To Krishna Menon, With Gratitude

By Vasant Nevrekar


Ben Antao writes: The following article is from Vasant Nevrekar's memoir titled A Peep into the
Past
, a collection of his columns written for the Gomantak Times, Panjim (1994-96). It's one of his longer pieces but makes for delightful reading because of Krishna Menon's celebrated wit.

I saw Krishna Menon only once at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay in the autumn of 1965 just after India's war with Pakistan over Kashmir. I was covering his speech for The Indian Express. He was an incredibly fluent and fast talker, and I went away impressed with his keen mind and
intelligence. Mrs.Vijayalakshmi Pandit, Jawaharlal Nehru's sister and a diplomat in her own right, introduced him briefly saying that she didn't want to steal the thunder from the 'great' Mr. Menon. Enjoy it.
]


The one politician and statesman of international repute of our times I admired the most, and  for good reasons, was Mr. V.K. Krishna Menon. No other individual from any of the member States of the United Nations has dominated its deliberations and attracted as much attention from the world community represented at this forum as did Mr. Krishna Menon.

My service outside India offered me a proximity to many of our leaders. None of them with notable exceptions of Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Mr. S. K. Patil could hold a candle to Mr. Menon in tackling the Western media. It is, however, true that because of his arrogance, if not downright rudeness, Mr. Menon did not need much of an effort to irritate, anger and even antagonize  people, especially those he considered below his intellectual level. There were occasions when  Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had to defend his 'outbursts,' more often than not, unsuccessfully.

I remember an incident in 1957 (when I was serving in New York) which created a furore in the (Indian) parliament leading to a clamour from the ruling party members for Mr. Menon's recall  from the United Nations for 'alienating even our friends.' As he was addressing the Security Council, Mr. Menon noticed the British ambassador, Sir Pearson Dixon, yawning. He got so worked up that he drew the attention of the Council president to it and said that he was surprised that when he was making an important statement, the delegate 'finds it necessary to yawn.'

"When Sir Pearson addresses the Council-and although he always bores this House-I listen to him with rapt attention," Mr. Menon said with his characteristic biting sarcasm. (He, however, later profusely apologized to the ambassador and asked the Council president to expunge his earlier remarks from the records.)

To this day, Mr. Krishna Menon holds a record at the United Nations for speaking continuously (on Kashmir) for nearly eight hours and that too without a prepared text. I was present in the Security Council chamber when towards the end of the address he collapsed on his desk and had to be treated by his personal physician who was in attendance.

Mr. Menon's ready wit and brilliant repartee which instantly (and in most cases hurtingly ) disarmed his adversaries, are remembered even today by old-timