna Menon stood
by Nehru through thick and thin, and this was remembered
in years to come.
"Angry Middle-Aged Men"
Both of these men had much in common in their philoso-
phies of life. They were "angry middle-aged men," incensed
by the injustice they saw all around, the great polarization of
poverty and wealth, modern society's incapability to establish
objective standards of merit, its tendency to extol dishonesty,
especially if it shrouded itself in hypocrisy. Both were Social-
ists, and that meant to them an attempt to solve contemporary
problems through a judicious adjustment of the interests of
the individual to the social weal. Unlike many of their fellow
Congressmen, they were neither provincial nor parochial, but
internationalists who perceived India's role within the context
of Asia and of mankind. They were "westerners," who shared
the view that the Occident could off er some solutions which
the Orient lacked the ability to deliver. They saw modern
civilization as the potential instrumentality geared to the
higher expectations of modern man.
Both men lived in self-imposed exile, one in England, the
other in India. Krishna Menon paid only one visit to India in
"FRIENDSHIP is A SHELTERING TREE" 99
an entire generation. Nehru lived in exile in his native country.
As he once wrote:
I have become a queer mixture of East and West, out of place
everywhere, at home nowhere. Perhaps my thoughts and ap-
proach of life are more akin to what is called Western than
Eastern but India clings to me, as she does to all her children, in
innumerable ways; and behind me lie, somewhere in the subcon-
scious, racial memories of a hundred, or whatever the number
may be, of Brahmans. I cannot get rid of either that past inherit-
ance or my recent acquisitions. They are both part of me and,
though they help me in both the East and West, they also create
in me a feeling of spiritual loneliness not only in public activities
but in life itself. I am a stranger and alien in the West. I cannot
be of it. But in my own country also, sometimes, I have an
Krishna Menon seems to have entertained the idea of set-
tling in England. But he had no real home there, and one still
has the very definite impression even today that he is the
"perennial wanderer" not just the globetrotter, but the man
who somehow seems not to have been born into the setting
which would have been his own choice. His constant travel-
ings in the world indicate his predilections.
The relationship between Nehru and Krishna Menon was
not a conventional friendship. It was a kinship of the sort the
Germans call Wahlverwandtschaft, the elective kinship of
people who become brothers, not through consanguinity, but
through consensus, the meeting of minds. It is a kinship which
the passage of years would not dissolve.
"Ring out the Darkness of the Land"
"A far away occurrence, unconnected with India," Nehru
wrote in his recollections, "affected me greatly and made me
IOO KRISHNA MENON
change my decision [to give up the chairmanship of the an-
nual session of the National Congress], This was the news of
General Franco's revolt in Spain. I saw this rising, with its
background of German and Italian assistance, developing into
a European or even a world conflict."
It was in the same vein that Krishna Menon wrote about
the Spanish Civil War in London's Labour Monthly, which
was to become one of his most important public forums:
"Congress realizes that the struggle between democratic prog-
ress and Fascist reaction is of great consequence to the future
of the world and will affect the future of imperialism in
The year when civil war broke out in Spain, 1936, marked
a milestone: it revealed the great fissure in the world. Why
should Spain have become such a vital issue? She had been
perambulating on the periphery of history for centuries, and
now she was sucked into the center.
The weak-kneed Spanish monarchy having been over-
thrown, political oscillations had followed for years, as the
old order tried to reassert itself. The new order was inchoate
as yet, inclined to run to extremes. Here was an illustration of
the Marxist dialectic, as Krishna Menon saw it. The thesis was
the old orderfeudalism; the antithesis, the new republican
system trying to modernize Spain. What was the Hegelian
synthesis to be? The government was as yet the receptacle of
uncoordinated ideas aimed at progress, ideas that constantly
collided with one another. And then there was the negation
of these ideasthe concepts of the grandees, supported by an
obscurantism which was almost medieval, and which drew on
the support of the bulk of the officer corps, headed by Fran-
The outside world began to take a deep interest in all this.
"FRIENDSHIP is A SHELTERING TREE" 101
Many people saw it as a battle of profound historical signifi-
cance, and Krishna Menon echoed these views. Also, his betes
noires, the Fascists, were turning Spam into a battleground of
ideologies, and a proving ground for their modern arms. Why
did they need such a proving ground? Because, Krishna
Menon thought (and expounded his view in public), the
Fascists wanted to test their arms in genuine battle situations,
and because they were bent on testing the fortitude of human
decency. For years now, Germany's Fuehrer, Adolf Hider,
had been raving about the softness of the West. France was
decadent, he had screamed, and America was verjudet, under
the thumbs of Jews.
Italian fighting units were soon on their way to the battle-
fields of Spain, while German fighters descended from the
skies. The Soviets offered some aid to the Spanish govern-
ment, but the western powers, headed by Britain and France,
were afraid of the spread of the conflict, and assumed a stance
of neutrality. Since the Axis powers controlled most of the
accesses to Spain, the Russians found the going hard.
Two years after the outbreak of the war in Spain, Krishna
Menon and Nehru visited the government-controlled part of
the country. By that time anti-Fascist elements outside Spain,
mainly Communists, had begun to send in contingents to
form an International Brigade. When units of the brigade
marched by, Spaniards habitually cheered "Viva Rusia" As
it happened, few of the contingents contained a majority of
Bombs were falling nightly while the two men visited Bar-
celona, then the provisional capital of the Spanish government.
"There I saw much else," Nehru wrote, "that impressed me
powerfully; and there in the midst of want and destruction
and ever-impending disaster, I felt more at peace with myself
102 KRISHNA MENON
than anywhere else in Europe. There was light there, the light
of determination and of doing something worth while."
Nehru and Krishna Menon called on some of the key peo-
ple on the government side. They learned certain lessons there
which, they thought might stand them in good stead should
they have a free India one day. They visited the fighting
sector under the command of "General Lister," a former
stonemason. He was an effective commander, whose sector
gave a good account of itself. Here was a proof to the visitors
from India that Britain's top-drawer Sandhurst had no monop-
oly of turning out good military men. They could not help
thinking of the many "Colonel Blimps" of the British Empire,
named for the unimaginative military man immortalized by
the English caricaturist David Low. "Alas for this old type,"
Nehru noted, "which shines so much at polo, bridge and on
the parade grounds, but is so out of place here."
The two men from India also met the foreign minister of
the Spanish Republic, Alvarez del Vayo, and again they could
not help thinking of the solutions of some of the anticipated
problems of a free India. The Spanish foreign minister had
been a journalist, not a professional diplomat. Yet he was
giving a good account of himself at his exposed post, and was
certainly doing no worse than some of the successful profes-
sionals. India, too, would, no doubt, be able to draw on such
Finally, they met Dona Dolores Ibarruri, a Basque miner's
daughter, homely, middle-aged, the mother of adult children,
and a legendary person because of her dedication to her cause.
She was known as La Fassionaria. She spoke to them "fiercely
and ardently in a torrent of lilting Spanish."
Then Krishna Menon and Nehru went their different ways,
the one back to England and the other to India and, eventu-
"FRIENDSHIP is A SHELTERING TREE" 103
ally, to jail. They were now linked together in closer bonds
because they had been under fire together and had seen sights
they hoped never to see again.
A year after their visit, the backbone of the Spanish armed
forces fighting on the side of the government was broken,
and a victorious General Franco marched into Madrid. Hitler
and Mussolini and no doubt the Japanese military people, too
now thought they had proof that the western democracies
were unable or unwilling to fight off their challenge. World
War II broke out later in the year.
In the British Labour Party
Back-Benchers and "Young Turks"
THE MAN FROM the Malabar Coast was a British subject, with
all the rights and duties appertaining to his status. He kept on
increasing his political associations, in addition to the hundred
members of Parliament who were formally linked to The
India League. In addition to the stars of the stature of the
Webbs, Laski and Cripps, he had the support of many back-
benchers and a particularly large number of "Young Turks,"
glad to be associated with such a worthy cause as Indian in-
dependence. The Labour Party was now of governmental
timber, and was bound to be swept back into 10 Downing
Street in the regular course of events. Yet there was a vast
difference between having the back-benchers cheer The
India League, and having the official endorsement of the
party. This was what Krishna Menon had tried to attain at
IN THE BRITISH LABOUR PARTY lOf
The Conference at Southport
The annual conference of the Labour Party met at South-
port in the autumn of 1934. Krishna Menon undertook to
submit a resolution about India for the conference's official
endorsement. It expressed the conviction that it was impera-
tive that the "principle of self-determination for the estab-
lishment of full self-government for India should be imple-
"Tory Socialists" was the name Krishna Menon gave to the
conservatives within the Labour Party. One of these was
Arthur Henderson, a member of Labour governments. There-
fore, he spoke not for the back-benchers and "Young Turks'*
but for the entire party. British Labour represented not only
an ideology but also a set of economic interests.
Theoretically, the Labour Party was interested in all sorts
of noble causes such as the emancipation of the colonies but
theory and practice were rolling on different tracks. Labour
could not aff ord to endanger its chances among the electorate
on the sensitive issue of India.
The Trades Union Congress formed a solid core of Labour
representation, having provided the initial stimulus and also
a large portion of the finances. Industrial workers alone could
not decide the outcome of the national election, but they
did form a strong phalanx of public opinion. The votes of
the white-collar workers were also needed. Their numbers
were increasing in Britain, as in other parts of the industrial-
ized world. Also, the enhanced sophistication of purchasers'
buying habits was shifting the emphasis to the service profes-
sions. This growing middle class was saturated with the
traditional British attitude that the prosperity of the country
was linked to the unimpaired maintenance of the empire, the
IO6 KRISHNA MENON
pivot of which was India. Many of the industrial workers
shared this view.
Krishna Menon backed his argument with an appeal to
Britain's sense of justice and equity. Henderson, the statesman,
argued on behalf of the "machine" which was the executive
of the Labour Party. In the end, Henderson won. He was
diplomatic but firm, not conceding that he was entering into
a compromise with basic principles. Staunchly, he refused to
give an undertaking on behalf of the executive that a Labour
government would carry out a policy of self-determination
for India. "We have laid down very clearly," he said, "that
we were going to consult, if possible, all sections of the In-
dian people. That ought to satisfy everybody."
It did not satisfy Krishna Menon or his Indian friends, but
at this point the man from Asia had come into collision with
the practical facts of Britain's political life. The ideals of the
Labour Party had when the votes were counted turned
out to have been conditioned by what its constituents deemed
to be their economic interests.
The Purification of Politics
Was there another incarnation in store for Krishna Menon?
His ardor, articulateness and ability to find the right contacts
and to convince people with his intensity almost predeter-
mined his entry into the field of politics. Several of his friends
encouraged him to make politics his career in Britain. They
were thinking, in this regard, not only of his own interest,
but also of the good of the Labour Party. The British gov-
ernment of those days spoke in the name of a global empire.
Yet nearly all her politicians had been born and bred in
Britain. Unmistakably, Krishna Menon was from India, but
IN THE BRITISH LABOUR PARTY IOJ
he was now perfectly at home in Britain. And an added
advantagehe "understood India." (His well-wishers did not
realize that India was too variegated to be "understood" by
a single individual.) He would serve as a bridge between East
and West. The British Labour Party could claim to be more
representative of the entire empire if Krishna Menon played
a nationally recognized role in it.
The launching of a political career follows certain ground
rules in Britain, as anywhere else. One starts at the bottom of
the ladder, where one does not fall too far if one fails. There
the junior politician may be looked over by the elders, and
have his work, usefulness and ethics analyzed.
British Labour has always prided itself on being the people's
party grass roots, not aloof, like the Conservatives. Its mem-
bers of Parliament are mostly of the people, living among
them, thinking their thoughts, speaking out their thoughts,
and above all, dropping their h's. The Tories were interested
only in the mansions and countinghouses of the rich, Labour
Party stalwarts would say. Labour, on the other hand, was
interested in a broad spectrum of local political organizations.
Of particular interest to Labour were the fields of education,
sanitation, aid for the infirm and the aged, maternal cases,
libraries and art. The party took a deep interest in low-cost
housing in the scorched-earth area of England: the slum
sections and the overcrowded industrial districts. These ev-
eryday problems had to be looked after in the municipalities
and the boroughs.
This aspect of Labour "democracy" was the special field
of Krishna Menon's old contacts, the Webbs. Indeed, several
of their basic books dealt with such problems: one on indus-
trial democracy, another on the consumers' cooperative move-
ment, and, of course, their monumental six-volume study,
I08 KRISHNA MENON
The English Local Government. Krishna Menon was a dis-
ciple not only of Harold Laski but also of the Webbs, and
having come from an underprivileged country, he displayed
great interest in the underdeveloped areas of England.
He joined the South-west St. Pancras Labour Party, in one
of London's metropolitan boroughs. In the very center of
it was Camden Town, where he made his home for several
years. He was elected to the St. Pancras Metropolitan Borough
Council from the 4th ward for the usual term of three years
and was subsequently reelected. The Council is the legislative
body of the Borough.
The minutes in the possession of Deputy Town Clerk, D.
C. Whitlum show that Krishna Menon took an active part in
Council meetings. He moved at one Council meeting during
the war that the Borough should petition the British govern-
ment to forbid any form of propaganda designed to produce
racial strife. Particularly, he moved that the British National
Party, whose main aim was to "foster disunity," should be
banned. He accompanied his motion with comments on
the growth of anti-Semitic feeling, which he "viewed with ap-
In another motion he went on record in favor of the "mu-
nicipalization" of certain construction projects of the Borough.
Instead of farming out such work to constructors, he moved
that the Borough itself should engage in such activities, to re-
Almost from the beginning to the end of his work on the
Council, Krishna Menon was the chairman on the Libraries
Committee. At his recommendation the Committee set up an
Arts and Civic Council of which he also became the chairman.
He was successful in obtaining additional appropriations for
the libraries, the number of which increased considerably. As
IN THE BRITISH LABOUR PARTY IOQ
to the new Council, he set the machinery into morion which
resulted in the establishment of the St. Pancras annual Festival
of the Performing Arts, which has been imitated in municipal
boroughs and in other parts of England.
Has Krishna Menon's influence been felt on the catalogues
of the libraries? A perusal of the catalogues show that the
books of his erstwhile guru, Harold Laski, are very well rep-
resented. The books of Lenin are far less well represented than
those of Laski, the libraries containing only his most essential
publications. I was told that he exerted no pressure on the
librarians to buy his own favorites.
Krishna Menon was one of the most articulate and vocal
members of the Council. These are the characterizations one
hears about him: "Dominant personality . . . lively ... ex-
pressed himself forthrightly . . . took part in debates with
vehemence." Some of his colleagues liked him, others disliked
him. And one a member of the Labour Party once called
him a "bloody Bolshie." Krishna Menon threatened to sue him.
He received an apology and the two men established amicable
W. Timothy Donovan, solicitor, and onetime leader of the
Conservatives in St. Pancras, says that he got on very well with
Krishna Menon, whom he found a sensible man, with whom
it was both possible and pleasurable to talk on many subjects.
The last time Krishna Menon was reelected to his Council
seat was in 1945, again from Ward 4 and again for three years.
He was able to serve only part of his term. He was appointed
High Commissioner of India to the Court of St. James in Lon-
don, the highest diplomatic post in his country's keeping.
He returned to the St. Pancras Town Hall in 1955 to re-
ceive the honorary freedom of the Borough. In his speech of
acceptance, Krishna Menon said that he had spent many happy
110 KRISHNA MENON
years in the Borough and that he acquired his political educa-
tion there. His name was carved on a large marble slab, follow-
ing the name of another who until then had been the only
honorary freeman of St. Pancras: George Bernard Shaw.
"The Bark and the Bite"
As he continued to do his work well, opposition to him
abated. Word got around that his bite was not as bad as his
bark. It was now his ambition to be nominated as the Labour
candidate for South-west Pancras. He had to obtain the ap-
proval of a screening committee which was to examine him
on his views. His friends had done much lobbying, and it
seemed that the coveted prize was within his grasp. All
seemed to be set for his acceptance, when, according to a
contemporary newspaper account, the "devil" in him got the
upper hand, and brought about a change in the atmosphere.
He severely antagonized one of the groups on whose ap-
proval his selection depended. There was no apparent reason
for his doing so. When the ballots were counted, he fell one
vote short of the majority. Again he blamed color prejudice.
"Krishna Menon's skin color was very much in his favor,"
a member of the screening committee commented. "We did
think that the place of such an able man was in the House
of Commons. We also thought that parliament should not
be reserved for lily-whites."
One of those who remembered him from those distant days
has furnished the following appraisal: "He was honestly fight-
ing injustice not only in India but also in St. Pancras. He saw
it in every corner. He was obviously conscious of his being
different and that affected our relationship occasionally. I
understood him very well, but he was a little suspicious."
IN THE BRITISH LABOUR PARTY III
He had another chance to climb the political ladder. This
time he was to represent Dundee, the Scottish town, in the
House of Commons. (Britain has no special residence require-
ments for candidacy in the Commons, and so it did not matter
that Krishna Menon was a resident of London.)
But again he failed to reach his goal. He now claims that
the war intervened and there were no elections. A sheet pro-
vided by the Indian Information Service contains the follow-
In 1939, Menon was chosen as Parliamentary Labour candi-
date for Dundee, but before he could contest the elections he
resigned from the party over its Indian policy. Then, as always
with him, India came first. He rejoined the party in 1945 after
its annual conference had passed the famous "Independence of
India" resolution against the advice of the executive.
And a London periodical noted that just before the crucial
Labour Party screening, Krishna Menon had accepted an
invitation to speak on India at a bazaar organized by the
official Communist mouthpiece, the Daily Worker. Even
then, the executive of the Labour Party detested the Com-
munists as much as the Fascists.
The failure of all these attempts almost suggests the pos-
sibility that Krishna Menon was filled with a "failure wish,"
at least as far as a seat in the House of Commons was con-
cerned. Or did his intuition suggest to him that he bide his
time, awaiting another chance, in a different field?
Facing the Whirlwind
The Battle of Britain
IN THE AUTUMN of 1939 Adolf Hitler marched his armies into
Poland, allegedly to wrest the "Corridor" from Polish hands.
That Corridor connected Poland dismembered at the end
of the eighteenth century and resurrected after World War
I-with the Baltic, thus affording her a maritime outlet. In
establishing the Corridor, however, Germany had been sev-
ered. And now Hitler was to eliminate the Corridor and unite
Great Britain and France, which had mutual-assistance
pacts with Poland, declared war on Hitler. The German
"strong man" was becoming too strong, dangerous to the
European balance of power which the two great western
nations had undertaken to uphold. The Nazi armor made
short shrift of Poland. For a year, however, the western
front remained quiet. This was the "sit-down war." Then
the Nazi armies, turned westward, and France was defeated
in a matter of days. Britain's expeditionary force, never very
large, was successfully evacuated from the Continent, and
FACING THE WHIRLWIND 113
Europe belonged to Hitler. Now the Germans' air armadas
launched their devastating campaign on the United Kingdom,
and the Battle of Britain was on. How long would the little
island be able to resist the pressure of the presumed supermen
of the Third Reich?
The web of railway lines which crisscrossed Camden Town
and much of the rest of the borough of St. Pancras was a
nerve center of Britain. The terminal station of the Great
Northern Railway was there, as were those of the Midland
Railway and the London and North-Western Railway. Be-
cause of this, St. Pancras was exposed to heavy enemy attacks.
Krishna Menon, as one of the three wartime municipal coun-
cilors of St. Pancras, was vitally concerned with civil defense,
and appears to have served diligently and well in this capacity.
But the rigors of the Battle of Britain never really obscured
his central preoccupation. He was equally concerned with
the Battle of India. He had his lines of communications with
Pandit Nehru. "War and India," Nehru asked in one of his
numerous wartime publications, "what are we to do?"
The Simon Commission, which had inquired into the situ-
ation of India, had not come up with a solution acceptable
to the people of India. Again there were the great problems
the communal question between the Hindus and Moslems; the
question of the hundreds of princely states; and, above all,
the insistence of the British government on not relinquishing
its hold on some of the most important departments of the
federal administration. However, the provinces of British
India were now accorded very extensive home rule rights,
and most of them were manned by Congress governments.
The British government had committed a very grave blun-
der, from the point of view of India, at the beginning of the
war. Without consulting representative Indian political or-
ganizations, it had declared war on the Axis powers, in the
name of subcontinent, too. "That was a slight hard to get
over, for it signified that imperialism functioned as before.' 7
Germany and Japan, the two pivots of the Axis, seemed to
be invincible. All the powers of hell were let loose as the
Nazis began spurting eastward, and the Japanese westward.
The Third Reich fanned out from Poland, overcoming Soviet
resistance, attempting to sever the Russians' jugular vein at
Moscow, to lay its hands on the Caucasian oil wells, and to
destroy the Soviets' lifeline with the North, centering on
Leningrad. The Japanese overcame the resistance of all the
major western powersthe British, French and Dutch grab-
bing countless islands in the great tropical archipelagoes.
American forces trying to save the Philippines were over-
At the rate these two warlike nations were moving, their
global pincers might soon close, and then the world would
be in their hands. They needed oil more than anything else,
to feed and lubricate their modern supermachines of destruc-
tion. Breaking into the Caucasus in the north, and crashing
across the Burma-India mountain ramparts, the two nations
might soon have in their hands the world's largest oil reserves,
those of the Middle East.
One of the Indian leaders, former mayor of Calcutta and
Congress president Subhas Chandra Bose, had formed a
"Forward Bloc," left India and was heading an Indian puppet
government in Japanese-held Singapore. Commenting on
these events in the darkest days of the war, Britain's wartime
Prime Minister Winston Churchill wrote, "The attitude of
the Congress Party worsened with the Japanese menace."
As a matter of fact, there were conflicting trends within
the Congress Party. Gandhi wanted the policy of non-cooper-
FACING THE WHIRLWIND
ation with Britain to be continued. Rajagopalachari held that
constitutional questions could wait until after the war, and
that the important thing was to cooperate with Britain, if a
national government were formed in India. Nehru main-
tained that although India sympathized with Britain, a free
India would be much more effective for defense.
Meanwhile there were more than enough Indian volunteers
ready to serve in the British forces at home and abroad. An
Indian army of more than a million was actually in existence
by 1942, and volunteers poured in on the recruiting centers
at the rate of fifty thousand a month.
Indian troops subsequently earned high commendation on
far-flung battlefronts. They helped liberate Ethiopia from
the Fascist Blackshirts; fought in the crucial battles of North
Africa, standing ready to protect the Nile, the Fertile Cres-
cent of the eastern Mediterranean, and the frontiers of India;
and participated in the Allied campaign against the "soft
underbelly of the Axis," in Italy.
Writing about Indkn troops in the North African cam-
paign, General Dwight D. Eisenhower noted in his book
Crusade in Europe: "Montgomery's Eighth Army was very
colorful and probably the most cosmopolitan army to fight
in North Africa since Hannibal. It included, in addition to
English units, Highlanders, New Zealanders, Indians (includ-
ing Gurkhas, with their kukris long, curved knives with
which they beheaded their victims ____ )"
The Labour Monthly
The organs in which Krishna Menon expressed his views
on the war situation were the pamphlets of The India League
and the Labour Monthly.
Il6 KRISHNA MENON
That publication was founded in 1921, and has been in
continuous publication since then. From the beginning to the
present day its editor has been R. Palme Dutt, onetime editor
of the Communist Daily Worker for two years before World
War II, and also an executive member and vice-chairman of
the Communist Party in Britain. The monthly described itself
as a "magazine for international labor" which was to "report
developments of the kbor movement in other countries."
Judging by its tide, one might gain the impression that it
is or was connected with the Labour Party, but in fact, it
has never been so connected.
The monthly has always paid particularly close attention
to developments in the Soviet Union always favorably re-
ported. Reporting on the activities of the magazine, Mr. Dutt
noted: "From the beginning of 1928 readers of the monthly
will find one after another of the classic writings of J. V.
He noted further: "The policy of British imperialism . . .
was regularly exposed, while document after document was
printed, giving first-hand information of the international
The articles it printed were largely written by Communists
and pro-Communists: Lenin, Karl Radek, Henri Barbusse,
Harry Pollitt, the British Communist, and William Z. Foster,
the late American Communist leader. The monthly also pub-
lished numerous pamphlets on dialectical materialism and
Communism; on the Soviet press; on the mobilization of the
"civilian front" in the Soviet Union during the war. Some
of the pamphlets contained descriptions of the Communist
parties in different countries, and studies on Marxism and
FACING THE WHIRLWIND Iiy
Krishna Menon and the War
It is perhaps instructive to note that Krishna Menon wrote
not one word about the war in the Labour Monthly until
the summer of 1941, when the Germans invaded the Soviet
Union. Until then, Hitler and Stalin had observed a non-
Then, suddenly, in an article entitled "Freedom's Battle"
in the August, 1941, issue of the Labour Monthly, Krishna
Menon wrote: "The embattled ranks of the free Soviet peo-
ple, their formidable weapons, their impenetrable armour of
steel, hold in deadly combat the ruthless and aggressive might
of Nazi imperialism."
Simultaneously, he lashed out at the British for their hand-
ling of public opinion in India. He charged them with riding
roughshod over India, and behaving as if the battle for free-
dom were their exclusive concern. He also charged that the
young bloods in the British Indian Civil Service contained
Fascist elements. But, he warned, Nazi propaganda would
fall on barren soil in India. The people of India wanted to
be set free so as to be able to contribute their full share in
the fight against Fascist tyranny. "Release India!" he de-
manded. "Release India for freedom's battle!"
Krishna Menon sounded the keynote of his wartime policy
in the January, 1942, issue of the Labour Monthly. He warned
that the British were in a bad way, and needed all the help
they could get. Why, then, he asked, did they not turn to
India and try to harness her powerful forces? There was an
explanation, he asserted. By turning to India the British would
have to augment her industrial potential, and that they did
not want to do. There was nothing wrong with this from the
point of view of the strategic interests of the war, but there
Il8 KRISHNA MENON
was a lot wrong with it from the point of view of Britain's
anticipated postwar interests. The British did not want to
build up India's industries, he charged, because to do so
would weaken the stranglehold of their monopolies.
Therefore, the British employed only a small portion of
India's contingent of some 150 million adult males. Although
their maritime losses were enormous, the British were not lay-
ing the keels of any ships in India. Indeed, he asserted, they
had built only one vessel there in an entire century. Mean-
while, the Soviet government was drawing on the manpower
potential of a vast hinterland and effecting 3 massive industrial
transfer from the imperiled areas in the west to Soviet Central
The June, 1942, issue of the same monthly contained an-
other article by Krishna Menon, in which he charged that
the British were sabotaging the war effort by their do-nothing
policy in India. The British were failing to use the only
effective defense of the subcontinent, which was the whole-
hearted participation of her people in the war effort. In the
same way as China and the Soviet Union were shielded by
the massed levies of their people, India must also be protected.
And India would do no less if she had a government of her
The famine in India was yet another topic on which Krishna
Menon wrote in the Labour Monthly, in the issue of May,
1943. People in India were dying, Krishna Menon wrote,
not only in the cities but also in the rural areas, and yet the
British were exporting food from India. Also, the transport
system was wholly inadequate, and surplus areas could not
ship food to the deficiency regions. Food exports from India
must be stopped, and an all-Indian government formed to
take matters in hand.
FACING THE WHIRLWIND Up
Enter Franklin D. Roosevelt
The man from Malabar also had contacts with diplomatic
circles. India was important for the Allies from more than
one point of view. She provided excellent manpower, and
also important raw materials. But the Axis enemy could use
her in its propaganda war. "Look," Berlin and Tokyo said,
"the Allies call themselves the 'free world/ What about these
hundreds of millions of Indians?" Also, how were the free
countries to face the postwar world, weighted down as they
were by colonialism? The United States was especially in-
terested in this issue, having had its own experience with
It was in view of these facts that Jawaharlal Nehru sug-
gested to Krishna Menon that he see what he could do through
his contacts to reach the ears of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jo-
seph Stalin, and Chiang Kai-shek of China, to enroll their
services in the common war effort by persuading Britain of
the urgency of the Indian problem.
Traces of Krishna Menon's efforts on this score fused
with many other efforts rnay possibly be detected in the
uncommonly active interest President Roosevelt displayed
in India. His active interest was aroused when Prime Minister
Winston Churchill announced that Sir Stafford Cripps would
carry certain British proposals to India for discussion with
Indian leaders. Roosevelt sent Churchill a long cable on
India on March 12, 1942.
"Of course," he wrote, "this is a subject about which all
of you good people know far more than I do and I have
felt much diffidence in making any suggestions concerning it."
He had tried, he wrote, to consider it from the point of
view of history, and had gone back to the inception of the
I2O KRISHNA MENON
United States government with the hope that this might pro-
vide some new thoughts regarding India.
The thirteen colonies, he continued, had set themselves up
as separate sovereignties during the American Revolution,
under a temporary government with a Continental Congress
which he described as a "body of ill-defined powers and large
inefficiencies. Following the war, a stopgap government was
formed under the Articles of Confederation and this con-
tinued until real union was achieved under the Constitution."
Roosevelt suggested a somewhat similar process for India:
the setting up of a government to be headed by a small group
of representatives of diff erent religions and areas, occupations
and castes. It would be representative of the existing British
provinces and of the Council of the Princes. It would be rec-
ognized as the temporary Dominion Government. This group
would then be charged with the duty of considering the
structure of the permanent government of India. In the mean-
time, it would exercise executive and administrative authority
over public services, such as finances, railways and telegraphs.
"This is, of course, none of my business," Roosevelt added,
"and for the love of heaven do not bring me into this, though
I want to be of help."
Commenting on this letter, Robert Sherwood remarked in
his book Roosevelt and Hopkins, "It is probable that the only
part of the cable with which Churchill agreed was Roosevelt's
admission that 'this is none of my business.' "
Harry Hopkins, the President's alter ego, remarked sub-
sequently that he did not think any suggestion from Roosevelt
to Churchill in the entire war period was so wrathfully re-
ceived as the one relating to the solution of the Indian prob-
FACING THE WHIRLWIND 121
Sir Stafford Comes and Goes
It looked early in 1942 as if Britain needed all the friends
she could get, during a war in which the enemy forces ap-
peared to have a tremendous preponderance. It was political
wisdom, therefore, to make friends with India. With this in
mind, the government of Mr. Churchill decided to make a
new offer to the people of India. It was Sir Stafford Cripps,
close friend of The India League, whom Churchill dispatched
to New Delhi to break the deadlock. Cripps carried on nego-
tiations with the Congress Party, the Moslem League and
other corporate bodies and individuals. This was Sir Stafford's
India was to become a Dominion, linked to the United
Kingdom and the other Dominions "by a common allegiance
to the crown but equal to them in every respect, in no way
subordinate in any aspect of its domestic and external affairs."
The status of India was to be similar to that of Canada:
complete independence within the empire. However, India
had problems which Canada did not face. She was crowded
with hundreds of princely states, having special treaty rela-
tions with Britain. What was to happen with them? The
Cripps proposals stipulated that no state or Indian province
should be obliged to join the union. The most important im-
mediate feature of the proposals was the understanding that
the viceroy's executive council would become almost entirely
Indian, and would represent the leading groups in India. But
it was to operate under the potential veto of the viceroy,
rather than as a national government. All these arrangements
were to enter into force only after the war.
Lord Privy Seal Sir Stafford Cripps cabled to Churchill
on April u, 1942:
122 KRISHNA MENON
I have tonight received a long letter from Congress president
stating that Congress is unable to accept proposals. Rejection on
widest grounds and not solely on defense issue, although it indi-
cates that while Congress would agree that commander-in-chief
should have freedom to control conduct of war and connected
activities as commander-in-chief and defense member, proposed
formula left functions of defense member unduly restricted.
Main ground of rejection is, however, that in the view of Con-
gress there should be immediately a national government and
that without constitutional changes there should be definite as-
surances in conventions which would indicate that the new
government would function as a free government whose mem-
bers would act as members of a cabinet in a constitutional
Sir Stafford Cripps returned to Britain. A fortnight later
the All-Indian Congress Committee reiterated the line adopted
by the Working Committee in its negotiations with the Lord
Privy Seal. It confirmed the stand that it was impossible for
Congress to "consider any schemes of proposals which retain
even a partial measure of British control in India." Britain
must relinquish her hold,
The failure of the Cripps mission was a cause of deep dis-
appointment to Krishna Menon, because he had expected so
much from the Lord Privy Seal. He published an India League
pamphlet about it: An Authoritative Statement on the Break-
down of the New Delhi Negotiations, written by Nehru.
"We strongly condemn," Nehru wrote, "the provisions
of the British proposals that the rulers of the Indian states
should nominate the representatives of the states to the Con-
stituent Assembly, thus ignoring the rights of the entire pop-
ulation of the states."
FACING THE WHIRLWIND 123
He was in strong disagreement also with the provisions
that would have allowed the rulers to remain outside of the
proposed Indian Union.
Now that the negotiations had broken down, what was to
be the attitude of the Indian leaders in the Congress Party
toward the Allied war effort? The leadership decided that
the Japanese, whose forces were now standing on the eastern
boundaries of India, must be resisted. "We are not going to
surrender," Nehru wrote. "In spite of all that has happened,
we are not going to embarrass the British war effort in India.
The problem for us is how to organize our own."
The same line was taken in an India League pamphlet, dated
February, 1943, which Krishna Menon wrote. By that time
the skies had begun to clear. The Axis armor had met its match
in North Africa and on the Volga. The turning points were
in Egypt's western desert, El Alamein, and along Russia's
"river of sorrow." Shrill-toned Krishna Menon declared that
this was the most propitious time to demonstrate Allied unity,
and that friendship between India and Britain would give the
Allies the final push. Release the political prisoners, he de-
manded. End repression! Relieve the famine! Withdraw the
ban on Congress! Cancel the orders for collective fines! Agree
to the establishment of a provisional government of Indian
unity! Recognize India's national independence!
Krishna Menon insisted again and again on Britain's failure
to draw India into the war. In another League pamphlet,
The Situation in India, he repeated the charge that the failure
of the British to make full use of India's resources inhibited
the chances for the most effective prosecution of the war.
He accused the British also of misleading the public on that
score. They were boasting, he said, that they had increased
the Indian Air Force by a thousand per cent since the out-
124 KRISHNA MENON
break of the war. They had had one squadron at the begin-
ning, and had ten now. They also maintained that the size
of the Royal Navy in India had been increased 70 per cent.
That navy now consisted of fifty small boats.
Warm Words for the Soviets
The India League pamphlets contained increasing praise
for the Soviet Union, some of which came from the man who
wore one of the greatest names in India: Rabindranath Ta-
gore, the Nobel Prize-winning writer. The speeches delivered
at the meeting commemorating his eightieth birthday were
reprinted in one of the pamphlets.
Tagore spoke with great warmth of Soviet life: "I have
been privileged to witness the unstinted energy with which
Soviet Russia was trying to right disease and illiteracy. Her
industry and application have helped Soviet Russia, steadily
liquidating ignorance, poverty and abject humiliation from
the face of the vast continent. Her people do not observe any
distinction between one class and another. . . ."
The titular head of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Kalinin,
chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, also found
his way into the publications put out by The India League.
The Caucasus Defends India was the title of his piece, culled
from the Soviet press. "The Caucasus," he wrote, "is the most
enlightening demonstration of the reforming and beneficial
effect of the Soviet system on the psychology and character
of the people."
The United States was a member of the Grand Alliance,
and its leader, President Roosevelt, was better known to the
world than "Papa" Kalinin. Yet there is no record of any of
FACING THE WHIRLWIND 125
Roosevelt's statements having ever found their way into the
publications of The India League.
The Comrmmal Problem Again
One of the reasons for the failure of the Cripps mission
was the perennial communal problem the conflict between
Hindus and Moslems. Krishna Menon shared the view for a
time that Cripps himself had become an instrument of Brit-
ain's traditional policy of divide and rule, and that his pro-
posals reflected the "Ulster mind" a reference to the part
of Ireland which the British had retained after having
granted independence to the rest of the Emerald Isle.
The Moslem leader was a lean and sallow-faced barrister,
Mohammed Ali Jinnah. He was jamah (lean) in looks, but
stout in his ambitions. The time was past now when he had
worked with the Congress in harmony; he had changed his
mind about India's future after the 1937 election which saw
the Congress triumphant. As president of the Moslem League,
he now advanced the idea that there should be, not one India,
but two one Hindu, the other Moslem. The name of the
Moslem part of the subcontinent should be Pakistan. The name
of the projected country was synthetic; it meant "Land of the
Pure." The implication was clear. India was impure. But how
was Pakistan to be carved out of India, since the Moslems did
not live in contiguous territories? Their main places of settle-
ments were in the Northwest and the Northeast, a thousand
miles apart. Let there be two wings in this Land of the Pure,
The war seemed to have lasted for ages, but now the hori-
zon was clearing. The tidal wave of Axis triumphs abated,
and the militarists' juggernauts shifted into reverse. North
126 KRISHNA MENON
Africa was clear of the Axis, and the Soviets were pushing
the Germans westward with unrelenting force. In the Pacific,
too, the fortunes of war were changing. There the United
States had begun its campaign of island-hopping, securing
pivotal points while enemy regions in between were starved
Still, India was facing the postwar period with apprehen-
sion. Should independence come, what form would it assume?
"Thy Spirit, Independence,
Let Me Share"
Britain Waives the Rules
BRITAIN LOST World War IL She was, to be sure, a partner in
the Grand Alliance which crushed the Axis, but she had
been a senior partner at the outset, and she ended as a junior
partner. Asia's millions had learned during the war that Brit-
ain was not invincible . . . nor France . . . nor the Netherlands.
They had been subdued by Asians, the Japanese* Then along
came America, the ultimate victor.
Nationalism the cult of the godlike nation, absolutely sov-
ereign, infallible, omnipotent was sweeping Asia. It was an
elemental force, and the masses were ready to rise. Behind
the mountainous backbone of the continent there was the
Soviet Unionalmost crushed into a pulp, but finally victori-
ous. Creating disaffection was its specialty, and Asia might fol-
low its lead, should the West fail to heed the signals. Britain
might be able to hold onto her empire for years, but eventually
she would be thrown out of Ask. Relinquishing her hold on
J2 8 KRISHNA MENON
the colonies now, she might perhaps salvage the essence of im-
perial preference a profitable trade. Britain was enlightened
enough to see the unmistakable signs, and she abruptly re-
versed her traditional policy.
Winston Churchill's stature had grown enormously during
the war. He had already been a legend, but now words were
beginning to fail even the most ardent eulogists in describ-
ing his greatness. There was a general election at the end of
July, 1945. Churchill turned in on the night of the election
believing, in his own words, "that the British people would
wish me to continue my work."
Then came the dawn.
"I did not wake till nine o'clock and when I went into the
Map Room [for election returns] the first results had begun
to come in. ... By noon it was clear that the Socialists would
have a majority. At luncheon my wife said to me: 'It may
well be a blessing in disguise/ I replied: c At the moment it
seems quite effectively disguised.' "
The Labourites had ridden into power on the crest of a
smashing victory. In accordance with the traditional practice,
His Majesty then tendered the seals of office to the leader
of the Labour Party, the Right Honorable Clement Richard
Atdee, the former Deputy Prime Minister. His Chancellor
of the Exchequer was Sir Stafford Cripps. Herbert Stanley
Morrison became the Leader of the House of Commons and
Lord President of the Council; Ernest Bevin was given the
post of Secretary of State for Foreign Affaks.
The key men were Attlee and Bevin, "conservative" So-
cialists, and it was they who made a historic decision about
India. The waiting game was over the old game of promising
India a future pledge to be implemented at a still more distant
time. Now, independence was to be India's with no delay.
"THY SPIRIT, INDEPENDENCE, LET ME SHARE" 129
If India wished to remain a member of the free association
of free nations which went by the name of the Common-
wealth, that was well and good. If, on the other hand, she
wanted to depart, with no links to the Commonwealth of
Nations, she was free to do that, too.
The Labour Party had a safe majority in the House of
Commons, and could pass the law freeing India. It is the un-
written law of Britain that the view of the minority shall not
be ignored on vital issues, and there were some objections to
the government's projected India policy on the part of some
die-hard I.CS. people and devoted bearers of the white man's
burden. But the greater part of the minority supported the
government's common-sense view by not voting against it.
There remained, however, that perennial problem, the
question of the communities. The Congress Party kept in-
sisting that religion was not a compelling secular interest of
the citizen of a modern state, but only his private concern.
It argued that the Congress Party was never meant to be a
receptacle of the Hindu view alone. It not only had Moslem
members but also leaders, including Arabian-born Maulana
Abul Kalam Azad, now an ex-president of Congress. The
Congress leaders reiterated constantly their stand that India's
economy was an integrated and natural unit.
Then there was the other perennial problem, the fate of
the princely states. What about their treaties with Britain?
Were they imbued with Indian nationalism, rendering them
pliable and ready to join an Indian nation? Or had Laski been
right, and were the pampered princes cursed with feudal
130 KRISHNA MENON
From Ahmadnag&r to Raisana Hill
Jawaharlal Nehru was at this time a prisoner in the fort
of Ahmadnagar, east of Bombay. Now, suddenly, he was
released on higher orders, so as to enable him to participate
in the negotiations that were to result in Indian independence.
The Atdee government was represented by a cabinet mission
in India entrusted with the task of solving the Hindu-Moslem
and British Indk vs. princely India impasses. Working as-
siduously, with the aid of all strata of Indian political opinion,
it produced a government White Paper which concluded
that, since India was a natural unit, she should remain united.
At the same time, the Moslems should be enabled to group
themselves in those regions where they formed majorities,
and should be given a large measure of home rule. As to the
princely states, the British crown would transfer its para-
mountcy over them to the government of India.
A wartime hero, Lord Wavell, was the viceroy of India,
and it fell to him to appoint an All-Indian Executive Council,
which was to serve as an interim caretaker government. It
was headed by Jawaharlal Nehru, the former prisoner of
Ahmadnagar, who was soon to move to New Delhi's Raisana
Hill, the site of the massive Secretariat of the British govern-
The Council of St. Pancras Is Surprised
No member of the borough council of St. Pancras had
been more conscientious in the discharge of his duties than
Krishna Menon. He had attended the meetings regularly,
participated in its discussions, and worked hard on the solu-
tions of many problems. And now, suddenly, he dropped out
"THY SPIRIT, INDEPENDENCE, LET ME SHARE" 131
of sight. Members of the council were to learn that "as
Nehru goes, so goes Krishna Menon."
Krishna Menon soon reappeared as a member of the "in-
terim" government, personal representative of Nehru and
vice-president of the executive council. Nehru knew the sec-
retary of The India League in London to be an aggressive
man, with the right contacts. Soon India would have to es-
tablish her diplomatic representation abroad, and Krishna
Menon was the right man to do the preparatory work.
The United Nations had come into existence the year be-
fore, its headquarters in the United States. Krishna Menon
was also a member of India's first independent delegation to
the General Assembly of the world body, at Lake Success.
The Moslem League had joined the caretaker government
in New Delhi. Did this mean that independence was to find
India united after all? Unfortunately for the Congress, that
impression turned out to be erroneous* The Moslem League
representatives in the executive council were perhaps not
unjustifiably laboring under the impression that they were
"second-string" men, and they felt unhappy. Relations be-
tween the Congress Party and the Moslem League became
strained. Nehru and Krishna Menon might have ameliorated
the situation; they were not practicing Hindus. But Gandhi
was, very much so. His was the orthodox way of life, and he
appeared now the symbol of Indian independence. The aura
surrounding him put Mohammed AU Jinnah in the shade.
The constituent assembly was in the making, to draft India's
basic law, but the Moslem League members could not see
their way clear to working with the leaders of the Congress
Party. The League members decided to relinquish their as-
Viscount Mountbatten now repkced Lord Wavell as the
! KRISHNA MENON
occupant of the viceregal palace. The British government
made the final commitment of withdrawing from India. His
Majesty's government, Mr. Adee declared, would have pre-
ferred to transfer authority into the keeping of one nation,
but since this did not appear to be feasible, power was to be
transferred to two nations India and Pakistan. As to the
princely states, they were to arrange matters with the two
Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act. On August
15, 1947, the sovereignty of Britain in India ceased to exist.
India and Pakistan were born.
"Mr. Nehru," Lord Mountbatten told the man who was
now the Prime Minister of India, "I want you to regard
me not as the last viceroy winding up the British raj but as
the first to lead the way to new India."
The Gods Are AtUrst
Before the new countries were established, an awesome
occurrence took place. Propelled by one of those unexplained
impulses which surge in the hearts of millions of poverty-
stricken people who have nothing to lose in their "homes,"
millions began to move. They left their mud huts or gutters
in the alleyways, migrating into India from the region that
was to become Pakistan, while other hordes traveled in the
opposite direction. If they were Hindus, they feared the Mos-
lem rule; and the Moslems regarded the Hindus with equal
dread. Another large religious group, the Sikhs mainly in
the Punjab, which was to be divided by the two countries-
was also uprooted.
Never had history seen so vast a migration in so short a
time. How many people were on the move nobody knows
"THY SPIRIT, INDEPENDENCE, LET ME SHARE" 133
twelve million, perhaps more. Eventually, the survivors
became refugees in appallingly crowded slums of indescrib-
Even more frightful things occurred during the mass mi-
gration. In an elemental outburst of violence, the migrants-
Hindus, Moslems and Sikhs began to slaughter one another.
What was the cause of this outbreak? Mass hysteria, probably,
induced by uncertainty, despair, fear of one's neighbor, and
the ruthless rays of the sun. Nobody was able to count the
dead in this holocaust, and the estimates ranged from one
hundred thousand to a million. The bloodshed finally ceased
from sheer exhaustion.
Could the bloodshed have been avoided? It was the height
of the monsoon season, always a nerve-racking period, but
this time at its worst, with the streams swollen and transport
impeded. Mid-August turned out to be the worst possible date
for the transfer. Would the slaughter have occurred under
the serene sky of India's kte autumn, when nature is at its
best? Unfortunately, we shall never know.
The Hour of Decision
The problems of nation-building loomed even larger in
the wake of this tragedy. India was now fully independent,
and great decisions had to be made. For many generations
Britain, the "imperialist," had been India's oppressor. But the
generosity of the transfer of power was to wash away the
memory of the past. Was India to sever all her relationships
with the Commonwealth, or was she to join it?
"Over the past few years Jawaharlal was turning this
problem over in his mind" Frank Moraes, the brilliant In-
dian newspaperman, and Nehru's biographer, wrote "and
134 KRISHNA MENON
had discussed it with Krishna Menon, whose opinion on mat-
ters political and constitutional, he was beginning to value
gready. . . . He [Menon] had an agile, resourceful mind and
an astute understanding, and his value to Nehru lay in his
ability to rationalize JawaharlaTs instinctive, often emotional
ideas. . . . Menon knew that Nehru had been stirred by
Churchill's offer of an Anglo-French Union when France lay
mortally stricken. Why could India not remain a member of
the Commonwealth on the basis of common citizenship, not
Dominion status? It would entail a two-way traffic and ensure
Krishna Menon had considered making Britain his perma-
nent home before heeding Nehru's call to have a hand in the
construction of independent India. His peculiar love-hate
attitude toward the British inclined him toward the common-
citizenship solution. He would have liked to remain both a
Britisher and an Indian, if this arrangement of double citizen-
ship could have been worked out.
It could not. Had the plan taken shape, India would have
enjoyed a privilege which the other Commonwealth coun-
tries-such as Canada lacked. She would have had priority
over all the other members, and this Britain was unable to
What, then, should be India's relation with the United
Kingdom? Just everyday relations, with no links to the Com-
monwealth? Or membership in that organization? Krishna
Menon was strongly in favor of the latter. "We join the
Commonwealth," Nehru said, "obviously because we think
it is beneficial to us and to certain causes in the world that we
wish to advance. The other countries of the Commonwealth
want us to remain because it is beneficial to them."
And so it was decided.
"THY SPIRIT, INDEPENDENCE, LET ME SHARE" 135
There were those who wanted to sever all relations with
the Commonwealth, the very substance of which seemed to
them tainted with imperialism. The most vociferous propo-
nents of the plan to "go it alone" were the Communists, whose
arguments impelled Nehru to say that the Indian Communist
Party "is the most stupid party among the Communist parties
of the world."
What were the advantages of Commonwealth status? There
were advantages to joining a world-wide organization, dis-
cussing problems of common interest, sometimes even con-
certing efforts, learning from one another. Commonwealth
countries had mutual preferences in trade lower tariffs or
no tariffs, imperial preferences. They might remain members
of the "sterling bloc," within which their national currencies
were more easily interchangeable. And, of course, Common-
wealth status was expected to confer a measure of prestige
on new members.
High Coiwmssioner m London
Krishna Menon was appointed the High Commissioner of
India to the Court of St. James in London an ambassadorial
rank. Subsequently, he received the additional accreditation
of Ambassador to Eire. Thus the agile-minded would-be
scholar from the Malabar Coast became His Excellency, the
highest diplomatic representative of the world's newest in-
Befitting his station, the Indian high commissioner's resi-
dence was established in "Millionaires 7 Row," in Kensington
Palace Garden. Befitting the importance of the office, Krishna
Menon furnished it lavishly. The high commissioner's office
was supplied with all the installations, vehicles, services and
136 KRISHNA MENON
luxuries which, he felt, life on the highest diplomatic level
required. Since India had the most varied interests in the
United Kingdom and the other Commonwealth countries, the
government in New Dehli provided a large staff and an ade-
In this vast establishment Krishna Menon set aside two-
small rooms for himself as his residence. We are told that
eighteen hours' work a day was not uncommon for him. He
still carried no money in his pocket, and refused to spend
any on himself. He barely touched his salary. We are also-
told that he retained his shabby flat in Camden Town for a
time that flat with all the squawking children, and the shriek-
ing, rumbling trains headed for their nearby terminals.
His ideological hostility toward Britain was now de-
prived of a focus on the wane. "For India independence,
for both of us vistas of opportunity and achievement, material
and spiritual," he was to say on an anniversary of India's
declaration of independence. "In India it has ushered in a
great democracy and set her on the road of large-scale eco-
nomic and social development, both nationally planned and
by private initiative. In Britain and India, between our peo-
ples, there have come about, spontaneously and naturally,
happy and friendly relations grown out of mutual respect,
interest and long association."
As the high commissioner of India in London, Krishna
Menon confronted a world of problems. There had been
many ties between Britain and India. How were they to be
renewed in this new situation? What about the tremendous
inventories in the government offices, the British establish-
ments in India, the question of currency and money transfer,
of the central bank, credit, of the armed services, of the eco-
nomic infrastructure . . . and countless other items?
"THY SPIRIT, INDEPENDENCE, LET ME SHARE" 137
India was now an independent country, but she did not
want as a result of freedom to be a bankrupt nation. Britain
had large stakes in India. As far back as 1930, India and
Ceylon (whose share was slight) had accounted for 14.5 per
cent of British long-term overseas investments, as compared
with 10 per cent in 1910. The total capital involved was said
to be 540 million, a sum larger than the British investment
in any other area of the world. According to another estimate,
Britain had a full i billion invested in India in the early
1930*3, or roughly one-fourth of her total overseas invest-
ments. During World War II, however, the British financial
stake in India had declined largely because the New Delhi
government had paid off several hundred million pounds of
bonds in British hands. As a result of British war purchases,
London owed India over i billion. Even so, total British
investments in India amounted to the equivalent of $i billion
at the end of the war, according to a very conservative esti-
mate. It was not in India's interest to have British capital take
British trade was also very important to India. At the time
of the outbreak of World War II, the United Kingdom pur-
chased one-third of India's exports, and the rest of the empire
1 8. i per cent. As to India's imports, 30.2 per cent came from
the United Kingdom, and 26.1 per cent from the rest of the
empire. After the cessation of hostilities, many goods which
India needed were in short supply; it was a seller's market.
Still, Krishna Menon could testify that trade relations had
continued without too much change. If he had any com-
plaints, it was against some of his own countrymen, rather
than the English. Some Indians were in a frantic hurry to
obtain control of foreign interests, and their hurry did not
promote the cause of independent India. "Greater coopera-
!^8 KRISHNA MENON
tion," Krishna Menon said, "might have yielded greater re-
It was while Krishna Menon was high commissioner in
London that his country embarked on a significant experiment
its first Five-Year Plan. Its main object was to raise national
income and create jobs for millions who were unemployed or
underemployed. India's per capita annual national income was
one of the lowest in the world, estimated at about fifty dollars,
and that took into consideration the vast incomes of the
nabobs. The Five-Year Plan was to establish priorities in pro-
duction, eliminate unnecessary frictions and competition, and
obtain the funds from the national treasury which were unob-
tainable otherwise. Krishna Menon was concerned with the
plan peripherally, by way of the cooperation of the British
By and large he was doing well in London. But not every-
thing was smooth sailing. For example, there was the famous
case of the army jeeps.
His office had entered into a contract to purchase 1,007
army jeeps. The money was paid in advance to a supplying
company which was virtually unknown. The jeeps proved to
be defective. When the details of the transaction leaked out
to the highly critical Indian press, both Krishna Menon and
Nehru were attacked with some virulence. An investigating
commission was appointed which went into every detail of
the case, and was harsh on the Indian high commissioner,
charging that the transaction had been poorly handled. The
trouble was not his interest in money, but his lack of interest.
He had been signally unbusinesslike in this embarrassing case.
"THY SPIRIT, INDEPENDENCE, LET ME SHARE" 139
Fact and Fancy
His appointment as high commissioner to the United King-
dom and ambassador to Ireland ended in 1952. At this time
the standard reference works, such as Who's Who in America,
which depend for information on the statements of the in-
dividuals described, contained the following data: "Practiced
at English bar, also Privy Council, returned to bar, 1952; be-
came senior counsel Supreme Court of Indk, 1953; elected
member Council of States (upper house of Indian Parliament),
1953 ... Visiting professor Osmania University, Hyderabad,
As is so often the case when Krishna Menon describes him-
self, the words should not be accepted altogether uncritically.
Some of the activities mentioned represented a certain amount
of wishful thinking. He continued to be eager to be linked to
high positions in the realms of law, teaching and government,
even though he was active in them peripherally, or not at all.
He wanted, one gathers, to keep his "option" on them. A
quick look may tell us what these avocations may have meant
The Supreme Court of India does not correspond to the
highest federal court in the United States. It corresponds to
the House of Lords sitting as a court, which it does very
rarely. Its jurisdiction is greatly limited.
The Council of States sometimes called the Upper House
has something in common with the British House of Lords*
but not very much. Its members do not owe their seats to
hereditary rights, but are citizens of distinction who air their
views on public affairs; this is their major prerogative. The
Upper House has the right to submit its recommendations on
legislative work to the Lower House, which in turn has the
right to reject the advice.
Osmania University, which, according to the record, claims
Krishna Menon as a visiting professor, is a unique school of
higher learning in Hyderabad. While the academic language
in other schools was English under the British administration,
this school, established at the end of the First World War,
selected Urdu as its language of instruction, and this in spite of
the fact that other tongues were spoken in the surrounding
region. Urdu is the most important language of the Moslems
in the western sector of Pakistan today. Osmania adopted
Hindi as its official language after independence day. Krishna
Menon speaks neither Urdu nor Hindi.
. . . And a Tragic Intermezzo
The shambling little man with the dothi around his middle
led an open-air prayer meeting. It was January 30, 1948, and
the scent of the powdery dust which the western wind had
wafted from the Punjab into Delhi mingled with the crisp air
from the North. The little man, Gandhi, told his countrymen
that he would fast unto death unless the slaughter between
Hindus and Moslems ended.
His efforts to save Moslem lives had incensed some fanatic
Hindus. Mahasabha was the name of the group to which they
belonged. On this day one of its members stole close to the
spot where Gandhi was conducting the prayer meeting. The
man carried a revolver. Raising it, he uttered a fervent prayer
that his bullets might strike their target. He prayed well. He
fired three times, and Gandhi collapsed, mortally struck. His
last words were "He &wra"-Oh, God.
Horror swept the crowd of worshipers, and the entire
"THY SPIRIT, INDEPENDENCE, LET ME SHARE" 14!
world. Sir Stafford Cripps, who had tried his hand at solving
India's problems, expressed the view of many men: "I know
of no other man of any time . . . who so forcefully and con-
vincingly demonstrated the power of spirit over material
And Nehru said: "Friends and comrades, the light has gone
out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere."
There was indeed darkness everywhere. Gandhi's prestige
had held the nation together. What was going to happen
now? Here was a nation speaking some 845 languages and
dialects, divided into hundreds of airtight caste compart-
ments; hundreds of millions of people with diverse back-
grounds; millions of families with their ancient traditions; a
nation harassed by famine and plague. Now that the bapu,
the father, was dead, what was going to happen to the chil-
To Dwell Together in Unity
Who Is a Diplomat?
KRISHNA MENON began to attract attention to himself at the
seventh session of the U. N. General Assembly, in 1952. Two
years later he become the chief delegate of his country to the
assembly, a post he held for six years. In 1957 he became
India's Minister of Defense, combining that post with his
work at the United Nations. Even after 1960 he continued
to represent his country at the General Assembly, on par-
ticularly important issues.
For the world at large, Krishna Menon will be judged on
his record in diplomacy.
What yardstick should one apply to his diplomatic work,
or to the work of any diplomat? Are the days past when a
diplomat was defined as a gentleman whose job it is to lie for
his country? (It was this type of diplomacy which prompted
the legendary Prince Talleyrand to exclaim, when hearing
about the death of a fellow diplomat, "What could have been
his motive?" This was also the diplomacy which utterly con-
TO DWELL TOGETHER IN UNITY 143
founded the contemporaries of Prussia's Bismarck, and earned
him the reputation of taking "unfair advantage" of them be-
cause, contrary to what was expected of a diplomat, he was
telling the truth.)
Diplomacy is no longer considered the art of subterfuge.
Today the diplomat forfeits the trust not only of his fellow
diplomats but also of his own conationals if he subjects truth
to excessive stress. "There is no wisdom like frankness,"
Britain's Disraeli said, and that axiom applies to diplomats as
Dealing with the most sensitive interests of the most sensi-
tive organisms nations the diplomat must exhibit the utmost
tact. He must display a profound intuitive grasp in dealing
with unexpected situations, lest he allow his adversary to seize
the initiative. Without appearing submissive or overbearing,
he must appear to be in full command of his case. He must
avoid distortion the most dangerous pitfall in his reports to
his foreign office. Precise he must be, but not pedantic, con-
vincing but not dogmatic. His words will carve a deeper
groove if he happens to be a master of the felicitous phrase.
Even though critical in his approach, he must be constructive
in principles and details. Life being the art of constant com-
promise, and diplomacy being one of the nations' most im-
portant instruments for living together in amity, the diplomat
must be acquainted with the supreme art of compromise,
without forsaking basic principles of national interest and
human ethics. Although unyielding as to basic policies, he
must be flexible as to means. He must be able to read the
minds of many people above all, the nebulous thoughts that
pass for public opinion.
When observing the diplomat at work, the public must bear
in mind that the microphone is not his basic tool. Most of his
J44 KRISHNA MENON
constructive work takes place dans les coulisses, as the French
say behind the scenes, in delegates' lounges and committee
meetings, even at the dinner table and cocktail parties. How
does Krishna Menon measure up on this yardstick?
Krishna Menon on Turtle Bay
That remarkable architectural phenomenon facing New
York's East River, along Turtle Bay, illustrates a sky-scraping
aspiration. International organizations are not good incubators
of global reputations. Since every nation considers itself the
last word, the delegate of each country is invested with the
godlike quality of his nation; since he represents a superhuman
force endowed with magical powers, the delegate assumes that
his utterances represent the ultimate in wisdom. Because of
that, he also thinks that his words have the force to sway the
world. Since everybody is necessarily the most shining star of
the cosmos in the international constellation, nobody can
The United Nations has been in existence for many years
now. What names do the nations remember, except, possibly,
those of their own top delegates? Has anybody acquired a
reputation there as a constructive world statesman? We do
not mean ephemeral headlines. The fact is that for better or
worse Krishna Menon's name is better known than those of
the delegates of most nations.
One of the reasons for this notoriety is that he represents
an uncommitted country which also happens to have a tre-
mendously large population. Were he to say yes consistently
with one camp, or no with the other, he would attract less
India is uncommitted because she has little of decisive sub-
TO DWELL TOGETHER IN UNITY 145
stance to commit. In our day the only definitive force is the
arsenal of nuclear arms, possession of which is limited to a
few powers. Commitment on the part of nations lacking these
weapons is, therefore, not the expression of any sovereign
power. On the contrary, it is a camouflaged form of subordi-
nation to the superpowers.
India believes at least, as her will is interpreted at the pres-
ent time by Nehru and Krishna Menon that her policy rep-
resents something new in the history of the world. In the past,
they would have us believe, there was only the "white club"
of Western nations, lined up in recent times in two groups.
They do not want war. Nobody in a civilized world can want
it. But India's leaders believe that even the most peace-loving
countries may create conditions which might get out of hand
at a certain point and inevitably result in a smashup. For fear
of being pushed into a corner from which there may be no
exit, a challenged power may make countermoves with fatal
India believes it is in the interest of the continued existence
of civilization that there be a buffer zone: the third powers,
the uncommitted nations. They have not even a tiny portion
of the physical strength of the big nations, but they do have
numbers. These numbers counted for little in the past. Tiny
Britain spoke for all of the vast subcontinent of India, as for
many other British possessions beyond the seas. But that sit-
uation is changed now.
India, being the most populous of these uncommitted coun-
tries is sure she has a historic mission to perform. Krishna
Menon summed it up in an article for Envoy, a magazine
which he founded: "The issue which really faces us is whether
in this world, the decision of issues by force ... is permissible
or even possible. There appears to be an increasing awareness,
though not agreement, that it is not possible."
As a policy, this is, of course, unexceptionable. How well,
how consistently and how disinterestedly it has been applied
is another matter.
North Korea Lights the Fuse
In June, 1950, North Korean armed forces surged across
the 38th parallel, which the great powers had made the divid-
ing line between North and South Korea. The territory of
North Korea was under a Communist regime, that of South
Korea under an anti-Communist one. Promptly the United
Nations came to the defense of South Korea, whose own sol-
diers formed the bulk of the army, leavened by American
divisions and small units from other U. N. members, with the
supreme command in American hands.
India was among the first nations to denounce North
Korean aggression. "It is perfectly clear," Prime Minister
Nehru declared, "that North Korea launched a full-scale and
well-planned invasion and this, in the context of the United
Nations Charter, has already been described as aggression by
the Security Council." India promptly dispatched an army
hospital unit to the fighting front.
The battle lines surged back and forth across the 3 8th paral-
lel, sweeping all the way up to the northern frontier of Korea,
the Yalu River, separating Korea from Communist China. At
this point the Chinese Communists entered the war. Now the
danger was imminent that the conflict might spread, especially
if the United Nations were to bomb Chinese installations.
Eventually it appeared that a truce could be fabricated, if
the former frontiers between North and South Korea were
TO DWELL TOGETHER IN UNITY 147
restored. But then a new difficulty arose, and there was the
danger that the hopes for a truce might colkpse. This time the
issue was the question of the repatriation of the prisoners of
war held by both sides. The North Korean and Communist
Chinese delegates insisted on the mutual return of all prison-
ers, while the United Nations wanted volunteer repatriation.
That would have shown up the unpopularity of the Commu-
nist cause, because many of the Communist prisoners did not
want to return home.
The Indian compromise resolution was submitted by
Krishna Menon. It called for the establishment of a four-
nation repatriation commission. After ninety days this com-
mission was to refer prisoners refusing repatriation to a
political conference for ultimate disposition. If this conference
failed to render a decision after thirty days, these prisoners
would be entrusted to the United Nations for disposition.
The Communists rejected Krishna Menon's plan. They did
not want the rest of the world to know how many of their
own soldiers in the hands of the United Nations were refusing
Krishna Menon tried again, on June 8, 1953. Now he
recommended that a neutral-nations repatriation commission
be created, composed of the representatives of Czechoslo-
vakia, Poland, India, Switzerland and Sweden. The Indian
member was to serve as chairman. The commission was to
have the custody of the war prisoners for a ninety-day ex-
planation period, and then turn over those still unrepatriated
to a political conference for thirty days. After that, it would
assist any prisoner who wanted to be sent to a neutral country.
This recommendation of Krishna Menon's was accepted, and
the armistice agreement was signed.
Some critics in the West called Krishna Menon a "f ormula
1^8 KRISHNA MENON
manipulator" and said he had deprived the United Nations
of an important propaganda victory. But the formula worked,
and the Korean war was over. Nearly 1.5 million South
Koreans were dead, and the frontier was back virtually where
it had been when the war began.
Indochina to the Fore
France, just like the other European colonial powers, lost
face during World War II when the Japanese pummeled her
into a heap. After the war, she suffered again because she
lacked the strength promptly to reoccupy the regions evacu-
ated by the Japanese. Meanwhile, there arose in the Vietnam
area of Indochina an indigenous nationalist-Communist move-
ment called Vietminh (the abbreviation of the much longer
Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi, League for the Inde-
pendence of Vietnam). The head of this movement was a
bearded native Communist, Ho Chi-Minh.
The French finally reoccupied Indochina and then hit upon
a marvelously poor idea for holding on to it. They installed
the former emperor of a part of this region as the head of the
state. The man's name was Bao Dai, and the best that can be
said of him is that he was unsuccessful. His favorite hangout
was the casino in Monte Carlo, and he sought to govern his
country from there. It did not work.
The Vietminh hit upon a most effective idea in their fight
against the French. They were short of arms, but long on
men. So they organized guerrilla forces, small units which
burst out of nowhere during the night, achieved their aim an
act of sabotage or an invasion and with the dawn, faded into
the peaceful landscape, stolid peasants tilling their soil. The
war went extremely badly for the French.
TO DWELL TOGETHER IN UNITY 149
John Foster Dulles, the U. S. Secretary of State, sought to
interest the British in halting the Communists. The risks were
great, and the chances of the Vietnam brushfire developing
into a cosmic conflagration great. The British excused them-
The Vietminh pushed the French forces into a corner in
the northeast, the fort of Dienbienphu, where they were
overwhelmed after a siege lasting two months. The German
mercenaries were good soldiers, and their French officers
competent, but they were now completely surrounded, cut
off from the rest of the world. On May 7, 1954, they sur-
Krishna Menon appeared again offering to solve the Indo-
china riddle. The decisive conference took place in Geneva.
"I am an old fool," Krishna Menon told newspapermen upon
arrival in the Swiss city, "here just as a bystander. Of course,
if people want to consult me, that would be very nice."
Soon he was closeted with Britain's Anthony Eden, Amer-
ica's Walter Bedell Smith, and Communist China's Chou En-
lai, as well as with France's Pierre Mendes-France. His
opinion of what the Geneva conference was all about was
if not everyone's view of the real issues at least characteristic
of the way he habitually looks at things. "The whole purpose
of the meeting is," he said, "to see the end of imperialism in
Again Krishna Menon presented one of his formulas. The
main provisions of the agreement recommended by Krishna
Menon were: (i) The iyth parallel was to be the cease-fire
line in Vietnam, each side being given 300 days for the con-
centration and withdrawal of troops on its side. (2) Repre-
sentatives of North and South Vietnam would meet in July,
1955, to arrange for all- Vietnamese elections. (3) Commu-
150 KRISHNA MENON
nist troops and guerrillas would evacuate Laos and Cambodia,
where free elections were to be held in 1955.
The problem of Vietnam was solved temporarily and
superficially, at least. Krishna Menon subsequently presided
over the New Delhi conference of the International Commis-
sion for Control and Supervision, of which India, Canada and
Poland were the neutral members.
The Colombo Plan
The Marshall Plan in Europe had provided a pattern. Asian
countries also wanted to get together, draw up their "shop-
ping lists" and see what aid they could obtain from the richer
nations. Thus came into existence in 1950 the "Colombo Plan
for Cooperative Economic Development in South and South-
east Ask." Krishna Menon had a hand as consultant, adviser
and jack-of-all-trades in getting the plan started and moving.
India was one of the main signatories of the plan, in the com-
pany of Pakistan, Burma, Ceylon, Malaya, Thailand, Indo-
nesia and others. Six "donor" nations assisted them the
United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New
Zealand and Japan. The plan was to help about a quarter of
the total population of the world.
Specifically, the plan's objective was to have members assist
one another, obtaining aid also from the donors for develop-
ment plans. Members and donors meet annually to discuss
projects and exchange information. Technical assistance is
the most common type of inter-regional aid. An Indian
forestry expert, for instance, may be needed in Ceylon, or
Pakistan may wish to have the services of construction engi-
neers for hydroelectric dams. The talents of thousands of
people have thus been exchanged, and additional thousands
TO DWELL TOGETHER IN UNITY 151
have been receiving technical training. The donors have pro-
vided not only technical skills but also funds running into
hundreds of millions of dollars. Operating loosely, the
Colombo Plan has made its mark as an imaginative technical-
assistance device, a far cry from the colonial exploitation of
The Mountain Air of Bandung
The place was Bandung, in the Republic of Indonesia the
former Netherlands East Indies encircled by tall mountains
with their steplike, terraced fields, in a country of jungles and
waterfalls, rising out of the Priangan plateau of the tropical
island of Java. The time was the spring of 1955. The attractive
mountain town was playing host to the first great Afro-Asian
conference. At Bandung were gathered representatives of
countries which had had their fights with the "big beasts" of
the West but were independent now, and eager to exert
greater weight by making their influence felt. The prime
ministers of India, Pakistan, Ceylon, Burma and Indonesia
formed the sponsoring committee, joined by representatives
of twenty-four other nations, extending from the farthest end
of Asia to the farthest end of Africa.
Krishna Menon had a hand in the formulation of the final
communique at the end of the conference. It gave anxious
thought to the problem of peace, and expressed concern about
the contemporary international tension, rendered more
dangerous by the possibility of atomic war. The communique
warned governments to cooperate in attempts to reduce arma-
ments and place nuclear weapons under controls. It affirmed
the resolution of the conferees to retain their right freely to
select their political and economic systems, as well as their
!j2 KRISHNA MENON
own ways of life, in conformity with the principles expressed
in the Charter of the United Nations.
The conferees announced a new Afro-Asian Doctrine,
which India's spokesmen called Panch Shilathe Five Prin-
ciples. These were non-aggression; non-interference in other
countries' domestic affairs; equality; respect for territorial
integrity and sovereignty; and peaceful coexistence. Com-
menting on these, the Indian delegation stated:
In the Bandung Declaration we found the full embodiment
of these five principles and the addition of elaborations to rein-
force them. We have reason to feel happy that this conference
was representative of more than half of the population of the
world. . . .
Free from mistrust and fear, with trust and good-will toward
each other, the nations should practice tolerance, living together
in peace with one another as good neighbors, developing amica-
Krishna Menon was to quote Panch Shilathis somewhat
idealistic formulation of what the uncommitted nations stood
for in many of his statements in the tall building facing New
York's Turtle Bay. And the contexts in which he invoked
Panch Shila were to be of a curiously varied sort.
The American Airmen
During the Korean war several American airmen were shot
down over Communist China and held as "spies." Officially,
the two countries were not at war. The United States was
anxious to have the airmen released. Krishna Menon flew to
Peking after the Bandung conference and engaged in talks
with the Chinese leaders. After he came out of China he an-
nounced that at the request of the government of India, the
TO DWELL TOGETHER IN UNITY 153
Chinese would release four American airmen. Subsequently,
eleven more were released. A few months later the Chinese
announced that they were ready to release several American
civilians held prisoners in their country. After leaving Peking,
Krishna Menon flew first to London, and then to Washington,
where he had a conference with President Eisenhower.
Almost simultaneously, the Secretary-General of the
United Nations, Dag Hammarskjold, also made efforts to
have American airmen released. The western press gave him
most of the credit, and this infuriated Krishna Menon.
When A. M. Rosenthal, a correspondent of The New
York Times, asked Krishna Menon a little later why the In-
dians had not done more to let the world know about their
contribution toward the freeing of the foreign prisoners held
by the Communists, Krishna Menon answered: "Well, old
boy, we are not Americans, you know. We do not have to
go around boasting and bragging."
Suez and Hungary
An Explosion and a Failure
"DEPRIVE BRITAIN OF THE SUEZ CANAL," an early-twentieth-
century commentator wrote, "and you have an oversized Ice-
land." The Suez Canal was a main artery within a lifeline
encircling the globe and flanked by nodal bases and coaling
stations. Sever that lifeline at any vital point, and the British
Empire would bleed to death.
Britain controlled the Canal in many ways. She was the
protecting power of Egypt and thus occupied the Canal
Zone. The government of the United Kingdom controlled
44 per cent of the stock of the Compagnie Universelle du
Canal Maritime de Suez, which operated the "ditch." Britain
was a signatory of the Constantinople Convention of 1888,
under which the Canal was to be kept open to all traffic in
peace and war.
In 1952 a military junta staged a coup which ousted Egypt's
scapegrace King Farouk and installed a "New Deal" regime
which came to be dominated by Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser.
SUEZ AND HUNGARY 155
It set out to raise the dismally low living standards of the
Egyptian fellaheen the peasants living, paradoxically, in one
of the world's lushest farm areas, the banks and delta of the
Nile. There was only one hitch, and that was an important
one: Egypt had experienced a population explosion and her
arable area was six million acres for a rapidly growing popu-
lation of twenty-five millions.
Since the Nile was his country's major resource, Nasser
proposed to let the river help in the salvation of Egypt. As
things stood, much of the Nile's treasured water was allowed
to escape to the sea, to be lost forever. To remedy this was
conceived the idea of the Aswan High Dam. About it Nasser
For thousands of years the great pyramids of Egypt were the
foremost engineering marvels of the world. They were to insure
life after death to the Pharaohs. Tomorrow, the gigantic High
Dam, more magnificent and seventeen times greater than the
greatest of pyramids, will provide a higher standard of living for
This new High Dam close to the existing lower dam at
Aswan was to be 3 miles wide and 250 feet high, backing
up the largest man-made lake in Africa: 250 miles long. The
dam was to have 16 turbines to generate nearly two million
horsepower of electricity. Also, it was to add two million
acres to Egypt's arable land. The first estimate of the Egyptian
government was that this vast project would take 15 years to
complete and cost $700 million. The United States, Britain
and the World Bank were to help with the financing.
In the autumn of 1955, the Cairo government entered into
an agreement with the Soviet bloc to purchase Soviet weap-
ons and admit a number of Soviet technicians into Egypt.
This possible evidence of an entente between Cairo and Mos-
!j<5 KRISHNA MENON
cow alarmed Washington. In the early summer of 1956,
Washington announced the withdrawal of American aid from
the Aswan Dam project.
President Nasser's reaction to the American move was
prompt. He announced on July 26, 1956, that the Egyptian
government was nationalizing the Suez Canal, and that the
profits from its operation would be used to help build the
Aswan High Dam.
The nationalization of the Canal affected mainly France
and Britain. The English, in particular, reacted to it as the
United States might have done if the Panama Canal had been
taken over by the Republic of Panama. The French reaction
was no less strong. France had special cause to dislike Nasser,
whom she accused of stirring up trouble in Algeria. The
United States then took the initiative in trying to settle the
Suez dispute. And so did Krishna Menon of India.
The principal conference on this problem met in London.
Menon attended as the representative of India. From London
he returned to New Delhi for conferences with Nehru. From
there he flew to Cairo for talks with Nasser. Then again to
London, for talks in the Foreign Office. Then Cairo again . . .
then London . . . then back to New York for the emergency
meeting of the U. N. Security Council . . . then to New
Delhi . . . then back to Turtle Bay, this time for the emergency
meeting of the General Assembly.
A "users' association" was the proposed solution of the
United States. It was supported by Britain, France and the
other large users of the Canal. Egypt would be a member of
this association, which would take over the prerogatives of
the old maritime company and operate the Canal. President
Nasser rejected this proposal.
SUEZ AND HUNGARY 157
Krishna Menon now came forward with another formula,
which he presented on August 21, 1956:
India's aim is to shift the Suez situation from conflict to nego-
tiations. Once they are started we can move to acceptable posi-
tions. I feel our plan is negotiable with the Egyptians. We have
not advanced these proposals on behalf of Egypt, and we antici-
pate a great deal of difficulty on it with the Egyptians, but all
negotiations are difficult.
India's proposal to the Suez conference in London recom-
1. The recognition of the Suez Canal as an integral part of
Egypt and a waterway of international importance.
2. Free and uninterrupted navigation for all nations in ac-
cordance with the Constantinople Convention of 1888.
3. Full recognition of the interests of the users of the Canal.
In line with these proposals, Krishna Menon asked that
"consideration be given, without prejudice to European own-
ership and operation to the association of international user
interests with 'The Egyptian Corporation for the Suez
Canal,' " and that a "consultative body of user interests be
formed on the basis of geographical representation and inter-
ests charged with advisory, consultative and liaison func-
Krishna Menon's proposal was, in effect, to leave the Canal
in Egypt's hands and attach to it an advisory body of unde-
fined competence. It immediately was rejected by the western
countries. The reaction of the West to Krishna Menon's pro-
posal was reflected in the comments of Anthony Eden, Prime
Minister at the time.
"When Egypt first seized the Canal," he wrote, "the In-
dian government showed some embarrassment, no doubt ac-
158 KRISHNA MENON
centuated by the fact that Mr. Nehru had been a guest of
Colonel Nasser in Cairo only a few days before. With the
passage of time the Indians embarked actively upon a policy
which, they assured us, was an attempt to reach a compromise
between two points of view. In effect, their policy meant that
Nasser must be appeased. Their representative in Cairo, the
aviatory Mr. Krishna Menon, kept in constant touch with the
Indian government and freely offered advice to Her Majesty's
government. The Indians did not believe in setting up an
international authority with more than advisory powers. This
would have been entirely ineffective in giving any kind of
guaranty to the users of the Canal."
In another context, the British Prime Minister noted:
The Indian government, for instance, were constantly urging
a negotiated settlement upon us. ... Meanwhile, Mr. Krishna
Menon made a number of journeys between Cairo, London and,
eventually, New York. Her Majesty's government considered
at length all suggestions put to them by India, but Delhi did not
share our view of the importance of keeping international agree-
ments in the interest of all nations, or of the need to restore
them when broken.
The Indian government were canvassing their scheme, which
they now put into writing, for attaching an international advi-
sory body, which would only have vague powers of supervision,
to the Egyptian nationalized Canal authority. Mr. Menon had
found ears in Cairo ready to listen to such a proposal, naturally
enough, for this meant that any effective international cement
was eliminated. It might be that the Indians had sincerely con-
vinced themselves that Nasser would not accept the i8-power
proposals. Certainly, the Indian government had not supported
them, but this did not seem a sufficient reason why all the eight-
een powers should, in deference, abandon their position. We had
SUEZ AND HUNGARY 159
already considered Mr. Menon's ideas in London and found no
substance in them. Thanks to the staunchness of the principal
users of the canal, he now failed to sway the deliberations of the
Security Council, but his activities still caused a superficial
War in the Middle East
While these moves were being taken, Egypt was involved
in another conflict this time with Israel. President Nasser,
making a strong bid for popularity in the Arab world, had
realized that nothing could gain him more adherents than
a strong stand against Israel. A harassing guerrilla frontier
campaign had been launchd against Israel from Egyptian soil.
Terrorist commandos, called fedayeen, had infiltrated Israel
and worked havoc there. Israel had retaliated, sometimes with
compound interest. Egypt, Syria and Jordan Israel's neigh-
borshad placed their armed forces under the joint command
of an Egyptian general. During all this time, the Egyptians
had continued to frustrate Israel's attempts to use the Suez
Canal for peaceful navigation, and even to gain access to
Israel's own seaport of Elath, on the Gulf of Aqaba.
On October 29, 1956, Israel took drastic action to clean out
the guerrilla nests in the adjacent parts of Egypt. On that
day Israeli troops swept across the Egyptian border into the
Sinai Peninsula. They were heading toward the Canal. Again,
as eight years before, the overwhelming superiority of Israel
was revealed. Egyptian resistance collapsed, and Nasser's
troops surrendered by the thousands.
Then, suddenly, tie Middle Eastern war took an unex-
pected turn. On October 30, Britain and France called upon
both Egypt and Israel to withdraw their armed forces to
positions ten miles east of the Suez Canal. They also called
l6o KRISHNA MENON
upon Egypt to place no impediment in the way of the Anglo-
French occupation of key Canal points. London and Paris
took steps to "safeguard peace." Israel accepted the ultima-
tum; Egypt rejected it. Thereupon Franco-British air forces
started bombing strategic points along the waterway, as
well as Cairo and Alexandria airports. Soon they landed their
forces at the northern end of the Canal.
Meanwhile, the Soviet Union had taken the side of Egypt,
announcing that it would send "volunteers" to the fighting
front unless aggression was halted. The United States felt
that it could not stand aside in this crisis and allow the Soviets
to obtain a foothold in a strategic part of the Middle East.
The situation was particularly dangerous because a clash be-
tween the two superpowers might lead to war.
The United States now moved with great dispatch, this
time following the Afro-Asian line. The Afro-Asian group
in the General Assembly, of course, called for the immediate
withdrawal from Egypt of all Israeli, French and British
forces. India, with other nations of the Afro-Asian bloc,
sponsored a further resolution in the General Assembly not-
ing with grave concern that Britain, France, and Israel had
not yet withdrawn their forces, and urging that they be
called upon to do so forthwith. Subsequently India contrib-
uted a contingent to the U. N. force in Egypt.
Simultaneously with these events, revolution broke out in
Hungary. The uprising was against that country's Kremlin-
controlled regime and its Soviet masters. It was a popular
movement of great momentum, which quickly prevailed over
the weak-kneed Communist regime. At that point Soviet
SUEZ AND HUNGARY l6l
forces entered the land and crashed the revolt with sickening
The IL N. General Assembly was called into action. In
a resolution introduced by the United States and approved
by fifty nations, the assembly deplored the use of force by
the Soviet Union to crush the Hungarian revolt. It asked the
Soviet government to withdraw its forces without deky.
Mr. Nehru spoke on the Hungarian issue at New Delhi
several times. He somehow found it possible to say that
whereas in Egypt "every single thing that had happened was
clear as daylight," he could not follow the "very confusing
situation" in Hungary. He then proceeded to read the excuses
which Marshal Nikolai Bulganin had sent him from Moscow
in connection with the Soviet intervention, and which Nehru
unblushingly described as "facts."
When the resolution calling upon the Soviets to withdraw
from Hungary came up in the General Assembly, Krishna
Menon voted against it, maintaining that the United Nations
lacked competence in the matter, since it was the internal
affair of a country, a "civil conflict." He also appeared on a
television program on which he maintained the same stand.
The public reaction in the western world was one of outrage,
and New Delhi ultimately reversed itself on the resolution.
However, its dispatch reached New York after the vote had
Later, Mr. Nehru tended to link the Hungarian uprising
and the Suez incident. "It was a great misfortune," he said in
the House of the People in New Delhi "that this [revolution]
coincided with the Anglo-French intervention in Egypt be-
cause both these things coming together raised the tempo
of the world situation and the temperature was high, no
doubt. There was great fear in the minds of many people
[62 KRISHNA MENON
and governments that war was corning. Because of that, many
things were done which, perhaps, normally should not have
But it is clear that, at the time, neither Nehru nor Menon
was nearly as concerned with Hungary as they were with
Suez. The Suez crisis had, superficially at least, some of the
aspects of the kind of colonial struggle with which they
were both so familiar. The Hungarian situation, on the other
hand, corresponded to none of their mental stereotypes, and
failed to evoke a similar emotional reaction. That the Russian
intervention in Hungary might be imperialism in a new guise
does not seem to have occurred to them or at any rate, to
have interested them.
Diplomacy and the Man
"Disarm or Perish"
DELEGATES COME and delegates go, but Krishna Menon re-
mains. He first appeared in the U. N. General Assembly in
1946; then, regularly from 1954 until 1960; and he has filled
many special assignments since. No other delegate has lasted
His diplomatic record is long and varied, but two recur-
rent themes stand out. One blended of enlightened self-in-
terest and an assertion of India's claim to spiritual leadership
is his intense interest in finding a workable plan for general
disarmament. The other, perhaps even closer to his heart, is
his preoccupation with destroying the last vestiges of old-
style imperialism. Let us examine Krishna Menon's record
on these issues.
When he became the Minister of Defense for India in 1957,
he continued to be a U. N. delegate and, paradoxically, was
his country's chief spokesman for disarmament. This Minister
of Defense long had the reputation of being a pacifistin
theory, if not always in practice.
164 KRISHNA MENON
"War itself" Krishna Menon said in one of his marathon
statements to the United Nations". . . is somewhere about
6,000 years old. I do not know why they [the historians]
left out the 600,000 years before. There have always been
wars since there have been people. . . . But we have at last
come to the time when civilized humanity does not regard
them as inevitable. . . . Either man will abolish war or war
will abolish man. . . ."
His statement to the iop4th meeting of the Committee on
Disarmament covers 81 printed pages, which summarize his
thoughts on the subject, his criticism of other plans and his
penchant for framing proposals. His words contain some
theory, some popular history, many presumed witticisms and
a lot of sarcasm. Also many shaky sentences and meanderings
in dark jungles of verbiage.
Every disarmament plan offered by either side he quotes
a Carnegie Endowment report as saying contains sets of
proposals calculated to have wide popular appeal, and every
plan includes at least one feature which the other side could
not possibly accept, thus forcing its rejection. The proposer
is able to claim that the rejecter is opposed to the idea of
disarmament in toto. This procedure is known as "disarma-
ment gamesmanship." The Soviet Union is better at it than
the United States, Britain or France: it opposes more things.
The ravages of modern war have been discussed in a publi-
cation he has read, he says. The authors spoke about megatons
of nuclear power millions of tons. They also spoke about
mega-corpses. "Sixty mega-corpses mean sixty million lives.
When humanity has reached this point of viewing things then
the time had come to call a halt."
Then, there is the "mh country problem," a potential way
of entry into the nuclear club. "It is regarded as a great dis-
DIPLOMACY AND THE MAN 165
tinction to have a little bomb so that one may go about boast-
ing: I've also got a bomb.' "
Many proposals to escape the impasse have been made by
presumed neutralists, and Krishna Menon has endorsed some
There was the recommendation of Kwame Nkrumah,
President of Ghana, to the effect that Africa should be re-
garded as an atom-free zone (France's nuclear bomb ex-
plosions aroused Krishna Menon as they did the Ghanaian
head of state) . Krishna Menon also endorsed the recommen-
dation of Cambodia's Norodom Sihanouk that a portion of
Asia should constitute a zone free from the operations of
the cold war. He also welcomed the proposals put forward
by the Polish representative with regard to atom-free zones
and zones of disarmament.
But a limitation of armaments is not sufficient, Krishna
Menon has kept on insisting. "We cannot achieve our goal,
we cannot accomplish what is required to guarantee the sur-
vival of this world merely by the limitation of armaments.
Therefore to us a 'general and complete disarmament' means
just what it says. ... It is insufficient to agree only to partial
measures and phases with the final details to be decided after
the agreement. . . . My government yields to no one in stat-
ing, without any reservations whatsoever, that the imple-
mentation of disarmament requires full inspection and
control. . . ."
By and large, his stand on this issue coincides with that
of the West, and is opposed to that of the Soviet bloc. There
is no sense even in planning for such a war, he says, for a
World War in. "In the present state of scientific develop-
ment, the destruction and chaos would be so great within
l66 KRISHNA MENON
a few hours that the war could not continue in an organized
And so he has continued probing in the darkest parts of
the woods of international life, coming up with "compromise
solutions," as, for instance, in the spring of 1962 at the peren-
nial Geneva disarmament conference. Let there be set up in
the non-committed countries, he proposed, a chain of de-
tecting stations to monitor tests. The suggestion was brushed
aside by the United States and Britain, and the Soviet Union
failed even to react.
Later he came up with yet another well-meaning, but even
more impractical, new twist on how disarmament could be
achieved. The day is not far off , he said, when scientists and
not their employers will be held responsible for the produc-
tion of weapons of destruction. This check should be exer-
cised by "learned societies," concomitantly with the growth
of professional ethics. This proposal, too, was almost uni-
In all of Krishna Menon's proposals, and in all the proposals
he favors, there appears to be one basic assumption: that the
great nuclear powers are incapable of advancing a workable
disarmament plan and would be incapable of administering
and policing such a plan even if one were found. The only
hope lies with a plan originated and administered by one or
more of the uncommitted nations.
There are several possible objections to this proposition.
If the great powers are reluctant to jeopardize their military
security by accepting plans advanced by their opposite num-
bers, would they really be much more inclined to accept
plans advanced by "uncommitted" third parties? Could they
trust the third parties to remain uncommitted, if, indeed,
they are so now? And could they be sure that the third
DIPLOMACY AND THE MAN 167
parties would be technically capable of exercising the kind
of control necessary to make honest disarmament a reality?
Some critics of Krishna Menon's disarmament proposals
insist that they are not unmixed with self-interest. The un-
committed nations, and especially India, have long sought
to claim a kind of moral leadership in international affairs, to
exercise a spiritual balance of power between the West and
the Communist bloc. This role of balancer between the So-
viets and the West could have considerable practical political
advantages, and the administration or even the formulation
of a workable international disarmament plan could do
much to make that role a reality.
But whether or not some self-interest is involved in Krishna
Menon's approach to disarmament is rather beside the point.
Most people do favor some form of disarmament compatible
with their own safety. And in the last analysis there is no
reason to doubt Krishna Menon's sincerity when he says:
"Either we disarm, or we perish."
"This Is the Forest Primeval?
Few events in Africa's recent history have aroused India's
articulate opinion as much as developments in the former
Belgian Congo. New Delhi hailed the decision of the Brussels
government in the summer of 1960 to give the Congo her
independence. And then events began to break.
In preparation for national elections, about 200 political
"parties" appeared on the scene. Most of them dropped out
of sight promptly, but a score remained. The largest number
of seats was gained by the Mouvement National Congolais,
headed by a left-wing ex-post office clerk, Patrice Lumumba,
who became Prime Minister. The President of the country
168 KRISHNA MENON
was Joseph Kasavubu, head of the Abako party and Lumum-
ba's bitter enemy.
Disorders occurred all over the country. Allegedly, Bel-
gians were attacked, and many of them left Africa in panic.
Belgium thereupon decided to fly her own troops into her
former colony to protect Belgian nationals. To help restore
order, Lumumba asked the United Nations to dispatch mili-
tary forces. By this rime the feud between Lumumba and
Kasavubu had assumed the aspect of civil war.
The province of Katanga now proclaimed its secession
from the Congo Republic, and its Premier, Moise Tshombe,
asked Belgium to send more troops, presumably against Lu-
mumba. Katanga is endowed with rich mineral resources
such as cobalt, uranium and diamonds. The Union Miniere du
Haut-Katanga, a giant in the mining field, had the reputation
of having the province in its pocket. Katanga was reputed to
pay enough taxes to support the entire Congo.
President Kasavubu gained the upper hand in his struggle
with Lumumba and had him arrested. Later Lumumba was
found murdered. Matters were further complicated when the
commander-in-chief of the new Congolese army, Joseph
Mobutu, formerly a sergeant in the Belgian colonial service,
seized the initiative and formed the government. His cabinet
consisted of fifteen young men, some of them barely literate.
The Congolese army became demoralized and unruly; vio-
lence and looting were followed by conflicts with the U. N.
forces. Not only did Indian troops form a part of the U. N.
contingent, but it was an Indian, Rajeshwar Daval, who served
as the representative of the United Nations.
Speaking in the United Nations, Krishna Menon charged
that Mobutu was a Belgian stooge and that Belgium's with-
drawal from the Congo had been a transparent ruse to give
DIPLOMACY AND THE MAN 169
the impression she was withdrawing in good faith, while in
reality she was fomenting trouble so as to provide a pretext
for her return.
"The members of this Congolese army" Krishna Menon
said "are gangsters a gang of murderers who have commit-
ted havoc and heaped indignities upon the people. Those
among them who are decent should be enlisted in the United
Nations force, made to drive trucks and do similar work.
The rest of them should be disarmed and confined to bar-
The province of Katanga charged that the Indians in the
Congo were violating the United Nations Charter.
Krishna Menon retorted:
We are not a country that keeps on crying out for the use
of force, nor one that tramples the law underfoot. As you are,
no doubt, aware, we are proud of our sovereignty, and we shall
guard it against all intruders. . . . We are seeking to support
measures which could enable this great land of Africa to come
into its own, after ages of servitude. It is we, the people of Asia,
who are deeply grieved by what is going on here.
The Congo crisis is still far from settled, nor have its issues
become less complex. Krishna Menon's attitude toward the
situation remains unchanged. First and foremost, he wants
the Belgians completely out of the Congo. He persists in be-
lieving that the Katangan secessionists are nothing but run-
ning dogs of the Belgian imperialists, and for this reason he
refuses to regard the struggle between Katanga and the Cen-
tral Government as an internal affair. The Panch Shila doc-
trine of non-interference does not, therefore, apply. Should
the current negotiations between Katanga and the Central
Government fail to produce a solution, Krishna Menon would
doubtless favor U. N. pressure to force the Katangans to
IJO KRISHNA MEN ON
come to terms. And even such a forced settlement would
probably not satisfy him, for he obviously feels that the
Central Government is subject to undue pressure from the
"Am I Not a Man and a Brother?"
Of particularly great importance to India and Krishna
Menon is the Union of South Africa. It was there that Ma-
hatma Gandhi made his name known, fighting discrimination
against the sons of India. There are hundreds of thousands
of Indians in the Union (which, since having left the Com-
monwealth of Nations, has changed its name to the Republic
of South Africa). The policy of apartheid virtually com-
plete segregation of the races, and the treatment of the dark-
skinned majority as subhumans has riled Krishna Menon,
as well as other Indians. Adjacent to the Republic is South-
West Africa, a German colony before World War I, a man-
date between the two wars, and a presumed trusteeship terri-
tory since World War II. However, South Africa has cold-
shouldered the United Nations, assuming full administrative
power in the southern part (known as the "police zone")
and placing the northern section, one of the most primitive
regions in the world, out of bounds to whites. When the
world body sought to exercise its authority in this region,
South Africa walked out. In the face of the inflexible stand
of South Africa, the United Nations could not do much
except discuss the case and pass resolutions. Krishna Menon
played prominent roles in these discussions, addressing the
Good Offices Committee on South- West Africa, and also the
Trusteeship Committee, in the autumns of 1958 and 1959.
"The whole of this conception [of the sacred trust of the
DIPLOMACY AND THE MAN IJ I
guiding powers]," he said, "stands convicted today in the
name of the people of South-West Africa. [The Union]
stands convicted in the name of what we call the Declaration
of Human Rights. And we are asked to hand over these people
to a country which has practised apartheid and glorifies it;
which tells the world without shame that this is the pattern
you should follow in order to solve the racial problems of
the world. . . ."
Then, with tongue in cheek:
To South Africa we owe a great debt of gratitude because it
nourished the great Gandhiji in his earlier days and gave him the
field it did not give him, he found it for his experiments, and
for the development of that great personality that brought about
the liberation of our country and gave the world the gospel of
reconciliation and the resolution of conflicts through non-vio-
"Infinite Wrath and Infinite Despair"
Few international problems of modern times appeared to
be as hopeless of solution as that of the sun-drenched island
of Cyprus, in the eastern Mediterranean, almost within sight
of the Arabs' Levantine coast. Proudly, the majority of the
islanders proclaimed themselves Greeks, while, no less
proudly, a minority of about one-fifth of them called them-
selves Turks. And Greeks and Turks, as all the world knows,
have been traditional foes.
The Turks took the Greek-speaking island centuries ago
and held it until it passed to the British crown at the end of
the last century. The British turned it into one of the bul-
warks along their imperial lifeline.
As the "nationality revolution" swept the world, the Greek
172 KRISHNA MENON
inhabitants of Cyprus clamored for enosis, union with Greece.
The Turkish inhabitants, on the other hand, dreaded such a
union. They wanted British rule to continue, seeing the
English as umpires and the pillars of the island's laws. Failing
the maintenance of the status quo, they favored taksim y a
separate entity for their Turkish institutions. As neighbors'
hands were raised against neighbors, violence erupted on the
On several occasions Krishna Menon addressed himself
to this question, most significantly on December 2, 1958,
before the First Committee of the General Assembly of the
United Nations. His stand was directed against enosis and
also against taksim. He must have had the sorry spectacle
of the division of the Indian subcontinent in mind. He em-
phasized the point that the British and French got along
together in Canada, and he saw no reason why their example
should not be applied to Cyprus. He favored independence
for the island, with special arrangements providing satisfac-
tion for the desires of the Turkish minority. Much blood was
shed on the island before the final solution was reached.
Krishna Menon's recommendation was shared by other
United Nations members, and that was the solution the parties
to the dispute adopted.
Les Pieds Noirs
The United Nations tackled the problem of Algeria many
times, and so did Krishna Menon, speaking on behalf of In-
dia. Here was a large North African land, on the southern
shores of the Mediterranean, right across from France. Nine-
tenths of its people were Moslems who wanted to have a
free Algeria. The rest were non-Moslems, who proudly
DIPLOMACY AND THE MAN 173
called themselves pieds noirsbhck feetbecause of the soil
they tilled. Many of these wanted Algerie franfaise. Some
of them were rich landowners, colons, who had much at
The Algerian Moslem elite had acquired its way of life
from France. Part of this way of life was the full develop-
ment of one's gifts a part the Moslems now claimed for
themselves. "Backward" peoples nearly everywhere had
gained their freedom, and the Algerians, exposed to the in-
fluence of the West, saw no reason why they should be de-
prived of what many of them considered their birthright.
The two sides came to grips in one of the bloodiest conflicts
in recent history. It claimed hundreds of thousands of vic-
tims, the majority of them Moslems. It was a bitter war of
attrition. The French had the superior arms and armies; the
native Moslems, the topographical advantage and a tearing
resentment. They developed the guerrilla tactics which the
Vietnamese had tried with success fighting at night, and
then fading into the daylight as peaceful peasants attending
to their serene occupations.
This was typically the kind of situation which aroused
Krishna Menon to make slashing attacks on "imperialism":
I want to say without any reservation, that the imperialist and
non-imperialist countries which are members of the North At-
lantic Treaty Organization must have the blood of the Algerian
people on their consciences because it is NATO, its vast moral
and material resources made available to France as indeed to Bel-
gium, Portugal and other countries which is responsible for the
colonial exploitation of Africa and Asia at the same time. The
time has come to mince no words in this matter. While register-
ing its objections to military blocs, my country has at all times
kept away from detailed criticism of the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization But now the position is such that the arms, the
174 KRISHNA MENON
airplanes, the bombs and the moral support of NATO enable
France to suppress the Algerian people. . . .
This equation of NATO with imperialism struck a good
many Western observers as unfair, but it was neither untyp-
ical nor entirely unexpected.
The eventual liberation of Algeria must have been a source
of immense gratification to Krishna Menon. One more bitter
struggle with imperialism had been successfully concluded.
And the preceding few years had seen the liberation of a
host of former African colonies. Immense strides had been
made in the realization of the spirit of Bandung.
It was doubly ironic, therefore, that well before the liber-
ation of Algeria, India herself had several times been accused
of imperialistic behavior. One such instance was the case
In the Vale of Conflicts Kashmir
"Darker Grows the Valley"
LEANING AGAINST the tallest mountains in the world, the cloud-
piercing dorsal column of Ask, the very name of Kashmir
exudes the fragrance of grass-carpeted, flower-strewn beauty.
Besides being beautiful, it is also saturated with conflicts.
It was not just one of the hundreds of princely states when
independence came, but the largest of diem larger, indeed,
than many European nations. Also, it was adjacent to both
India and Pakistan, the neighbor of China and Afghanistan, a
few miles from the Soviet Union. The vast majority of the
population was Moslem, while the ruler was a Hindu.
Maharajah Sir Hari Singh had been at the helm of Kash-
mir for twenty-two years. At the time of the creation of
independent India and Pakistan, he was neither particularly
competent nor popular, as a Hindu master of a Moslem peo-
ple. His country was not imbedded in either of the successor
states, thereby necessitating his adhesion to one or the other.
Kashmir was "out of this world," and he thought he could
retain the throne of his country because of its location.
Ij6 KRISHNA MENON
Then events began to break nobody knows precisely how.
One version says that the Dogras, one of the "martial" Hindu
groups in the valley, began to pounce upon the Moslems,
and that, hearing of this, Moslem tribesmen started to stream
across the passes from Pakistan, encouraged by their govern-
ment. These Moslems launched a jihad (holy war) against the
Hindus. Another version is that Moslem tribesmen, unpro-
voked but abetted by Pakistan, streamed into the State in the
name of Islamic brotherhood. This is what Robert Trumbull,
correspondent of The New York Times, wrote (in his book
As I See India) :
The Pakistan government has steadfastly denied any official
encouragement to the tribes in the invasion of Kashmir. . . . But
there never was any doubt that Pakistani provincial authorities,
perhaps unofficially, but certainly not without the knowledge
of Karachi, supplied the bloodthirsty tribal 'lashkers, (war
parties), with truck transport. And Pakistani officers, alleged to
be 'on leave,' led the contingents
The maharajah realized that if he were to hold out any
longer he would be swamped by the Moslems, whom hea
Hindu detested and feared. There was only one move he
could make, and that he did. In accordance with the prevail-
ing agreement on accession, on October 26, 1947, he acceded
to India. Thereupon the Indian government started dispatch-
ing troops to Kashmir to halt the Pakistani invasion. Since
there were no permanent, all-weather roads between India
and Kashmir in those days, the troops were sent in by air-
drops. The Indians arrived just in time to halt the Moslems
some miles outside of Srinagar, the capital, in the Vale of
Kashmir. The more mountainous, western, part of the state
remained in Moslem hands.
At that point Hari Singh dropped out of the picture, ab-
IN THE VALE OF CONFLICTS KASHMIR 177
dicating in favor of his son, Yuvray Karan Singh. The father
became an emigre in Bombay, where he died several years
later. Renouncing the tide of maharajah under New Delhi's
prodding, the son retained a part of the privy purse, and for
a time, the empty title of Sa dr-1 Riyasat, Head of State. About
one-fourth of the population of Kashmir remained in Azad
(Free) Kashmir, under Sardar Mohammed Ibrahim, who
wanted the region to be united with Pakistan.
If India had let matters rest at that point she would have
had a stronger claim on Kashmir, but instead she lodged a
complaint against Pakistan with the U. N. Security Council.
It recommended the appointment of a commission of five who
would supervise the withdrawal of the invading tribesmen,
after which the Indian government would be called upon
to reduce her army of occupation. Then machinery would
be set up to conduct a plebiscite under the auspices of the
United Nations. The resolution was first adopted in 1949
and reiterated several times.
But then India claimed that since Pakistan had failed to
withdraw her troops, the plebiscite was out of order. She
unilaterally incorporated Kashmir into India in 1957. She
argued that a plebiscite was now no longer necessary, because
three elections had been held in the territory and these were
equivalent to plebiscites.
Early in May, 1962, Pakistan presented her case anew to
the United Nations. Her delegate, Mohammed Zafrolla Khan,
urged that India allow a plebiscite to ascertain the people's
will. He suggested, too, that the president of the Security
Council approach the two nations involved in the controversy
via informal conferences, so as to find a way to end the old
dispute. Pakistan was ready to accept arbitration by any
"recognized international figure of undoubted integrity," he
iy8 KRISHNA MENON
said. Also, his country was willing to accept any procedure
to determine what was holding up progress toward dis-
armament. If any faults were found, she would seek to rem-
An Afternoon at the Security Council
"Kashmir is a situation," Krishna Menon said before leaving
New Delhi for the U. N. Security Council meeting. "It is
not a dispute."
He was Minister of Defense of India, also the specialist on
the Kashmir "situation." Although not the regular delegate,
he was to present India's side of the problem.
Let us observe him on May 2, 1962, in the Security Coun-
cil chamber on Turtle Bay. It should help us to see how he
works in the international body his line of thought, his de-
bating technique and, perhaps, his standing in the international
The meeting to hear Krishna Menon, the delegate of India,
on the question of Kashmir was called for three o'clock. Well
past the appointed hour, the delegates began to drift in, form-
ing small clusters, engaging in small talk, big talk, perhaps also
frivolities. They were taking their places at the semicircular
horseshoe table-the "permanents," the U.S., U.K., U.S.S.R.,
France and Nationalist China. And the "non-permanents":
Chile, Ghana, Ireland, Rumania, the United Arab Republic
and Venezuela. In about thirty minutes the eleven members
were in their seats.
Krishna Menon was sitting near the door, to the right of
the presiding officer. Mohammed Zafrulla Khan, a striking
bearded figure, was facing the president in a center seat.
Krishna Menon was accompanied by six aides, youngish men,
IN THE VALE OF CONFLI GTS K AS HM I R 179
one of them a Keralan like himself, the others looking like
North Indians. They had come from India for this session,
and would return as soon as it was over. The photographers'
lenses were focused on Krishna Menon, the best known man
on the floor, with the exception of the American delegate,
Adlai E. Stevenson.
The chairman invited the delegates of India and Pakistan,
to take their places at the ends of the table, facing each other.
This was this particular chairman's first appearance during
the month, his turn to preside in the rotational setup of the
"Great Powers." He was a Nationalist Chinese. He began the
proceedings by thanking the delegate of Chile, his predecessor
in the chairman's seat the month before, for his "constructive"
handling of the business of the Security Council. The delegate
from Chile asked for the floor, and modestly disclaimed any
special merit, thanking the chairman for thanking him.
Then Zafrulla Khan asked to be heard so as to explain a
procedural misunderstanding, which he did, consuming half
an hour. Then it was Krishna Menon's turn to present India's
case. He started off by saying that his "submission" might
take four hours. This announcement was received with a
stifled sigh of resignation.
He began with the third century before Christ, weaving a
flimsy history of Kashmir, then skipping quickly and lightly
to the days of the British Raj. The theory had been advanced,
he said, that Kashmir should be tied to Pakistan, because most
of her people were Moslems. But "in our country and in
any civilized nation it is not religion that qualifies people for
citizenship." On that issue India could stand her ground.
She was the third largest Moslem state in the world, after
Pakistan and Indonesia. India was the home of some sixty
million Moslems, "as patriotic as the followers of any other
l8o KRISHNA MENON
creed. . . ." The Maharajah of Kashmir had acceded to India
at the proper time. Had he acceded to Pakistan, India would
not have demurred, said Krishna Menon.
A United Nations commission had established the fact,
he asserted, that aggression existed in Kashmir. And now
Zafrulla Khan offered no proof of any threats from India,
nor had Indian sovereignty been questioned by the United
Nations. That sovereignty flowed originally from the act
of accession, and now from the fact that India was one in-
divisible unit, which could not tolerate an act of aggression,
be it by Pakistan or China. An act of this type "eats into our
vitals, it is something that disregards our national integrity
and sits on our economic development and leads to instability
and unsetdement on our continent."
There had never been any commitment on the part of
India to conduct a plebiscite, he said. And what was a pleb-
iscite, anyway? It was voting, linked to democratic, parlia-
mentary institutions. But Pakistan herself had neither
democracy nor a popularly chosen parliament. And now, a
country which had had no popular elections for fifteen years
insisted that India, which had had several national elections,
should submit to a plebiscite.
Moreover, he charged, Pakistan was backing acts of sabo-
tage and assassination against India. The Republic of India
was not going to take the initiative in a war. But if it were
attacked, it was going to defend itself. He finished his perora-
tion with a melodramatic flourish.
The delegation of Pakistan issued a quiet statement in re-
buttal: "Pakistan claims no special privileges for herself. But
she does claim the right of self-determination for the people
of Kashmir. When India denies that right, as she stubbornly
does, she assumes the classic colonialist position."
IN THE VALE OF C ONF LICTS K AS HMIR l8l
Simultaneously, Prime Minister Nehru charged in the New
Delhi Council of States that Pakistan was recruiting tribes-
men for a possible invasion of Kashmir. Such an invasion
would mean an "all-out war."
The Security Council met several weeks later. Several mem-
bers submitted a resolution suggesting that India and Pakistan
confer on this problem. India asserted that there was nothing
on which to confer, and the Soviet Union helpfully vetoed
the resolution. This was the hundredth Soviet veto.
"In Att Humility"
Let us observe Krishna Menon's technique while facing
the Security Council. He was holding a script, which ap-
parently provided him with his cues. On occasion, a point
would catch his fancy, and then he would elaborate on it,
making long detours. Then again, an idea would strike him
as funny. He would grin, erupting into extemporaneous hu-
mor which, inevitably, failed to transmit itself to the other
delegates. Some of them would appear resigned, while others
looked grim. A fighter, he would make another try, and get
the same reaction. The third try would trail off into an
His discursive methods were not always easy to follow.
He would launch an argument and then drop it, in favor of
what must have impressed him as a better one. He was roam-
ing over a large field, unfinished thoughts lying all over the
landscape, like so many victims of a war of arguments. What-
ever initial unity his address may have possessed was disrupted
by his incessant detours.
Now and again he would ask an aide to hand him a docu-
ment. He would read a passage, suddenly ending with "enough
l82 KRISHNA MENON
of this," then turn to another point, without weaving the two
into any common network.
He spoke in a clear and ringing voice, not too loud, nor too
soft, slurring his r's, uttering slightly sibilant s's. He em-
phasized his points with expressive gestures, waving his mobile
hands, touching his nose, scratching his neck, wagging an
admonishing finger. Several times he employed his favorite
expression "in all humility" but there was no humility in
what he said.
The simultaneous translators attempted to keep up, but
nevertheless fell behind, surrendering at times, leaving great
gaps, then rushing back in canter, to be swept overboard
again by the deluge of his words.
"Fll return to this point later," and again one could sense
the flutter of resignation.
And the substance of the presentation? India's case, of
course, omitting the qualifying clauses, was a lawyer's brief
sprinkled with pettifogging. The arguments could not have
stood up in any court of law. If the United Nations had been
a judicial forum, the advocate of the opponent would have
had a field day.
Initially India's case had been fairly good. She had gotten
the adhesion of the generally recognized head of the Kash-
mirian state. There had been some kind of invasion from
Legally, however, India had exposed herself to U. N. reg-
ulation by submitting the case of Kashmir. This submission
altered India's legal status, a fact that not even the world's
best lawyer could have changed. There was nothing else for
the Indian delegate but to resort to pettifogging devices if
he was to speak on the issue at all. Perhaps he was hoping the
other delegates would be impressed. They were not.
IN THE VALE OF CON FLICTS K ASHM IR l8j
Bleary-eyed, Ambassador Stevenson was floored by a spasm
of yawning, which he made no attempt to restrain. He had
heard all of these arguments before, and he was no child to
believe them. Several other delegates were dozing off, stirring
awake with a sense of guilt, trying to compensate for their
lassitude by rustling papers on their desks, doing many things
but not listening.
There were people from India in the audience, many of
them young. They were the ones who were hanging on
Krishna Menon's words. As he raised his voice in the final
peroration, the young people's eyes were aflame. Yes, one
could almost hear their brains thinking, India will defend
This was something new for India to hear: the voicing of
their ability to stand up to the world, to utter a defiance. They
did not notice Krishna Menon's repetitive utterances, the
chilly atmosphere, the abortive humor, the poor sentence
structure and the weakness of the argument. The address was
poor according to the laws of rhetoric, and perhaps more so
according to the rules of common sense. But it was rich in
content for the audience for which it was intended: the mil-
lions at home, whose pulses it set racing when they heard
about it in the next few days. They were proud of having
their ringing voice heard, the voice of one of the poorest
nations sounding out in the richest city in human history.
When Krishna Menon returned to New Delhi he was ac-
corded a warm reception.
China and India
The Chinese Dragon
INDIA WAS THE FIRST COUNTRY, after the Soviet Union, to
recognize Communist China. Krishna Menon never neglected
to consider China's possible interests in his negotiations about
Korea and Indochina. Yet China has not been a friendly
neighbor. The two countries are contiguous over a frontier
of some twenty-four hundred miles. The border is formed
by the tallest and most rugged of mountain chains the Kara-
korum and the Himalayas. The Namcha Barwa peak (25,445
feet) is the eastern anchor of the border; the western anchor
is the Godwin Austen (28,250 feet). In between is 29,028-
foot Mount Everest. India and China meet in the land of
what the British called the "criminal tribes" of Assam State,
the North-east Frontier Agency NEF A while in the west
it is Uttar Pradesh and Kashmir which are contiguous with
China. India is responsible for the defense of Nepal, Sikkim,
and Bhutan, the three Himalayan countries.
India and China have for the last several years engaged in
CHINA AND INDIA jgr-
bitter arguments about their common frontiers. The conflict
arises from the fact that the border has never been properly
surveyed. The British got together with the Chinese and
Tibetans on this issue just before World War I. Britain, speak-
ing for India, was represented by Sir Arthur Henry Mac-
Mahon, foreign secretary to the government of India; Tibet
was represented by her premier, and China by a plenipotenti-
ary. The approximate frontier was finally decided upon at
the hill station of Simla. Because of the place, Indian history
speaks of the Simla Convention, and in honor of Sir Arthur,
the frontier is known as the MacMahon Line.
The might of the British in India had been reflected in the
fact that whenever there were border disputes with the
neighbors Afghanistan or China India had got the bigger
pieces. Now the British were gone but the frontiers remained.
For several years the Chinese lay low, but then, in 1959, they
began to stir, claiming large slices of land from India, and
moving their border posts into the neighbor's land. This
would have been understandable if the soil had been good
in the coveted areas. But what could the Chinese, or anybody
else, do with some of the world's most inaccessible mountains?
We shall try to see. But first the controversy.
First, the Chinese sliced off some four thousand square
miles of Bhutan, on the ground that the British had had no
claim to that region. Anyway, the British were out, and so
the land should revert to China. Nehru and Krishna Menon
showed the Chinese the authentic map, but it made no im-
pression on Peking. At the other end of India, the Chinese
handled their neighbor even more roughly. Claiming some
fifty thousand square miles from India, they actually occu-
pied, at first, regions estimated at from twelve to fourteen
thousand. They overwhelmed a mountain post, Tailing sev-
l86 KRISHNA MENON
eral Indian frontier guards. Krishna Menon and Nehru had
a lot to answer for in the Lok Sabha (House of the People),
the Indian legislature. Why had they let the Chinese have
their way? Even the progovernment papers were incensed.
Krishna Menon had failed also to object to China's brutal
conquest of Tibet, refusing to vote in favor of the United
Nations resolution condemning the Chinese action. "What
is the purpose of the debate?" Krishna Menon asked. "It does
not help the Tibetans at all." He downgraded the importance
of the Chinese incursions, airily calling them "momentary
aberrations" and speaking of "mountaintops where not a blade
of grass grows." "Appeasement," shouted the press.
Whether appeasement or not, it encouraged the Chinese
to be still more aggressive. Peking concluded a road-building
pact with Nepal, and offered economic aid to Sikkim and
Bhutan. "A stab in the back," Krishna Menon was reported
to have exclaimed privately when he heard about this. Was
this going to be a Chinese pincer movement directed at India?
But Menon went no further than mildly to counsel the Chi-
nese to withdraw from Indian land in the "interest of socialism
"Menon claims with some justice," observed Time, "that
India could not win a war with Red China, though it is a
curious stance for a vain Defense Minister. But Menon's
critics counter that defending Indian territory against further
Red conquests need not lead to war."
The trouble seems to be that Krishna Menon had neglected
to build up India's border defenses.
"While he and Nehru refuse," continued Time, "to give
details to parliament on the ground that such information
would be useful to the Chinese, one fact is clear: North In-
dia's population centers are far closer than Red China's big
CHINA AND INDIA 187
cities, but the Chinese have built more roads to the Himalayan
passes than the Indians. Most frontier posts can be reached
from the Indian side only by mulepack or helicopter. India's
defensive position would be far better if it were to make com-
mon cause with Pakistan, but Krishna Menon sneers at the
The Indian-Chinese frontier issue was precarious, and
getting more complex every day. In the early spring of 1962
the government of India stated in a note to Peking that only
the "peaceful withdrawal of the Chinese forces from the
territories which have traditionally been a part of India, can
create the atmosphere for a peaceful settlement of the border
Peking charged, in turn, that since 1961, Indian military
forces had advanced into Chinese territory and set up posts,
and Indian aircraft had "wantonly made reconnaissance and
harassment flights over places where Chinese frontier guards
are stationed and even over places far in the rear." A state-
ment by a Foreign Office spokesman in Peking said that the
borders between the two countries set out on the Chinese
maps had a "historical and factual basis," while "India used
material reflecting British aggression against China in the past
to justify its stand."
Then Krishna Menon, again in Madras, on April 20, 1962,
declared that he would not be a party to any step "which
will expose our troops to unnecessary jeopardy . . . China
cannot swallow us up any more than we can swallow up
China . . . No monopolist newspaper is going to jockey us
into a position where we have to defend ourselves from a
position of weakness."
Apparently he seems to have felt that blame for the deteri-
oration of the border situation lay less with Chinese expan-
l88 KRISHNA MENON
sionism or with his own incompetence as Defense Minister
than with the sinister machinations of unnamed foreign mo-
Why the Quarrel?
Why this quarrel with a country which had sought to
maintain amicable relations with China? China had launched
a massive socio-economic movement to leap from the seven-
teenth into the twenty-first century. The Chinese leaders
hoped that by creating a mood of national exaltation com-
bined with totalitarian controls they would be able to set up
an effective organization to accomplish their aim. India has
been trying to do the same thing by democratic means,
through a freely elected parliament with its will implemented
by a government responsible to the legislature.
The famished masses of the economically backward coun-
tries have been watching this race. Whichever of these coun-
tries wins will gain more than a more rapid increase in living
standards. It may appear to be in China's interest to place all
kinds of obstacles in India's way, thereby frustrating her
efforts to be the first to "cut the tape."
Related to this mode of thinking is another. The Chinese
Communist regime has not been doing well of late. Having
tried to grab much, it has got little. The most convenient
device available to an autocracy in such a case is to divert
attention from its failings by arousing public sentiment, by
concentrating on an antagonist. "People are better at hating
than loving." Nothing is easier than to stir up a hate campaign.
Such appeals help people forget short rations, even though
they fail to still hunger pangs. In a highly unconventional
setting, the Chinese gamble in the Himalayas followed a
CHINA AND INDIA 189
It is not clear whether Krishna Menon sees this explanation
of China's motives. If he does, he almost certainly does not
agree with it. But whatever his real attitude may be, he can-
not wholly ignore the grim facts. The border dispute is real,
and it is serious. India has been obliged to strengthen her
frontier garrisons and has built thousands of miles of new
military roads in the threatened areas. There is, after all, a
limit to how far even Messrs. Nehru and Menon can be
In the Defense Ministry
On Raisana Hill
A FLUTTER OF EXCITEMENT swept the editorial offices of the
Indian press when the composition of the new government
was announced after the general election of March, 1957. It
mostly concerned the appointment of the new Minister of
Officially, ministerial appointments in India are made by
the President of the Republic, on the advice of the Prime
Minister. The President was Rajendra Prasad; the Prime Min-
ister, Nehru, who also filled the post of minister of external
affairs, and of the head of the department of atomic energy.
Ministers in India are collectively responsible to the Lok
Sabha. Again the Congress Party had cleared the electoral
hurdle with flying colors. But Krishna Menon himself was
not popular in his party, nor in the legislature. Was he popu-
lar with the President? It made little difference, because the
latter's functions were representative only. Real power rested
IN THE DEFENSE MINISTRY Ipl
in the P.M.'s hands, and it was he who wanted Krishna Menon
next to him in the defense post.
The Ministry of External Affairs and the Ministry of De-
fense are in the South Bloc of the vast complex of buildings
the British built on Raisana Hill. This is the Secretariat, facing
a magnificent vista between two New Delhi memorials and
suggesting the vastness of the country. The South Bloc is
India's nerve center.
If Panditji wanted Krishna Menon for the post in the Min-
istry of Defense, he had more than enough power to gratify
A Man to Power Born
The position of Panditji in India appears at first glance to
be an enigma. How is it that he concentrates such vast power
in his hands when India is a democracy? It is explained in his
public appearances. Let us observe him when he is addressing
a vast gathering. Gatherings in India a country which will
soon have half a billion people are inevitably vast.
He does not speak all the languages of the audience. No-
body could there are so many of them. He speaks English
the Cambridge variety which sounds as if it were his native
tongue. Enthralled at his feet sits his audience most of it not
understanding a word he says. He completes his peroration,
and pandemonium breaks loose. It would have made no dif-
ference if he had recited the alphabet.
Members of all castes seem to worship this Kashmirian
Brahman, the most thoroughbred of all Indian aristocrats.
This philosopher-statesman, a superintellectual, is the god of
the illiterate millions who do not know where their next meal
will come from. What appeals to them? Evidently that sign
on his forehead appeals to them the sign of the charismatic
leader. Yet he does not act the part. He looks and acts more
like a college professor than the anointed of the gods.
Many people say that the mantle of India's protective di-
vinity Gandhiji has fallen on his shoulders. While this is
true, the explanation is not sufficient. Nor is it sufficient to
say that he is a man of great intelligence and deep, abiding
intuitions. He is also a politician, a master of his craft. He
manipulates people, divides and rules over them, and more
often than notkeeps them away from the limelight so as to
have a monopoly. In Krishna Menon he beheld another master
manipulator, who was nevertheless beholden to him. And so
Panditji installed Krishna Menon on Raisana Hill.
Krishna Menon has been talking for years about the futil-
ity of wars. Although associations are not conclusive evidences
of his ideology, he has always preferred the kind of pacifism
represented by Bertrand Russell. Is the Ministry of Defense
of a young country beset by problems the right place for a
pacifist intellectual? Is it the proper place for a man who was
hesitating what road to take the one leading to law or the
other one leading to teaching? Generals have sensitive souls
which are easily bruised. Krishna Menon had the reputation
of being brutally outspoken. How could he get along with
At the time of Krishna Menon's appointment to his post
India's second Five-Year Plan had run into a snag. Independ-
ence was already a decade old, and yet the people's living
standards were disastrously low. It is true that standards were
rising almost imperceptibly, but that was precisely the danger.
Soon the critical threshold of the "disappointment explosion"
might be reached. The revolutionary masses are not the poor-
est people. Those are too apathetic and weak to act. They
IN THE DEFENSE MINISTRY 193
are the people who have seen the dawn and want to see the
The Asian scene was astir with unfulfilled expectations.
As democratic procedures were suspended, India's next-door
neighbors, Pakistan and Burma, turned for salvation to mili-
tary leaders. Thailand, another nearby country, was already
under a tight military rule. All over Indonesia, disgruntled
officers of the armed forces were spark-plugging revolts. In-
dochinaSouth Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia were engulfed
in chaos. Farther afield, in the Middle East, military regimes
sprang into life. Did all these developments conform to a pat-
tern? There were no signs of such upheavals in India, to be
sure, but these were not times when anything could be taken
for granted. Is it possible that Nehru picked Krishna Menon
for the defense post because he was the man who could face
down even the most arrogant man of war?
Other thoughts may have been stirring in Panditji's mind.
Free from the shackles of Britain, India was still exposed to
the annoyance of Portugal, the dwarf. That Iberian country
had a small enclave in India, not far north of Krishna Menon's
place of birth. This was Goa, and its very name was an insult.
Was Krishna Menon the man to "decontaminate" India by
eliminating the "festering sore"? Or perhaps Panditji had
other jobs in store for his neighbor on Raisana Hill. Before
answering these questions let us look at India's imperial heri-
"Arms Against a Sea of Troubles"
India took over the armed forces from the British. What
had the British Raj thought of the martial qualities of Mother
At first the British had been very critical, saying, in their
Ip4 KRISHNA MENON
outspoken way, that "in the immense population of India the
number of men of martial proclivities and even of personal
courage is a very small proportion of the whole, and the great
mass of people, educated or otherwise, are quite devoid of
any martial potentiality."
When the commander-in-chief in India at the beginning of
this century, the legendary Lord Kitchener of Khartoum,
helped to establish military units of "martial classes and races"
he employed them so as to supplement each other's qualities,
producing what he called a healthy rivalry, while the "less
warlike races" were to be eliminated from the military ranks.
The most highly valued members of the fighting races were
the Sikhs of the Punjab and the Gurkhas of Nepal.
The more important Indian native states had, under British
rule, their own armed forces. They were integrated into the
Indian imperial service troops, under British control. Respon-
sive to Indian susceptibilities, the designation "imperial" was
later replaced by "state troops." Large numbers of Indian
troops were dispatched to the West during World War I.
They were sent to France and to such other critical areas as
Mesopotamia and Palestine. Under Lord Allenby Indians
fought the Turks. The war record of the Indians, and not
only that of the "martial classes," was excellent. And it was
perhaps even better in World War II
The division of the subcontinent into two countries brought
numerous problems in its wake. Some of the so-called martial
races were now settled in Pakistan. How were the military,
naval and air force stores to be divided? How was India to
recruit a new officer class? How were the funds for the armed
forces to be acquired?
The foundations of the armed forces were good. The of-
ficer class, inherited from the British, had a thorough training,
IX THE DEFENSE MINISTRY 195
including Sandhurst. Not only the British officers' swagger
sticks were retained, but also their proud esprit de corps.
While army service was voluntary, there was no shortage of
volunteers. Soldiers wore snappy uniforms, and their food
The armed forces Krishna Menon took over consisted of
the regular army, navy and air force, plus the territorial army
a reserve force and the Lok Sahayak Sena, the national
volunteer force; the national cadet corps; and an auxiliary
cadet corps. The Indian fleet was small: two cruisers, one
aircraft carrier and a number of destroyers, minesweepers and
auxiliary boats. The three major air force commands opera-
tional, training and maintenance were located at Palam (New
Delhi), Bungalore and Kanpur.
Krishna Menon effected numerous changes in the organi-
zation and administration of the Ministry of Defense. He
inaugurated the National Defense College (patterned on
Britain's Imperial Defense College) for the training of the
senior officers of all three branches. Its main purpose was the
study of the military, scientific, industrial, social, economic
and political factors involved in war, as well as the higher di-
rection and strategy of war. The Defense College was also de-
signed to afford opportunities to senior officers and highly
placed civil servants to get together for the exchange of ideas,
thus giving them a better understanding of each other's prob-
lems in war and peace.
Krishna Menon the ex-schoolmasterestablished a new en-
gineering college for the training of junior specialist officers
in the services. The school of electrical engineering of die
navy at Jamnagar was charged with the task of training of-
ficers and men in that branch of the services. Account was
196 KRISHNA MENON
taken of the fact that most of the newly acquired ships were
being fitted with sophisticated electrical equipment.
As early as 1958, Krishna Menon launched the research
and development organization of his services. He accom-
plished this through the fusion of the Technical Development
Establishments and the Defense Science Organization. The
stated objective of the new body was to promote and apply
scientific research for production.
Only the army had ordnance factories before Krishna
Menon took over the Ministry. He established "producing
stores" for the navy and the air force as well, to turn out artil-
lery, heavy mortars, naval guns and barrels, recoil systems
for guns, mountings, carriages and buffers for heavy and
medium caliber guns, small arms, bombs, shells and various
other types of ammunition, naval mines, high explosives,
depth charges, parachutes and mountain warfare equipment.
It was he who inaugurated the auxiliary cadet corps, to
train his country's youth in team spirit and discipline com-
bined with patriotism. It had enrolled more than a million by
1960. The regular Cadet Corps membership doubled to 263,-
469 in the first four years of his incumbency. The technical
unit cadets were offered specialized training in flying. Gliding
was also introduced as a part of the air cadet's training.
He fostered a Welfare Organization in the Ministry of
Defense, with the aid of welfare officers. They helped ar-
range cultural festivals, and produced plays. Calling for the
development of social consciousness, he has helped to en-
Eurage sports. "You can't remove slums by removing brick-
d-mortar structures," he said. "You must develop an
ti-slum mentality." He also had the armed forces' pension
The expansion of the regular and ancillary services was
IN THE DEFENSE MINISTRY 197
indicated by the increase of the defense budget from a little
over two billion rupees in fiscal 1956-57 to more than three
billion five years later.
A Controversial Man
Yet Krishna Menon has managed to be in the center of
several controversies and growing suspicion at the Ministry
of Defense. A typical problem arose in connection with his
project to order supersonic MIG jet fighter planes from the
Soviets. Cheaper than the planes he could have obtained from
the West, they could also be bought in India's own currency,
the rupee, rather than in dollars or pounds. But the acquisition
of them would inevitably result in a certain technical reorien-
tation toward Russian-made weapons systems.
At the end of May, 1962, the Defense Ministry's budget
was discussed in the Lok Sabha. Krishna Menon acknowl-
edged that India was considering the purchase of the Russian
fighters. India's military purchases, he argued, would be deter-
mined by "self-interest conditioned by ethical considerations/ 7
India wanted these fighters to offset the twelve F-io4's Paki-
stan had received from the United States the previous year.
"We have got to get everything we can," he said, "to protect
our borders." The Defense Ministry had no ideology in its
purchases, he added, and he listed the factors that appeared to
favor the MIG's: cost, performance, availability of spare
parts, and the ability to carry weapons that were not too
costly to India.
The United States and Britain expressed concern over the
plan: the United States, because such a purchase would con-
stitute Russian military aid rendered possible by American
economic assistance; Britain, because the Soviet technicians
Ip8 KRISHNA MENON
accompanying the latest MIG's to India might have access to
classified British-made equipment.
Long before the MIG crisis, however, the Defense Min-
istry had become embroiled in controversy. The private
affairs of the Ministry of Defense in New Delhi erupted into
the open in September, 1959. The houses of parliament and
the editorial offices resounded with them. Again Krishna
Menon was in the eye of the hurricane. This time his own
chiefs of staff were up in arms against him. The army chief of
staff, General K. S. Thimayya, was so incensed that he offered
his resignation to Nehru, and intimated that its immediate
acceptance would not be too soon for him. The chief of the
naval staff, Vice Admiral R. D. Katari, and the chief of the
air staff, Air Marshal S. Mukerjee, were also on the warpath.
The press hinted that the trouble had erupted over adminis-
trative questions and, particularly, the Minister's policy of
promotion. The dispute reached the floor of the inquisitive
Lok Sabha in due time.
It seems that promotions had been made without consulting
the chiefs of the armed services. Had those promotions been
based on grounds other than merit, and if so, what had they
been? Promotions, it was intimated, were subordinated to
Krishna Menon's "peculiar predilections." These, in turn,
were motivated by political concerns. Krishna Menon was
referred to as the "ugly face of India's foreign policy" in the
debate which ensued.
Other things were also ventilated on the floor of the Lok
Sjfc0 financial irregularities in the Ministry of Defense,
including grave mistakes in audit reports, fictitious financial
adjustments, "infructuous purchases" and avoidable expendi-
tures. Why could not the Ministry of Defense exercise closer
vigilance over these matters? Krishna Menon was charged
IN THE DEFENSE MINISTRY 199
with responsibility. Again, he was not accused of having
derived pecuniary benefit from these transactions. On the
contrary, the trouble was his lack of interest in monetary
Prime Minister Nehru rushed to the defense of his besieged
cabinet member. "What kind of a tamasha is this?" he wanted
to know. What sort of funny business was this? Yes, he had
received Thimayya's resignation, and did not like it. The
whole thing was trivial, and top officers should not be so thin-
skinned. Yes, the civil authority was supreme in India. At the
same time, it should heed the advice of the experts. The finan-
cial mixup was unimportant, too, and could easily be straight-
ened out. He paid tribute to Krishna Menon for his "great
energy and enthusiasm." The opposition speakers objected.
While Nehru had paid tribute to the minister of defense, he
had said nothing about the work of the service chiefs. The
Prime Minister stuck to his guns. The officers were gallant
men, but they should not have turned a molehill into a moun-
tain. And there the matter rested; a triumph for the minister
Not much later two of the service chiefs were replaced:
Thimayya by General P. N. Thapar, and Air Marshal Muker-
jee by Air Marshal A. M. Engineer. Only Vice Admiral
Katari remained at his post, as he made his peace with the
minister of defense.
Was there anything more to this incident than the facts
aired on the floor of the Lok Sabha? Krishna Menon's posi-
tion, some of the newspapers reflected, appeared to be
stronger now than ever before. Was he strengthening his grip
on the ministry of defense in preparation for greater things
to come? Was Krishna Menon maneuvering himself toward
a position of greater power, to be assumed after his mentor,
200 KRISHNA MENON
Panditji, known to be ailing, had passed from the political
scene? The New Statesman and Nation, usually not hostile
to left-wing causes, echoed these suspicions. Although, it said,
Krishna Menon did not appear to be the stuff of which dicta-
tors were made, he could easily maneuver himself into a posi-
tion of great perhaps decisive power owing to the key
position he held at the ministry of defense.
Foreign observers such as John Masters, novelist and former
Indian Army officer, have been deeply critical of Menon's
record as Defense Minister, charging that he has dangerously
weakened India's defense posture. But the validity of these
criticisms or the fears of those who believe that Krishna
Menon will use his ministerial position for his own political
advantage can only be evaluated in the light of events yet to
cc Goa Constrictor"
Mountain in its Azure Hue
COLUMBUS HAD BEEN A FAILURE, but Vasco da Gama was a
success. The "India" of the former turned out to be America,
and who cared for it, until Eldorado's gold began to dazzle
Spanish eyes. But Vasco da Gama did find the road to India,
not across the Ocean Sea, but by doubling the Cape of Storms,
which afterward became the Cape of Good Hope. The land-
fall of the Portuguese navigator was at Calicut, the former
home of Krishna Menon. And it was Krishna Menon who
put an end to the Portuguese conquerors* rule.
The British had relinquished their empire after World War
II. As for France, nothing but a few small enckves remained
of the French dream in India Pondichery, Karikal, Chander-
nagor, Mahe and Yanaon, on both coasts, the Coromandel and
the Malabar. While France was still mistress of Indochina,
her mastery of these enclaves still had some sense. But when
Indochina was lost, French Indian enclaves became anachro-
nisms, and causes of bad blood. Consequently, on May 28,
2O2 KRISHNA MENON
1956, Paris and New Delhi set their signatures to a treaty the
first paragraph of which read:
Considering that their governments, faithful to the common
declaration made in 1947 and desirous of strengthening their
bonds of friendship, established since then between France and
India, have manifested their intention of settling amicably the
problem of French establishments in India . . . have decided to
conclude a treaty establishing [their] cession. . . .
This was the end of France in India, and the beginning of
closer relations between the two countries.
Portuguese India was a larger territory, with a longer his-
tory, indeed the longest history any modern European
state had in India. It was linked to Portugal's hallowed tradi-
tions, religious and secular. Its continued existence in its
hostile environment was conditioned both by Portugal's un-
willingness to come to terms with modern history, and by
deeply rooted vested interests. The Portuguese called it Estado
da Indiathe State of India and that was another insult, indi-
cating that there were two Indias on this globe, only one
of which had for its capital New Delhi. The "other India"
had for its capital the city of Pangim. It consisted of 1,396
square miles, comprising three enclaves on the Malabar Coast,
facing the Arabian Sea. To the north of Goa the larg-
estwere Damao, including the territories of Dadra and
Nagar-Aveli, in the neighborhood of Bombay, and Diu, an
island across from Dainao, on the Gulf of Cambay, whose
region included also the Portuguese coastal territories of
Gogola and Simbor. These regions were not poor in natural
resources, since they produced manganese, iron ore, coconuts,
cashew, copra, spices, fish, salt and rice. Their total popula-
tion was some 650,000.
The enclave of Goa itself comprised the Velhas Conquistas
"GOA CONSTRICTOR" 203
the Old Conquests and the Novas Conquistas, the new.
These very names were bound to affront Indian sensibilities.
This scented land of spice had a coastline of sixty miles, in-
cluding a segment of the Western Ghats towering into a
four thousand-foot peak.
The Portuguese Mars and the "New House"
The Portuguese had gained mastery of Goa under Affonso
de Albuquerque, whom his contemporaries named "The
Portuguese Mars," founder of an empire in the East and vice-
roy of the Portuguese Indies. He fought with success the
"infidel" king of Bijapur, Yusuf Adil Shah, a Moslem. The
war the Portuguese waged against him was therefore a
"crusade." Soon afterward Portugal began her missionary
work under the direction of the great Jesuit, St. Francis
Xavier, described as "the greatest missionary since St. Paul."
The annual "novena of grace" in mid-March attests to his
immortal fame. His headquarters was Goa, and from there he
embarked on his activities in the vastly difficult and even
dangerous region from Ceylon to Japan. At the very time
when he was preparing an expedition into the remote land of
China death overtook him. He was buried in the cathedral of
Goa. To Portugal, a devoted Catholic land, therefore, Goa
was not merely a highly valued overseas possession, but also
a religious shrine.
Goa was an expatriate Iberian world. The red-tiled roofs
of the houses and the Peninsular architecture contrasted
keenly with the jungle setting reflected in the blue waters of
the Arabian Sea. The whitewashed Catholic shrines and the
cool churches further intensified the curious impression that
this was some misplaced part of Southern Europe.
204 KRISHNA MENON
"Pangim still pulls down the siesta shutters against the
cruel afternoon heat," an American correspondent wrote,
"and statues of Portuguese heroes still stand on the squares,
staring out over the waterfront."
Goa was the last remaining reminder of the past humiliation
of the subcontinent. There, hated colonialism still conducted
itself in the spirit of olden days, ruffling Indian patriotic senti-
ment. And Portugal itself, ruled by its apparently perennial
Prime Minister, Dr. Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, was in every
way the social, political and economic antithesis of demo-
cratic, socialist India.
Salazar's Portugal was also considered particularly obnox-
ious for another reason. Indians were familiar with Africa, the
"Dark Continent," and they knew that it was darkest
wherever Portugal ruled. It was an anomaly and an abomina-
tion to have a slice of Portugal right in the core-land of pro-
gressive-minded India. But what was New Delhi to do? It
was dedicated to the policy of non-violence.
Krishna Menon had, of course, spoken about this on many
occasions. On the tenth birthday of the United Nations he
had quoted his country's sainted Gandhiji to the effect that
there could be no gap between means and ends. On another
solemn occasion he had declared: "We cannot make peace
by means of war." And again: "India will take no steps in-
volving the use of force, even if legal right is on our side."
Thus it was unarmed Indians who tried to force their way
into Goa on August 25, 1955, bent on demonstrating national
unity in the spirit of the late Gandhi, by peaceful means.
However, the Portuguese armed forces had not been trained
in the spirit of the revered Indian leader. They opened fire on
the demonstrators, killing several of them. Krishna Menon
took the case to the world tribunal in New York. Attempts
"GOA CONSTRICTOR" 205
were made to induce Portugal to leave the territory in peace,
but Salazar stood his ground. Goa, he said, was an organic
portion of the Republica Portuguese and not part of India.
And there the matter rested until late in 1961.
And Then the Thunderbolt
For weeks the Indian press and officials had been talking of
large Portuguese concentrations of firepower in Goa. Then,
on December 18, 1961, a crack Indian division moved into
the territory, while naval units of the republic deployed, and
Indian jets roared overhead. When the Indian forces moved
across the border they found only four thousand Portuguese
soldiers and some five thousand Goan policemen and guards.
Instead of the armada reported previously in the Indian press,
New Delhi's navy ran into one frigate, which was towed away
as a prize of war. The entire operation lasted thirty-six hours.
It cost India twenty-two and Portugal some forty lives. In-
dian officers later insisted that if the enemy had been in a mood
to fight, the battle could have lasted two weeks.
The Indian operation was master-minded by Defense Min-
ister Krishna Menon.
"For a good deal of the world," an American writer com-
mented, "and particularly for the United States, still mesmer-
ized by the memory of Mahatma Gandhi's credo of
non-violence, the invasion of Goa by India was shocking news.
It was as if Little Lord Fauntleroy had suddenly turned out to
be a juvenile delinquent."
Krishna Menon maintained that India had had no alterna-
tive. Public opinion in India had been aroused, and another
peace march into Goa had been in the offing. The marchers
206 KRISHNA MENON
could not have been restrained, he said, as they were deter-
mined to cross the line. Had they done so, the Portuguese
would have started shooting at them. "What were we to do?
Let the Portuguese shoot our own people?"
The occupation of Goa electrified not only India but also
many former colonial peoples. Portugal ranked low in the
estimation of the Afro-Asian countries, and Premier Salazar
was detested. To them Krishna Menon was a conquering hero.
In the western world, and particularly the United States,
however, he was roundly criticized. Where was that famous
Indian satyagraha hiding? And what was the United Nations
for? Why had India not availed herself of the United States'
offer to mediate a peaceful Portuguese exit?
There were those in the West who felt that there had been
intensely practical reasons for Menon's part in the invasion of
the Portuguese territories.
A general election in India had been scheduled for the near
future. Krishna Menon had been due to face a formidable
candidate in the North Bombay constituency, a man with a
nationally known name. Krishna Menon's popularity rating
at the moment had been low, not merely because of the stories
about his quarrels with the top brass, but also because of the
Embarrassing questions had been pouring in on the cabinet.
Was Krishna Menon so complacent about the Chinese Reds
because he had inhibitions in dealing with them? Granted that
he himself was not a Communist, was he unable to let India's
word be heard just because the Chinese were Reds?
Fortuitously, there was Goa, to help him out. It was not
"in the moon," as was the contested borderland in the north.
It possessed valuable industrial raw materials and farm prod-
ucts which India could use. Besides, it was the vestigial re-
mainder of a despised age. Goa was under the heel of an auto-
crat whom the people of India equated with all the sins of
imperialism. Obviously, Goa could not resist a region hun-
dreds of rimes its size and with a population of hundreds of
millions. This was bound to be a quick victory popular and
quick which the North Bombay voters were bound to re-
member as they entered the election booths.
Krishna Menon's prestige, however, was hardly enhanced
in the West. The chief American delegate to the U.N., Adlai
Stevenson, chided him for his tireless enjoinders to other
nations to seek the paths of peace, contradicted as they were
by his militaristic action. A foreign diplomat called Krishna
Menon the "Goa constrictor."
After India had taken Goa, Krishna Menon hurried to offer
his explanations to the United Nations in New York. A
phalanx of pressmen confronted him, wanting to know how
he could reconcile Gandhi's spirit with the employment of
jet bombers. The occupation of Goa, he told them, was not
an act of aggression. "What do you call it, then?" a reporter
ventured to ask. "I will not put up with such rudeness,"
Krishna Menon exploded. "Who are you to treat me like
this?" The bewildered reporter tried to explain that his ques-
tion was purely factual, and that no harm had been meant.
"Apologize into the microphone," Krishna Menon demanded,
and the reporter apologized. Millions of TV viewers were
privileged to witness this edifying encounter.
Meanwhile, Goa obtained two seats in the Indian Lok
Sabha, assigned to her by President Rasendra Prasad, and
Goa's official designation became "Union Territory," not
"State." When an American correspondent visited the terri-
tory half a year later, he reported: "The Goan shopkeeper
208 KRISHNA MENON
said with a grimace and a grumble that his shelves had been
empty since the Indian army came in. Then he said thought-
fully that the political jails had been, too."
And, in due course, Krishna Menon won his election.
The People's Voice
At the Gateway of India
THE NATIONAL ELECTION took place at the end of February,
1962. Krishna Menon was facing formidable opposition to
re-election to his North Bombay seat. Many people in India
may be underfed, but no nation, no matter how poor, likes to
be undernourished as regards news that will enable it to strike
a heroic pose. India's own press had been heckling Krishna
Menon about his reaction to the Chinese dragon, nibbling
away precious Indian land in the North. He was vulnerable
at election time on that score. On Goa, however, he shone
like a knight in radiant armor.
Never had the world seen such an election campaign. The
number of qualified voters was estimated at 210 million, and
at least 125 million of them were expected to go to the polls
in what was described as the biggest free election in history.
The number of expected voters alone exceeded the combined
populations of Great Britain, France, Australia and Canada.
There were about 200,000 polling stations, some of them in
210 KRISHNA MENON
nearly inaccessible mountain areas, which could be reached
only on foot. Candidates for the approximately five hundred
seats in the Lok Sabha were campaigning, some of them call-
ing attention to themselves in dramatic ways. Communist
Party workers at Calcutta acted out skits on such issues as
high prices, exorbitant rents and poor transportation. A Pun-
jabi candidate campaigned from the prison cell to which he
had been confined for attempting to murder his rival. A Con-
gress Party aspirant in the Himalayan constituency of Ranik-
het promised to deal with his district's most urgent problem
a tiger that had already devoured twenty people. Since most
of the voters were illiterates, they were to use rubber stamps
to make a cross after the name of the candidates of their choice.
Each candidate's party symbol was reproduced on the ballot.
North Bombay was a "prestige constituency" and fairly
safe for the National Congress, for which Krishna Menon was
the candidate. He did not contest a seat in his own home dis-
trict, Kerala, on the Malabar Coast. He had severed his rela-
tions with the South. Also, Kerala has the largest number of
Communists in India, and had he been returned to parliament
from there, the opposition could have claimed that he had
been elected by the extreme left.
The Goddess of Fishermen
Mumba was the goddess of the fishermen who inhabited the
eleven-mile-long island today named for her, and it was her
name which became Bombay, after having passed through
many distorting lips. Mumba seems to have been a fickle god-
dess, and fickle is certainly the word for the people of Bom-
bay. The partial explanation may be their composition: the
richest and the poorest, from the most diverse ethnic origins
THE PEOPLE'S VOICE 211
Gujeratis, Marathis, Cinhalese, Pushtus, Tibetans, Baghdad
Jews, Punjabis, Sikhs and many others.
Bombay is a city of global shipping, with a constantly stir-
ring waterfront kept churning by trade and banking. It is also
a city of large industries. It is the home of people who have
the means to rest on the finest damask sheets, and of people
who live all their lives in the gutters of the streets. Bombay-
like India is more than a limited geographical unit, more than
a city, or even a country it is the world itself. The very lan-
guage of the bulk of its people is a cosmopolitan mixture,
Bombay Bat, a lingua franca in which are embedded Hindi,
Urdu, Persian, Arabic and Pushtu, with an admixture of
pidgin English. It was not easy to reach such an audience in
an election campaign, especially if one was as sophisticated as
Krishna Menon and as snobbish.
Krishna Menon's principal opponent was Nehru's former
companion and jailmate, Acharya Kripalani, a nationally
known and highly respected name. Formerly he had belonged
to the Congress Party, but now he was the standard-bearer of
the Praja Socialist Party, which considered parts of the Con-
gress program dated and aimed at the establishment of a demo-
cratic Socialist society.
Besides being a Socialist, Kripalani was strongly anti-Com-
munist, and perhaps even more strongly anti-Krishna Menon.
He did not stand alone in opposition to the Minister of De-
fense. Other parties, including the Jana Singh Party "India
Firsters" who detested the Moslems, Christians, and untouch-
ablesand many others, were in the running. Also opposed to
Krishna Menon was the newly established conservative party,
Sivatantra, founded by India's first Governor-General, Cha-
kravarti Rajagopalachari, a prominent leader from Madras.
"Our party is in revolt against statism," he declared. The
212 KRISHNA MENON
Moslem League also advised its cohorts to vote against Krishna
The Communists, on the other hand, supported him.
The Sound and Fury of the Battle
His election posters symbolized the theme of Kripalani's
campaign. They showed a bayonet held by Red China stab-
bing into the body of India: "Menon represents China not
India." Who had been the minister of defense at the time
when the Chinese had started humiliating India by capturing
her border patrols? The same Krishna Menon who had in-
structed the Indian border guards not to return the Reds' fire.
"I have come North," Kripalani said at an election rally,
"to warn you against the Communist danger to your house-
holds, your freedom, and aU the values you hold dear."
And again: "If you vote wrongly on February 25, you will
encourage the Chinese who have already occupied 14,000
square miles of our land, to nibble away at our territory. The
history of the 250 years of British conquest will be repeated.
The current situation has been brought about by Mr. Menon's
inept handling of our national defenses."
All the opposition candidates charged that Krishna Menon
had the Communists' full support and that they never seemed
to attack or even as much as criticize him. Kripalani extended
his criticism to the entire Congress leadership, which had
taken Krishna Menon under its protective wing. "My criti-
cism of the government," Kripalani said, "is on the grounds
of ethics and everyday human values." He wanted to know
why the government of which Krishna Menon was a key
member had stood by while Tibet was raped, and why India
THE PEOPLE'S VOICE 213
had not sided with the free world at the time of the Hungarian
The Big Battalions for the Minister of Defense
The Congress Party mustered its big battalions for the de-
fense of Krishna Menon. Bombay is situated in the state of
Maharashtra, the chief minister of which, Y. B. Chavan, made
clear the special interest of the Congress Party in the North
Bombay election. Mr* Chavan was an influential man, being
also minister of home, planning and industries. The election,
he noted, was of international importance, and its outcome
was bound to affect the future of the entire nation for at least
As the day of the balloting approached, the election fever
reached a critical peak. The political commentator of the pro-
Congress but anti-Krishna Menon daily, The Hindustan
Times, said just before the voting day:
For the voters, North Bombay will go down as the most ex-
citing and controversial election in history, with the election
issues brought home to them through the media of posters, the
written and the spoken word, and tape-recorded verses and
songs. In many ways, the poll has been an education in current
politics and political vocabulary. The meanings of such words
as "crypto-Communist" and "fellow-travelers" are now not
beyond the comprehension of the common people. The danger
to our northern borders from China has also loomed large in
the election issues.
Krishna Menon solemnly declared that he was averse to
political mudslinging and to fighting his opponents with lies.
The present election he said in a key speech in Sunderabai
Hall would help to separate the wheat from the chaff, and
214 KRISHNA MENON
to promote the political education of the electorate. The
policy of the government would not be changed, "though
many people of the West and some people here too are trying
to pressurize it into war alliances and a war." Those who
opposed socialism, he warned, were wrong, because "this eco-
nomic revolution is inevitable." The government preferred
to have it happen by common consent, but, he added grimly,
the "alternative was inevitable," if the consent was absent.
This cryptic statement, with its ominous undertones, called
for clarification. He did not provide it.
Shortly before election day, thousands of people gesticu-
lating and shouting "Vote for Menon!" marched to the Ex-
press group newspaper offices in Bombay, and made a bonfire
of its English and Marathi-language daily publications. The
Express was a staunch supporter of Kripalani in the North
Bombay contest. One of the leaders of the demonstration was
a member of parliament from Kashmir, the other, one from
Delhi. They demanded that the newspapers stop attacking
Krishna Menon. The Kashmiri member of parliament was
overheard saying that the crowd had been in just the right
mood to smash the newspaper building, but that he had man-
aged to pacify it. Incessantly the demonstrators kept on shout-
ing, "Menon will win the North Bombay election." Others
shouted, "Those who oppose him will be ground to dust."
Some distance from the newspaper offices the police stopped
Mr. Nehru Steps In
The Prime Minister went all out in backing Krishna Menon.
The keystone of his talks was, "If you are against Krishna
Menon, you are against me." Panditji said at open-air meetings
THE PEOPLE'S VOICE 215
on Connaught Place-the Times Square of New Delhi that
Kripalani's supporters were adopting the techniques of the
late Senator McCarthy in branding Krishna Menon a Com-
munist. McCarthyisin had done great harm to America, he
added, and if it came to India "it will spell our ruination/' To
call Mr. Menon a Communist, Nehru said, was a fantastic lie.
"Mr. Menon is a Socialist, as myself, and he is a real Socialist,
and not an arm-chair one." On the other hand, Acharya
Kripalani was being helped by all kinds of reactionaries the
wealthy people, the big newspapers and both Hindu and
"Vote Menon," said a Menon poster, "and support Nehru."
"Vote Kripalani," said a Kripalani poster, "and save
Election day finally came, the voters delivered their verdict
and the votes were counted. Krishna Menon's showing was
better than the Congress Party had anticipated. He had polled
296,304 votes against 151,437 for Kripalani. Goa, it seemed,
had paid off.
Kripalani and his supporters did not accept defeat stoically.
"Krishna Menon's victory was the victory of the Reds." A
political cartoon in the The Hindustan Times was captioned,
"North Bombay Championship Bout: Killer Kripdani vs.
Mauler Menon." It showed a boxing ring in which a huge
figure labeled "Commies" was carrying out the defense min-
ister, who had just kicked another figure, marked "Anti-
Menon Front," in the snout. Nehru was clapping his hands
gently in his ringside seat, while Khrushchev threw up his
cap in undisguised jubilation.
The election confirmed the Congress Party in its estab-
lished place with a margin more than ample for the next five
2l6 KRISHNA MENON
years, after which there would have to be another national
election. Krishna Menon, as saturnine-looking as ever, com-
mented that the outcome of the election manifested the poli-
tical maturity of India's electorate.
The Image and the Enigma
Krishna Menon 9 s Role
FRANK MORAES, the Indian author and newspaperman, has
written, in Jaivaharlal Nehru, A Biography:
The closest to him [Nehru] today is probably the didactic
and controversial V. K. Krishna Menon . . . Menon has an
aptitude for rationalising Nehru's instinct and impulses, particu-
larly in the field of foreign affairs, and of clothing them in clear,
precise language and logical thought. . . . Lean, stringy, satur-
nine, with a caustic tongue and a look of imperious disdain, he
suggests (too easily perhaps) the Grey Eminence hovering bale-
fully in the background.
Referring to the close relation between President Franklin
D. Roosevelt and his principal adviser, Moraes refers to
Krishna Menon as Prime Minister Nehru's Harry Hopkins.
Krishna Menon is Panditji's eminence grise.
The two men seem to be utterly different, in their back-
grounds, manners and temperaments. Yet, as we have seen,
there is an intellectual kinship between them. The Congress,
2l8 KRISHNA MENON
being a political organization, has a large contingent of little
people with big ambitions shallow politicians, time-servers.
Krishna Menon the intellectual is not of their ilk, and this fact
alone may have appealed to Panditji.
If the two men were active in American politics they would
stand somewhere well to the left of center in the Democratic
Party. America can afford to be capitalistic, because it has vast
accumulations of capital. But India is not America. The capital
she has is limited, and is concentrated in few hands. Outside
of that, she is beset by a poverty which must be seen to be
believed. Capitalism without adequate capital is not only an
impossibility but an absurdity. Yet India cannot afford to have
events overwhelm her. People are no longer content to have
independence as an abstract notion. Freedom means also free-
dom from hunger for famished people. The Indian govern-
ment must, therefore, raise living standards. No matter how
poor, a country disposes of larger resources than even the
richest individuals. Therefore, according to Nehru and
Menon, the need for the social solution of India's economic
problems the Socialist way.
Not a few observers of the Indian scene and they are not
all Communists believe that the indigenous system is so
congealed in a "cake of custom" that it can no longer be
softened by normal methods, and therefore must be broken
open. The Russians did that in their own country, and turned
it into the largest industrial nation in the Old World. Al-
though an appalling number of human lives were lost in the
process, they believe that history is concerned only with
Consequently, the Indian leaders might easily have taken
the Russian pattern as the only one likely to lead to results.
It is to be assumed that they would have softened its rigors,
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 219
in line with their policy of satyagraha. But, in fact, they have
not taken the Soviet route. They have turned to a mixed econ-
omythe government helping out where the classical methods
of free enterprise failed.
Nehru and Krishna Menon apparently see eye to eye on
this basic problem. America has become more sensitive to
overtones of political ideology than most western nations. To
many Americans some of Nehru's statements in the past have
sounded "radical." Some of Krishna Menon's statements still
sound like Communism. However, the important thing is not
what a man sounds like, but what he does. The history of
contempory India provides the answer. She is still part of
what we call the free world so far.
The two leading men of India in the country's most critical
period of nation-building seem to have agreed on the essen-
tials not only in domestic matters but also in the foreign field
the special concern of the man from the Malabar Coast.
Krishna Menon, the "formula manipulator," has a categorical
mind. Although many Americans do not like his formulas, a
surprisingly large number of these "formulas" have been ac-
ceptable to a majority of the nations, certainly to the Afro-
Krishna Menon's favorite photo of himself in recent years
has been that of Lotte Meitner-Graf : a thoughtful face resting
on a relaxed hand, with a soupgon of a smile on his lips; not
the face of a man of action, but that of a philosopher. Yet
when I asked him about his philosophy of life, he countered,
"When a person has a philosophy of life, he is ready to die."
Obviously, he does have a philosophy of life. Not so obvi-
ously, it is the very reverse of the Hindu attitude.
220 KRISHNA MENON
Hinduism believes that man's fate is predetermined, the
result of the all-pervasive karma, deed. Human beings' deeds
prescribe their future status in reincarnation; good deeds are
rewarded, evil ones punished. Only the final stage, nirvana,
can bring freedom and ultimate release.
All creatures have, under this creed, dharma, the duty to
perform one's obligations. These obligations in human society
are to the caste, the social group and the family. Krishna
Menon does not believe in karma, in nirvana, or in man's pre-
determined fate. He holds that there could be little progress
if the world were destined always to move in the same grooves.
In that case, there would be no need for diplomacy, or for
the United Nations.
A strong belief in peace is an important part of Krishna
Menon's professed philosophy. "But more than talk is needed,"
he says. "You must have a peaceful approach to problems
and eventually it will create the proper conditions for peace."
His practical philosophy culminates in the call for coexistence
among the nations: "When a child grows up, it lives in the
same house, but must have a separate room. This is family
coexistence. But, then, coexistence is a stilted expression for
something the world has always known."
Inaugurating a lecture series organized by the Amar Hind
Mandal Eternal India Association he expressed his view on
the workings of democracy:
Two developments have helped democracy in India. The
first was the growing conviction among the people that their
political and social conditions could be changed. . . . With the
growing participation of the people in the government, proper
education has become more essential or else the wrong kind of
government might get into the saddle.
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 221
Speaking about freedom of expression, he said: "No mat-
ter how scurrilous newspapers might turn out to be, I would
not like them to be suppressed except when matters concern-
ing the security of the state were involved."
The qualification, of course, is not inconsiderable.
Charming and Rude
"Krishna can be charming about twenty per cent of the
time," said Mrs. Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Nehru's sister. He
can also be uncharming. He can look through people as
though they were glass. He can be overbearing and arrogant.
When he wants to indicate that he is bored, he yawns and
keeps on doing so, directly in the face of the speaker or per-
former concerned. One of the famous photographs of him
shows him dozing off, in company, at an exclusive New York
cafe. He employs intemperate words. And he is a snob.
He was asked, in the early stages of World War II, if he
could see any difference between the Nazis and the Franco-
English alliance. "You might as well ask the fish if it prefers
to be fried in butter or margarine," he replied.
He likes to dwell on the "struggle among imperialists."
He made a statement on a Philadelphia radio station at the
time of the Korean war to the effect that the United States
had deliberately sabotaged his peace plan by bombing the
power plants on the Yalu River, between Korea and China.
He also accused the United States of having brought China
into that war by pushing beyond the 38th parallel, which had
been the boundary between Communist North Korea and
the anti-Communist South. When the administration in Wash-
ington lodged a protest to New Delhi over this statement,
222 KRISHNA MENON
Mr. Nehru replied evasively: "Krishna Menon does not speak
for India on every occasion."
Here are some other "Menonisms," directed mainly at the
"You Americans always want everything in black and
white. You make everyone sign on the dotted line."
"America wants to be the leader of a holy alliance in
defense of legitimacy, the status quo, no matter how intol-
He seldom admits that he has ever said intemperate or ill-
considered things. "What I have to say is not meant for today
or for the next year but for a generation or more, when people
will be ready to accept what they criticize today."
He disclaims any intention to affront the United States.
"Actually, I have never criticized the internal politics of
the United States. I have been asked, for example, what I
think of the Negro problem in America. I refrain from an-
swering such questions, since they do not concern me. My
job is not to deal with questions which arise in the United
States. I am not here to convict the whole world. It is really
a small matter who dislikes whom as long as the job is done."
"It is a great mistake to think," he told an Indian audience,
"that everybody is against us in the United States. We would
be throwing out the baby with the bathwater if in the process
of criticism we created . . . antagonisms which we cannot
In an obscure explanation of his numerous attacks on the
West, he has said that he criticizes it more than the East
because this is bound to produce better results. "The West
is more redeemable."
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 223
Although Krishna Menon has a wide-spread reputation
for arrogance, especially at U. N. General Assembly meet-
ings, he makes a special point as shown before of professing
modesty indeed, aggressively so. Few delegates make more
frequent use of the tiresome formulas "in all humility," and
"in my humble submission."
In fact, modesty is not one of his more notable qualities. He
is a born actor, and thrives in the limelight. When I showed
him the book I had written about India he quickly turned
to the index. I assured him that his name was mentioned in
"You know," an Indian reporter said about him, "when
somebody else faints you wave smelling salts in front of him.
When Krishna Menon faints, you wave the microphone."
One day he did faint in front of the microphone, in full
view of the distinguished audience of the U. N. General As-
sembly. His alleged first words after he recovered were:
"Where is the man from the Associated Press?"
England, With All Her Faults
He was astringent about Britain's "imperialism" in India's
pre-independence days, but now those strictures are largely
forgotten. Today he admires Britain, an aspect of his thinking
that becomes obvious after one has spent a few minutes with
him. "Britain is tolerant," he keeps repeating, "Britain is
civilized." One feels that this insistent eulogy carries with
it a strong implied contempt for the United States.
He wants friendship firmly founded between Britain and
India. He wanted India to remain with .the Commonwealth,
and would have liked even closer relations. Krishna Menon
has been sponsoring causes, organizations and publications
224 KRISHNA MENON
to foster British-Indian friendship. In 1955 he founded the
magazine Envoy, ostensibly "to promote friendship between
India and Britain." It is a well-edited, glossy periodical, started
as a monthly, now a bimonthly, explaining the two countries
to each other from various points of view.
"Scratches on Our Minds' 9
What about the public image of Krishna Menon in the
United States, Great Britain and India? A prominent Amer-
ican sociologist, Harold R. Isaacs, research associate at the
Center for International Studies of the Massachusetts Insti-
tute of Technology, undertook to inquire into a matter that
has suddenly become of great importance to all of us: What
kind of ideas do Americans carry about in their heads re-
garding the rest of the world? His findings were published
in a book called Scratches on Our Minds*
Mr. Isaacs set out to look for the answers by interviewing
nearly two hundred Americans occupying important places
in our society. They were government officials, diplomats,
journalists, educators, missionaries and businessmen, many of
them with experience in both India and the United States.
The author fashioned his report out of their schoolday
memories, personal experiences, the wisps remaining in their
minds from printed sources, movies and personal contacts.
Here we are concerned only with the "scratches on our
minds" concerning Krishna Menon. He and Nehru were the
only two Indian leaders mentioned by the interviewees in
the course of a free-association and "stream of consciousness"
*New York: The John Day Company, 1958. The following excerpts
are reprinted with permission.
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 225
"The Alter Image: Menon" is the title of the section that
deals with Krishna Menon. As Nehru's alter ego, the reader
is told, he is also his alter image, upon whom Nehru's friends
feel free to project the stronger feelings they cannot apply to
their hero. Somewhere close to the end of the spectrum,
where "Nehru's policies are most strongly opposed and his
personality pictured in its least attractive light, we begin to
come upon the image of another Indian figure, V. K. Krishna
Menon, long Nehru's principal roving ambassador and chief
of India's delegation to the United Nations."
Of the twenty-six interviewees who brought up the subject
of Menon, all had encountered him personally, but only four
offered marginal reservations in his favor. One was a top
American official who had often faced Menon in United
"He is a man of elusive values," this American diplomat
said, "able but not frank or reliable, you always have to watch
him carefully. He is always patronizing. He seems to have
to keep on reassuring himself. But I can overlook this. He
has courage and nerve and I rather enjoy tussling with him.
He is never boring."
Said one of the other three men with the mental reservations
for Krishna Menon: "A Machiavelli with a swelled head,
though he has his good sides, too; a pretty vicious guy, but
you have to respect him. . . ."
"I even like Krishna Menon," one of these interviewees
said. "We get along, though he does with very few. He is
a prickly character, but we enjoy scrapping; he lectures me
and I lecture him."
But more typical of the majority was this opinion:
A devil incarnate. It relieves me to know that he lived most
of his life out of India. He is vile in personal relationships and
226 KRISHNA MENON
in every possible way. I can understand anti-Americanism, but
what disturbs me more in Menon are his personal traits and the
terrible feeling that he is really sincere in all this. He has done
enormous harm over here and I wish Nehru would send him
back to India.
And here are samples of other views of Krishna Menon
from the same inquiry:
More objectionable than anybody I have ever met in my life;
a poisonous fellow; rubs people the wrong way; always fighting
to assert his masculinity, keen and lashing in a fight, a dangerous
man; he was quite insulting to our delegates at the United
Nations, I experienced it myself when I served there; a pro-
Communist, anti-American blackmail agent; Menon is actively
inimical to Americans; he just does not like them; I feel no
sincerity in him at all, can never believe a thing he says; Menon
is the archetype of the kind of unpleasant people Forster de-
scribed in A Passage to India, glib, unctuous, self-righteous,
arrogant; if Nehru wants to improve relations, let him with-
draw the loud-mouthed, anti-American Menon. . . .
. . . Menon is the man who has had a peculiar success in
persuading almost everyone he encounters that he is really as
obnoxious as he appears to be There seems to be some slight
perplexity about Menon's personal political views, but he leaves
no doubt about his acidulous contempt for everything pertain-
ing to Americans and the United States.
. . . And the Undergraduates
These are the views of some of the leaders of thought in
America. At the other extreme are the "scratches on the
minds" of college students. I requested several friends, col-
lege teachers, to have some of their students express their
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 227
views about Krishna Menon, views they had collected through
the usual channels school, publications, other media of in-
formation, including the radio and television. There were about
a hundred of them, college freshmen, not overburdened with
knowledge of the world, and not social science majors. They
were innocent of special knowledge of India, except where
class discussions had tackled some of her current problems.
There was also another group, some forty persons, who were
upperclassmen and social science majors.
Not all the lower classmen could correctly identify Krishna
Menon, and he was totally unknown to some 45 per cent.
This inquiry about him was made shortly after his spectacular
re-election to the North Bombay seat in the Lok Sabha early
The answers of the students were given mainly in short,
crisp words. The most common expressions they used were
"arrogant" and "leftist."
Some of the students elaborated:
He has leftist leanings and is considered pro-Communist by
many. Some say that he is anti-white and anti-United States. For
this reason he is hated by many in the West.
My opinion [commented another student] is based only on
newspaper reports. With all this talk about his Communist lean-
ings, I would say that he is rather a shady character to be in
charge of the defense of a country like India.
And these further observations:
Problem: Menon is pro-Communist and he is second in com-
mand in India. Question: When Nehru goes and Menon takes
over, will India go Communist?
He leans toward communism . . . He is disliked in this country
for his sympathy toward communism . . . He is a very con-
troversial figure . . . From what I have read and heard about
228 KRISHNA MENON
him I can say that I don't exactly like his principles, but I have
to admit that he is doing as much as he can for India.
And these further observations of many freshmen:
I believe that Menon is an able man, having his nation's wel-
fare on his mind but that he is approaching his duties the wrong
way . . . Mr. Menon appears to be a very cynical man. He has
made a very bad impression on me, as he appears to be more to
the left and unwilling to cooperate with the United States . . .
My only visual contact on the TV gave me the impression that
he is a very explosive man who resents being put in a bad light
by reporters ... He is not the best man in such a position [min-
ister of defense] in his country . . . He is said to be a good
buddy of Nehru but I do feel that their policies differ too
greatly to believe that they are really close associates ... In
my opinion, Mr. Menon is the farthest left force in India . . .
While Mr. Nehru sides more with the West, I believe that he is
being influenced by Mr. Menon ... In dealing with this man,
the United States should be very careful, since he has been very
critical of us and our diplomacy, as far as India is concerned . . .
From every source I read and from every fact I learned I de-
cided that Menon is the cloud hovering over India. It is he who
prevents India being a strictly neutral power, for his allegiance
seems to be more with the Soviet Union than with the United
A single dissenter wrote:
I personally believe that Mr. Menon is not as terrible or as
leftist as the newspapers seem to imply. His animosity toward
the American press may or may not be completely justified but
there is no excuse for the papers to distort this man's actions so
it seems he is wholly leftist. The mere fact that Nehru supports
Mr. Menon is evidence enough for me to have a favorable im-
pression and respect for the beliefs of this man.
Greater sophistication was manifested in the opinions of
some of the upperclassmen. Here are a few samples:
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA
He is arrogant, intelligent, aggressive, self-centered, egotisti-
cal, an opportunist . . . and I don't trust him.
In my opinion he represents the aggressive and authoritarian
voice in Indian affairs today. But he is a strong power. I think
that he likes to think that he is following in Gandhi's path. Yet,
I don't think that he represents the majority of the people of
To me he is arrogant, crude, also polite, graceful, and at the
same time stupid, dogmatic and weak-willed. In other words,
he changes his colors like a chameleon. He is all things to all
men, basically unfriendly to the West and neutral to the Com-
munists. He seeks the greater glory of Krishna Menon at the
expense of India. He is too smart and self-assured. He is belicose
and an appeaser, depending upon the circumstances.
And another student, gazing into the future:
I feel that he will never become the leader of India, since his
arrogant ways have alienated the people.
It all adds up to this: molto antipdtico.
. . . And the Press
Public media of all sorts in the U.S. are almost unanimous
in their dislike of Menon. He seems to have provided the
model for the characterization of a villainous Oriental in a
recent best-selling novel on political life in Washington.
When writing about him, American newspapers tend to lose
their manners, if not their objectivity. The Time-Life-For-
tune combine, particularly, does not seem to be able to utter
his name without hissing. The general tone of the press is
indicated in the headlines of a few representative articles in
leading periodicals. "Mouthpiece Extraordinary, Trouble-
maker Plenipotentiary" was the tide of a detailed editorial
230 KRISHNA MENON
in Life. "Krishna Menon: The Wasp of New Delhi" was
the title of an article in the Saturday Evening Post. Time has
headlined its articles with "Writhing Words," "Nyet," "Great
I Am" and others. "Menon Kicked Upstairs" and "Menon
Riding High" were headlines in the New Republic. The Re-
porter remarked that Krishna Menon's "unique gift of being
unpleasant to the largest possible number of people is uni-
versally known." The same periodical commented that Me-
non has become increasingly unpopular in India and is widely
believed to be a fellow traveler.
Other American press comments:
He has an unfortunate personality ... He is evasive ... He
is rude ... He meddles. . . .
And the constantly recurring leitmotif:
He is complex ... He is mysterious. . . .
The Press of India
With few exceptions, the press of India itself dislikes
Krishna Menon. "Mr. Menon must go," said an article in
The Hindustan Times, which is pro-Congress and therefore
is supposed to follow the Nehru line. "Whether or not Menon
is a Communist," wrote this important New Delhi daily, "his
actions have constantly benefited the Communists, so that
India's defenses cannot be trusted to such a man when the
enemy is China."
A leading columnist of India, A. G. Gorwala, has made
much the same comments in the Times of India. Indeed, he
has gone one step further, by saying flatly that Krishna Me-
non is a Communist.
An Indian political leader told New York Times corre-
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 23!
spondent A. M. Rosenthal: "He is a disaster, I tell you, that
man. Why does Panditji keep him? What does he see in that
The same correspondent noted: "It is becoming almost
impossible to have a dinner table conversation in New Delhi
that does not get around to V. K. Krishna Menon. And more
often than not it ends on the same note of resignation: 'What
does Nehru see in that Man?' "
A prominent Indian editor introduced another note into
the discussion by saying that although Krishna Menon was
bright enough, he had a warped personality and should there-
fore be taken out of the diplomatic post.
Yet the same Krishna Menon occasionally becomes a na-
tional hero in India, when he stands up to Pakistan, the United
States and other countries in the United Nations on the Kash-
mir issue. He gets high praise on such occasions, even from
some of the most cantankerous representatives of the press.
. . . And the British
At the time of the Suez crisis Krishna Menon was described
in the popular, large-circulation British press as the stooge of
Colonel Gamal Abdel Nasser. Most of the British newspapers
did not like Krishna Menon's "anti-imperialist" crusade in
the Congo, which he carried on not only on United Nations
platforms but also on television screens. Few of England's
pressmen were throwing bouquets at the delegate of India
for his work on the Kashmk issue.
Yet despite these strictures, Krishna Menon has not been
depicted as "all black" in the British press. Representative of
this shaded attitude are the comments of that famous British
institution, The Economist. While castigating Krishna Menon
232 KRISHNA MENON
for his "filibustering tactics" on the Kashmir issue, it has
praised him for his "efficient handling of the defense portfolio
of India." In an intriguing juxtaposition of Krishna Menon
and foreign-policy-conscious Americans, this weekly com-
mented in its January 24, 1959, issue:
In their wistful moments, many Americans still yearn to play
the part of a super-Sweden or Switzerland, patching up other
peoples' quarrels . . . rather than acting as a major interested
party themselves. Some of that yearning is seen in the vestigial
presence of the anti-colonial theme, while the painfulness of
repressing this theme is betrayed by the violent reaction of the
self-righteous Mr. Krishna Menon.
"The Revolt of the Classes"
The Krishna Menon "enigma" is the composite of numer-
ous ingredients. The environment in which he grew up is
one of these. Extremes collide head-on in Kerala the most
dynamic and the most static forces of India. The Malabar
Coast has been open to the irradiation of Western dynamism
longer than any other part of the subcontinent. This dyna-
mism, while not a revolutionary influence in the political sense,
has forced constant comparisons on the attentions of inquisi-
tive young men such as Krishna Menon compelling them
to weigh the respective values of East and West. On the
other hand, the obscurities of the primeval forests back of
the coast have presented the challenge of a stagnant civiliza-
tion. Hemmed in by these opposing forces, the creative minor-
ity of young people have developed a questioning stance,
which has manifested itself in the contagious discontent of
those who have had the capacity to see and to compare. Many
of them have left the Malabar Coast in an attempt to find the
answers in South Africa, Singapore or Burma. Today, the
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 233
Indian Communists have their strongest Indian bulwark in
The "enigma" of Krishna Menon is also that of many
newly awakened people. The "revolt of the classes" erupted
all over India in the twentieth century the revolt of the intel-
lectual classes. It was a revolt against colonialism, which was
the causative agent of frustration and humiliation. Set against
this was the search of the "angry young men" for the evi-
dences of India's greatness for her towering literary achieve-
ments, works of art and philosophy of life, which promised
to restore the balance missing in modern Indian life, the
balance between spiritual and material values.
When he was young, Krishna Menon habitually underem-
phasized Britain's contribution to India's survival. He did
not wish to admit that Britain had been able to establish her-
self on the subcontinent because of the jungle-like growth
of intrigues and feuds. Yet the Pax Britannica. had been a
drastic remedy that probably kept the patient, the subconti-
nent, from bleeding to death.
Eventually, Krishna Menon slipped out of Britain's India
and found sanctuaries, first at Adyar, where he came across
a Britain that extolled India, and then in Camden Town. He
came to the conclusion that the British had been perverting
their democratic and humane philosophy to ends that were
in direct contradiction to their own interests.
With the constant broadening of his horizon, he came to
believe that not only India but also Britain could gain greatly
by abandoning the master-lackey relationship. This insight
gave his life a new, almost obsessive, direction.
In spite of rule by one of the most advanced western coun-
tries, India found herself, in the twentieth century, in the
least advanced stages of economic development. She was
234 JK.KIbH.NA MENON
floundering in a morass of secular stagnation, her habits im-
peded by traditions which the British neglected to change on
the ground that they did not wish to interfere with the mores
of their charges.
As Krishna Menon looked around he saw that other back-
ward nations were moving upward. There was, for instance,
the former Ottoman Empire, now called Turkey, in which
life was no longer mortgaged to the interests and jealousies
of greedy powers. Turkey was entering what Professor Walt
Rostow has called the transitional phasethe second in the
developmental sequence under the leadership of that re-
markable statesman, Mustafa Kemal, whom his countrymen
called Ataturk Father of the Turks. Turkey was erecting
an industrial infrastructure, which was helping to turn the
country from being a house of death to being a house of life.
As Krishna Menon's eyes swept beyond Turkey, he found
an even more fascinating example of a country in the third
stage of development, the economic take-off. This was the
Soviet Union, whose own version of "Operation Bootstrap"
was to lift it to the level of the industrially advanced coun-
tries. Krishna Menon was not then aware of the price the
Russians had to pay for this advance, and he may not be
aware of it now.
The fourth stage of development is the "drive to maturity,"
and the final phase of it is that of "high mass consumption."
Yet India had not been allowed to take even the second step.
She, the cradle of one of the world's great civilizations, the
erstwhile "gleam in the eye" of greedy western man, had
been left far behind.
As Krishna Menon saw it, the enemy, the solely responsible
political "devil," was imperialism. Krishna Menon hated it
with a passion which bordered on the pathological, while, at
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 235
the same time, he was making new and disconcerting dis-
coveries about British "imperialists at home." They were
not the unbending martinets he had seen on the Malabar
Coast. He found it possible to talk to them, and, sometimes,
they would even listen. He could convince some of them
that their own best interests lay in a prosperous and self-
assured India, generating her own motive force, powered by
indigenous enthusiasm, ascending the steps of economic de-
velopment into the stage of economic take-off and beyond.
Simultaneously, he discovered his own niche in the scheme
of things, a gap he could fill, so that he could cease to be a
human cipher: his role of guru to those people who were
willing to listen.
And Then the Miracle
Through The India League and through every other avail-
able means, Krishna Menon pursued the goal of Indian inde-
pendence with single-minded fanaticism. During the whole
twenty-four years of his sojourn in Englandyears of crucial
importance in his intellectual and psychological development
his fixed obsession was the extirpation of colonial rule in
India. Every other political cause or phenomenon, even the
cataclysm of World War II, seems to have taken second place
in his thinking. If he flirted with the Labour Monthly Com-
munists, it was to use them for his purpose. And if, by the
same token, they also used him for their political objectives,
he probably did not care, because their objectives were of
only peripheral interest to him. Indian independence was
the all-consuming end, and nearly any effective means to it
would have been acceptable to him.
What must have been the effect on him when India was
236 KRISHNA MENON
at last granted independence? Triumphant gratification,
surely. But also, perhaps, a sense of loss, a sudden disorienta-
tion. The intellectual and emotional pivot of his existence
had been removed. Now he would have to apply the habits
and attitudes of a lifetime to a wholly new context, one to
which the old patterns of thought and feeling might not be
Britain's post- World War II reappraisal of her place in the
scheme of things appeared to him a masterpiece of statesman-
ship. And, indeed, has the world ever seen anything like it?
She had emerged victoriously from a war which would have
ended in disaster without her tenacity. Seemingly enshrouded
by glory, she was ready now to liquidate her global empire.
This was an unprecedented performance, and a very shrewd
one, too. For by doing this, Britain salvaged the substance of
empire enlarged investment opportunities, increased trade
and the ability to help construct a broader market for British
goods. Also, she earned the respect of her former subjects.
This was one of the main reasons why the erstwhile questioner
and antagonist, the Indian Saul, now became a friend and
protagonist, the Indian Paul.
But this revised attitude toward Britain was only one facet
of Krishna Menon's transition to the realities of the new sit-
uation. The preoccupation with his life-long bete noire, im-
perialism, could not be so easily diverted. His record as a
diplomat and statesman shows this all too clearly. The con-
stant leitmotif of his diplomacy is the assault on what he
deems to be renascent or anachronistic colonialism. His first
prescription for any Asian, African or Middle Eastern crisis
is to get the white "imperialists" out of the picture, then to
deal with the specific problem at hand.
There are certain corollaries to this attitude which Western
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 237
statesmen find particularly disturbing. Krishna Menon tends
to define imperialism in historically classic terms. Ideally, it
means to him interference by the traditionally imperialist
western powers in African and Asian affairs. This mental
picture seems to become somewhat blurred when a western
power such as the Soviet Union, not traditionally associated
with imperialism, is involved. And it becomes even more
blurred when aggressions and oppressions occur in an exclu-
sively Asian or exclusively Western context. The fate of
Tibet and Hungary or the Indian-Chinese border problem
appear not to have qualified as examples of imperialism in
Krishna Menon's scheme of things, and his responses to these
issues have been feeble and indecisive. The Suez crisis, on the
other hand, excited him vastly. Despite the fact that the
specific casus belli might have arisen between any sovereign
states anywhere, it was the armed presence of Britain and
France once again in the Middle East that seems to have set
Krishna Menon's emotions churning.
And then there is the problem of Krishna Menon's patent
animosity toward the United States.
Why America, a nation without any colonies? Because
Krishna Menon does not like the avatar of the "western club."
To Krishna Menon, America's role looks like the old story
of the white man, holding on to his "burden" for dear life,
leading the little brown brothers to safety which in practice
means his own security. Even without colonies, America's
actions remind many Indians of the ways of the British in
their prime. Today American bases encircle the globe, Amer-
ican fighting ships scour all the seas, and Americans dominate
the skies. The British installations were never as widespread.
Britain had bases only in some of her overseas possessions, and
her navy was only a fire brigade, to be called out in emer-
238 KRISHNA MENON
gencies. In this age of vast uncertainties, the Indians say, de-
fense and off ense overlap, and what appears to be protection
to one nation seems to be provocation to the other. India's
past experience with the British at their colonial "best" makes
India particularly sensitive to the solicitude of the "western
These are some of the ostensible reasons for India's criti-
cisms of America's policies. They may have some bearing on
the attitudes of men like Krishna Menon. But there are certain
phases of international life which cannot be articulated. Amer-
ican foreign policy is also unpopular in New Delhi for another
reason, which can never be fully stated in public. That reason
At the time the question of independence for India became
an urgent matter, a few years after World War II, articulate
Indians could not admit that the bisection of the subcontinent
into two independent nations was justified. India had been
an economic unit under the British for several generations,
its productive forces and markets interlinked. Why should
there be a vivisection, which might be fatal to both parts?
Because the proponents of an independent Pakistan con-
tendedIndia and Pakistan followed two basically different
religions. To this contention the Indians replied that nation-
alism and religion belonged in two different categories. There-
upon the proponents of Pakistan rebutted that in the context
of the life of the subcontinent, the religions were closely
linked to traditions, historical memories and basically differ-
ent ways of life.
The discussion had to end at that point. This controversy
could have gone on forever, and then there might have been
another government in Britain, and independence might
have been postponed again. But what Krishna Menon and
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 239
other Indian leaders cannot say is that they do not believe
that Pakistan has a raison d'etre.
And now we come back again to the role of the United
States, and a very strong reason why Krishna Menon more
outspoken than most other Indian leaders manifests so much
animosity toward it.
The United States has been underwriting the existence of
what many Indians think is a totally unnatural unit. America
is ready to help anybody who signs up for a possible crusade
against the Soviet Union. Pakistan has signed up in two
American-sponsored mutual-assistance organizations: CEN-
TO, the Central Treaty Organization, and SEATO, the
Southeast Asia Treaty Organization. Indians say Pakistan is
worried about India, not the Soviet Union. Kashmir is only
a side-issue in Indian-Pakistani relations. Through Pakistan,
the white man is back again on the Indian subcontinent. This
time it is Uncle Sam who carries the white man's burden.
American and West European diplomats no longer take
Krishna Menon's anti- American outbursts as seriously as they
once did. But there can be no doubt that his derogations have
had their effect both on American and on Afro-Asian attitudes
towards India. His public statements have helped to undermine
many Americans' faith in the benevolence of the Government
of India itself, and Krishna Menon has been liberally quoted
by American opponents of economic aid for India. By the
same token, many Afro-Asians have come to feel that Krishna
Menon's biases are incompatible with genuine neutralism and,
as a result, India's prestige in these areas also has suffered
somewhat in recent years. It is the awareness of this decline
in prestige which, more than anything else, has infuriated
Krishna Menon's critics in India.
240 KRISHNA MENON
A Psychological Factor
When the British were at the helm they did what they
thought was best, first for themselves and then for their
colonial charges. Their role was unpopular. They knew it,
and they never expected to be liked. They also knew that it
ran counter to countries' basic natures to like stronger pow-
ers. Since nations are sovereign, they consider themselves
above the law. Their will may be enforced with arms, and
up to the point at which they are defeated, they are godlike.
Smaller nations know that their own sovereignty is limited
by the superior power of superpowers, and this they resent.
The United States is not yet fully adjusted to its dominant
position in the free world. Americans like to be liked abroad.
Yet no nation in America's dominant position has ever been
wholeheartedly liked. Americans talk of ingratitude, and feel
One of Krishna Menon's prominent personal traits is to say
"nay" when others say "aye." Also, he does not like to offer
his tribute to a strength with which he cannot cope. If Amer-
icans want to be liked, that is an additional reason why he
should like them less. The British lion has become tame, and
it is no longer much fun to twist its tail. But it is fun to pluck
the tail-feathers of the eagle.
The malicious pleasure he derives from tormenting the
Americans provides a partial explanation of his "soft" attitude
toward the Soviet Union. As many uncommitted nations have
long since discovered, no better stick for beating America
exists than a policy of apparent amiability toward the Soviets.
It is a beating which can be administered for fun, and, quite
often, for profit as well.
But this is, at best, only a partial explanation. Krishna Me-
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 24!
non's sympathy for the Soviets is real. In his younger days,
Communist Russia not only served as an example of how a
backward agrarian nation could modernize and industrialize
rapidly without benefit of large amounts of capital, but also
appeared as an ally in the lonely, all-consuming struggle
against imperialism. Perhaps now, unconsciously, Krishna
Menon is repaying his debt to the Communists, has permitted
himself to become, to some extent, their ally a process made
easier by persuading himself that the archenemy of the Soviet
Union is, in fact, an imperialist nation.
Finally, of course, there is in Krishna Menon that curiously
paradoxical tendency, his pro-British snobbery. One can im-
agine that his ambivalent attitude toward Britain has always
produced a certain amount of frustration in him. Britain's
decline as a world power to which his own contribution was,
from one point of view, not insignificant seems to have sad-
dened him. Perhaps he finds a kind of release now in venting
his anti-imperialist hostilities on Britain's successor. He shows
a marked tendency to compare Britain and the United States
in a spirit of "O! what a falling off was there." Does this,
one wonders, serve the double function of permitting him
the luxury of repaying his debt to England while assuaging
his guilt feelings toward her?
Watchman, What of the Night?
Krishna Menon is in his mid-sixties, and ours seems to be
the "Age of Age" elderly men in key positions. Nehru is an
aged man, and for several years the question has been asked,
"After him, who?" Panditji's answer to this question has al-
ways been, "It is not I but India who will select my successor.
India is a democracy, you know."
242 KRISHNA MENON
This is true, but only partially so. Nehru is recognized as
a charismatic leader of India, and if he had groomed a suc-
cessor, the chances are that the new man would have been
accepted. He has not groomed anyone, because he did not
want to train a potential competitor, nor did he want to share
the limelight with anyone else. A statesman of towering
stature, he is also a politician. The creator of his own "Estab-
lishment," nobody has been allowed to approach his exalted
place. This was probably the right strategy from the point
of view of his nation. India's problems of nation-building
would have been far greater if there had been political squab-
After the 1962 national elections, The New York Times'
A. M. Rosenthal reported from New Delhi that there were two
opposite poles in the Indian cabinet: "One is Defense Minister
V. K. Krishna Menon, closer to the Prime Minister than any
other official in India, admired by the left, and feared by the
center and the right. The other is Finance Minister Morarji
R. Desai, an aesthetic conservative whose influence among
the backroom politicians is still considerable but whose stand-
ing with Mr. Nehru has been slipping dramatically."
Backing Krishna Menon is Transport Minister Jagjivan
Ram, senior minister in Mr. Nehru's cabinet. While not well
known outside India, Mr. Ram has a reputation for political
in-fighting, and also for his prestige as the only harijanduld
of God (formerly called, "untouchable") to serve in the
cabinet. "It all depends on Nehru, and you never know with
the Old Man," experienced politicians say.
Assuming that Krishna Menon were to succeed Nehru,
what could be expected of him? We can only speculate on
what he might or might not do. We have to proceed from
the premise that he would not be where he is if he were
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 243
not a skillful politician. In spite of his crude talk, he knows
very well what he is doing. Obviously, he would have to
consider the interests of India, for his own personal interests
are involved with hers. His personal ideology might not
necessarily occupy a dominant place in his management of
the national policy, unless it were to coincide with his in-
terpretation of the national interest. We have had excellent
illustrations of the precedence of national interests over per-
sonal ideologies in recent years. Recall the record of Yugo-
slavia's Marshal Tito. Even the most dedicated Communists
have not hesitated to throw theories overboard in favor of
the exigencies of their political position.
But a political leader's policies are not merely the product
of an interaction between necessity and ideology. They are
conditioned also by attitudes acquired slowly and often un-
consciously during a lifetime. And this is precisely what
troubles many western statesmen when they are confronted
with the policies of the leaders of some of the former colonial
areas. Many of the sensitive intellectuals of decades ago, the
liberal minds that were open to spiritual and intellectual in-
fluences, people who prided themselves on being revolution-
aries and progressives, now appear curiously frozen and
inflexible. The impressions which formed their characters
were so overwhelming that they seem unable to digest new
developments. Instead, they respond to fundamentally new
situations either by ignoring them or by treating them as
though they were repetitions of events which occurred in the
Krishna Menon's critics identify him with this mentality.
It would, they argue, be a disaster if such a man were to be
given the responsibility of leading the most important nation
in the uncommitted world. It would be a disaster, not because
244 KRISHNA MENON
Krishna Menon is a crypto-Communist, nor even because of
his abrasive personality (the first is almost certainly untrue,
and the second is irrelevant), but because his automatic re-
sponses to certain types of situations his judgments, if you
will are dangerously inappropriate and unrealistic.
A New Policy -for Asia?
Asia and parts of other continents revolted against the West
and then set out to imitate it in armaments, policies of pres-
tige and overgrown bureaucracies. Europe is thus still in the
underdeveloped parts of the globe. India, too, has copied
many features of the West. Geographically, she is in Asia,
ideologically, in Europe. Nehru's successor may wish to in-
troduce a policy more in line with the needs of economically
The question of armaments is a classic illustration of how
the West is back again in the East. Large portions of the
economically backward countries are spending proportion-
ately just as much on armaments as the affluent powers. This
makes no sense, because their non-nuclear arms in the nuclear
age are like bows and arrows in the firearms age. They are
impotent to act against a great power. What purpose does
their armament serve? It serves the purpose of squaring ac-
counts with their neighbors, who are also provided only with
non-nuclear weapons. The medicine in this case is more
harmful than the disease. War is only a possibility, but hunger
is a certainty. The amounts these countries spend on their
armaments weaken them. They decimate themselves, a type
of perverse semi-suicide.
For years now the superpowers seem to have been en-
gaged in trying to find a common platform for a disarmament
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 245
agreement. They have not succeeded, and so they have kept
on stepping up their arms expenditures. Nor are they likely
to succeed within the foreseeable future. The disarmament
discussions are face-saving, and in some instances, propaganda
devices, and the people who are engaged in them know it.
The superpowers do not trust each other.
It is at this point that the new statesmanship of the eco-
nomically backward countries, India at their head, could part
ways with the methods of the affluent nations, which they
seek to imitate. The hungry countries cannot afford this
extravaganza of armament profligacy. Why not try to show
some sense, by stepping out of their roles as imitators? Instead
of protecting something they have not got a decent living
standard their savings in armament expenditures would en-
able them to help their peoples have a life worth having.
Disarmament agreements among these "have-not" countries
would make much sense. Also, such agreements would help
revive the moribund United Nations. The world organization
would be the guarantor of their security.
Might Krishna Menon attempt to advance such a bold
program? He had the reputation of being a pacifist in one of
his previous "reincarnations." Or was his pacifism a theoretical
one, "safe" because he was far removed from the seat of
the mighty? Academe and the War Office speak mutually
The economically backward countries may wish to part
ways with their former masters in another way, too. Let me
explain what I have in mind by means of a personal experi-
The scene was the federal legislature of India in New
Delhi, the Lok Sabha House of the People and the Rajya
SabhaHoust of the States. The time was the hot monsoon
246 KRISHNA MENON
period. The debate was about the external budget of India.
Day after day the deputies rose to speak on the subject, ac-
cording to the best parliamentary methods of Britain. It was
an inspiring scene.
Several of the speakers covered the entire world, expressing
their opinions on a large variety of subjects tours <F horizons
that covered the entire waterfront. Some of them favored
the West; most of them followed the non-alignment policy
of India. And this went on and on and on. Day after day I
went into the popular sections of Delhi after these parliament-
ary sessions, and I could not help feeling that what the depu-
ties were doing in the Indian legislature was a luxury the
country could not afford. I also had the feeling that poor
countries should keep on working on the solution to their
problem of poverty. Every single minute not devoted to
this problem is wasted. The legislators should concentrate
on the country's poverty, and construct a large stockpile of
practical plans to do away with this poverty. In this light I
no longer think that slavishly following Britain's administra-
tive practices is always in the best interest of the nation.
India's problems are different from those of the United King-
A government needs bureaucracy, and that the British had.
Some of the British bureaucrats were decent people; others
were time-servers. This tradition has also been inherited by
India. "Our bureaucracy is not worse than the British one
was before independence." How many times does one hear
this comment? Again the imitation of the West. The back-
ward countries should realize that time is not on their side, as
it was on the side of the colonial nations. Indifferent bureauc-
racy will not do for them. They must have the type of ad-
ministration which is inspired by a quasi-religious zeal, one
THE IMAGE AND THE ENIGMA 247
that goes far beyond the call of duty. It should do speedily
and efficiently what is now being done sluggishly and in-
The new bureaucrat would see something more to life than
transferring files to a fellow bureaucrat's desk. Work in a
government office would then become a dedicated occupa-
tion, and efficiency a patriotic service, no less valuable than
service in the batdeline. The greatest enemy of all these
countries is want, and want's most effective ally is apathy.
Could Krishna Menon perform such a service for his coun-
try? His record as an administrator has received both praise
and blame, but in his London days he displayed a talent and
a zeal for getting things done which can hardly be gainsaid.
Perhaps if he were to become sufficiently interested in the
problem of administrative reform in India, he might accom-
plish great things.
No matter who is called upon to fill the highest position in
India, he must be able to arouse the country to the needs of
a new age in the local environment, carrying out an original
policy and not one that is second-hand. Nehru became a
charismatic leader, to be sure, but there is no situation in
a poverty-stricken country which may not be improved.
Thus this story of the life of Krishna Menon ends with a
question mark, as do the stories of all contemporary lives.
Nehru's exit from the political scene may not mean Krishna
Menon's exit from the "Establishment," as has been predicted
many times. But even if it does, he has already made his mark
upon his country's history, and upon the history of the mod-
ern world. Men in the capitals of the East and the West will
ponder the significance of that enigmatic mark for a long time
All subentries are alphabetical except for those under Krishna Menon,
which are chronological.
Adyar (Madras), 38, 39, *33
Ahmadnagar, 29, 130
Alexander VI, Pope, 29
Algerian question, 172^.
Allenby, Edmund, ist Viscount, 194
Anamalai Hills, 2
Angell, Sir Norman, 92
Apartheid, 170, 171
As I See India, 176
Asoka the Great, King of Magadha,
Aswan High Dam, 155^.
Atdee, Sir Clement (later Lord At-
Azad, Maulana Abul Kalam, 129
Baden-PoweU, Baron R.S.S., 44
Bandung Conference, 151
Bao Dai, 148
Barbusse, Henri, 116
Battle of Britain, nzfL
Belgian Congo, war in, i6j&.
Bell, Clive, 92
Bennett, Arnold, 92
Besant, Annie, 38^., 44, 47 8l
Bevin, Ernest, 52, 128
Bhagavad-Gita, 5, 38
Bijapur, 29 .
Birkenhead, Frederick Edwin Smith,
Bismarck, Prince Otto Eduard Leo-
pold von, 143
Black Jews, 12
Blavatsky, Elena Petrovna, 366.
Bombay, 23, 206, 209^.
Bonnerjee, W. C., 25
Bose, Subhas Chandra, 114
Bradlaugh, Charles, 39
Brailsford, Henry Noel, 53
Brennen College, 23
Britain, economic stakes in India, 137,
Britain's Prisoner, 86
Bulganin, Nikolai A., 161
Calicut, see Kozhikode
Camden Square, 60
Camden Town, 59^., 108, 136
Cape Comorin, i
Cardamom Hills, 2
Cavendish Bentinck, Lord William,
Central Hindu College, 41
Chiang Kai-shek, 119
China and India, 184^.
Chou En-lai, 149
Christians of St. Thomas, see Syrian
Churchill, Sir Winston, 114, 1195.,
Colombo Plan, 150, 151
Columbus, Christopher, i, 3
Communal problem in India, 1291!.
Condition of India, 88ff.
Congress, The, see Indian National
Congress Party, see Indian National
Constantinople Convention of 1888,
Coromandel Coast, 23
Cripps, Sir Stafford, 53, 81, ii9fT., 128
Crusade in Europe, 115
Curzon, George Nathaniel, ist Baron
and ist Marquis, 23
Cypriote problem, 17 iff.
Daily Worker, in, 115
Daval, Najeshwar, 168
Del Vajo, Alvarez, 102
Desai, Morarji R., 242
Disraeli, Benjamin, 143
Donovan, W. Timothy, 109
Dravidian languages, 8
Dulles, John Foster, 149
East India Company, 29, 30, 65
Economist, The, 231, 232
Eden, Sir Anthony, i49ff.,
Edward VII, 33
Eisenhower, DwightD., 115, 153
"Emanuel the Fortunate" (Manuel
Engels, Friedrich, 33, 72
Envoy ', 145, 224
Fabian Society, 62
Fabre, Jean-Henri, 92
Farewell to Arms, A, 90
Foster, William Z., 116
France, possessions in India, 201, 202
Franco, Francisco, 100
Fry, Roger Eliot, 92
Gama, Vasco da, 12, 22, 201
Gandhi, Mohandas K., 39ff., 54, 65*^,
68ff., 76, 93, ii4ff., 140, 141, 204,
Ganga (Ganges) River, 19
"General Lister," 102
George V., King, 34
Goa, 193, 20iff.
Gorwala, A. G., cited, 230
"Governor and Company of the
Merchants of London Trading
into the East Indies," 29, 30, 65
Haidar Ali, 30
Hammarskjold, Dag, 153
Harijans, rf, 242
Hari Singh, Maharajah, 1756%
"Harold Laski Institute of Political
Science," 52, 53
Harris, H. Lyn, 75
Hastings, Warren, 67
Hegel, G. W. F., 486% 100
Hemingway, Ernest, 90
Henderson, Arthur, 105, 106
Hindi language, 8
Hindustan Times, The, 213, 215, 230
Hitler, Adolf, 101, 112, 113, 117
Holmes, Oliver Wendell, Jr., 43, 66ff.
Hopkins, Harry, 120, 217
Horrabin, F. J., 85
Howard, Ebenezer, 74
Howe, Quincy, 76
Hume, Allan Octavian, 25
Hungarian uprising (1956), idofT.
Hutchinson, Henry Hunt, 63
Huxley, Julian, 92
Ibarruri, Dolores, 102
India, armed forces of, 1951!.
India League, The, 54, 66, 8ofL, 851!.
Indian Civil Service, 46, 117
Indian National Congress, 40, 81, 84,
Indochina, conflict in, 1481!.
Isaacs, Harold R., 224
Israel, in Sinai, 159^.
Jeans, Sir James, 92
Jews, Black, 12
Jinnah, Mohammed Ali, 125
Jihad (holy war), 176
Kola azar, 17
Kalinin, Mikhail I., 124
Kasavubu, Joseph, 168
Kashmir conflict, 1755.
Kautsky, Karl, 72
Kerala, r, 4, 22, 210, 232, 233
Keyserling, Count Hermann, 42, 43
Khilafat movement, 88
Kitchener, Lord Horatio Herbert,
Komath Krishna Kurup, 7, 18
Korean War, 146^.
Kozhikode, 13, 21, 23, 29, 34, 46, 201
Kripalani, Acharya J. B., 2iifT.
Krishna, 4, 5
Krishna Menon, Vengalil Krishnan
in England, 441!.
in Camden Town, 595.
London School of Economics, 648.
The India League, 8 iff.
and Nehru, 991!., 21 j&.
in Labour politics, 107, 108
High Commissioner of India in
London, 109, 135*1*.
in World War II, 1171!.
Korean crisis, 147
Indochina crisis, 148
Colombo Plan, 150, 151
Bandung Conference, 151, 152
Suez Canal crisis, 1581!.
Hungarian uprising ( 1 956) , 1 6 1 fT.
disarmament debates, 1631!.
Cyprus conflict, i7ifF.
Algerian conflict, i72fT.
Kashmir conflict, 1785.
China boundary dispute, 1846*.
Minister of Defense, 1901!.
Goa, 20 iff.
Bombay election, 2091!.
personal philosophy, 2191!.
Krishnamuni, Jiddu, 431!.
Labour Monthly, 100, 1151!., 235
Labour Party, 5off.
Lakshmi Kutty Amma, 7, 18
Lane (Allen, John, Richard), 90, 92
"La Pasionaria" (Dolores Ibarruri),
Laski, Harold, 43fL, 52, 63, 64, 66fl.,
92, 109, 129
Lenin, Nikolai, 72, 109
Life, 229, 230
Linklater, Eric, 90
Locke, John, 32
London School of Economics and
Political Science, 52, 631!., 72
Low, David, 102
Lumumba, Patrice, 167, 168
MacDonald, Ramsay, 50, 66
Madras Presidency, 20, 23
Mahabharata, 5, 19
Malabar, i, 4, 19
Malayalam language, i, 8, 15
Malthus, Thomas, 63
Manuel I ("Emanuel the Fortu-
Marble Arch, 57
Marley, James, 85
Marx, Karl, 31, 32, 72
Mary, Queen, 34
Matters, Leonard W., 88
Maurois, Andre, 90
Mavalankar, Damodar K., 39
Mendes-France, Pierre, 149
Middle Temple, 89
MIG crisis, 1986*.
Mill, John Stuart, 32, 33, 71
Mohammed Zafrulla Khan, 1776*.
Moraes, Frank, 133, 134, 217
Morley-Minto Reforms, 33, 34
Morris, William, 74
Morrison, Herbert Stanley, 128
Moslem League, 125, 212
Mountbatten, Lord Louis, 132
Mumba (goddess of fishermen), 210
Mowrer, Edgar Ansel, 92
Mustafa Kemal, 234
Nambudri Brahmans, 9
Narayan Guru Swami, 9
Nasser, Colonel Gamal Abdel, 1546*.,
Native High School, 23
Nayar, 6, 18
Nehru, Jawaharlal, 39, 44, 86, 87, 93,
94, 96n\, 1136% 115, 119, 121, 130,
134, 141, 145, 146, 161, 181, 1846%,
Nehru, Motilal, 94
Nkrumah, Kwame, 165
Nethercot, Arthur H., 38, 39
Nicolson, Harold, 92
Norodom, Sihanouk, 165
Olcott, Henry S., tfS.
Osmania University, 139
Pakistan, 125, i75flF., 238, 239
Pcmch Shilct, 152, 169
Pareto, Vilfredo, 72
Pax Britannica, 21, 233
Penguin Books, 90
Pelican Books, 91
Pollitt, Harry, 1 16
Portugal, in India, 193
Prasad, Dr. Rajendra, 190, 207
Rajagopalachari, Chakravarti, 115,
Ram, Jagjivan, 242
Reading, Rufus Daniel Isaacs, ist
Marquis of, 76
Reporter, The, 230
Roosevelt, Franklin Delano, 1196%
Roosevelt and Hopkins, 120
Rosenthal, A. M., 230, 231, 242
Rostow, Walt, 234
Ruskin, John, 65
Russell, Lord Bertrand, 53, 81, 85, 89
St. Christopher School, Letchworth,
St. Pancras Municipal Borough, 59,
Salazar, Dr. Antonio de Oliveira, 204,
Sankey, John, ist Viscount, 66fT.
Satyagraha, 54, 95, 206, 219
Schopenhauer, Arthur, 36
Scratches on Our Minds, 2246*.
Shaw, George Bernard, 63, 91, no
Sherwood, Robert E., 120
Simon, Sir John, 77, 78, 87, 113
Smith, Walter Bedell, 149
Sorensen, Reginald, M. P., 87
Southport Conference, 105, 106
Soviet Union, see U.S.S.R.
Spanish Civil War, looff .
Srivazhum Kode, 26
Stalin, Joseph, 119
Strachey, John, 51
Stevenson, Adlai, 179, 183, 207
Suez Canal conflict, 1545., 231
Swaraj, 77, 81, 85
Swatantra party, 211
Syrian Christians, n, 12
Tagore, Sir Rabindranath, 124
Talleyrand, Prince, 142
Tamil language, 8
Tellicherry, 13, 15, 20, 23, 30
Theosophical Society, 36ff., 75, 94
Time, 186, 187, 230
Tipu Sahib, 30
Travancore, 20, 26
Travel Diary of a Philosopher, The,
Trevelyan family, 71, 72
Trotsky, Leon, 72
Trumbull, Robert, 176
Tshombe, Moise, 168
United Nations, meeting on Kashmir,
United States of America, 49ff., 114,
126, i55ff, 160, 164, 221, 222, 237,
Upanishads, 38, 54
U.S.S.R., 56fL, 72, 124, 164, 181, 234,
237, 240, 241
Victoria, Queen, 21
Wavell, Sir Archibald, 130
Webb, Beatrice, 53, 63, io7fT.
Webb, Sidney, 53, 63, 107^.
Wells, H. G., 63, 92
Western Ghats, 2, 3, 15, 30, 203
White Jews, 12
Wilkinson, Anne G, 85
William, Tom, 85
Williams, W.E., 91
Whidum, D. C, 108
Wilson, Woodrow, 49
Xavier, St. Francis, 203
Yuvray Karan Singh, 177
Zamorin College, 23
[Contimied from front flap]
leader of a formerly colonial nation. It
is upon the integrity, the intelligence and
the prejudices of men such as Krishna
Menon that much of the world's future
may depend. It is vital that we try to
Here, for the first time, is a full-length
portrait of this enigmatic man hy a well-
known writer and scholar. Emil Lengyel,
Professor of History at Fairleigh Dickin-
son University, has lived in India and has
recently written a widely used textbook
on the Indian subcontinent.
WALKER AND COMPANY
1O West 56th Street, New York 19, N.Y.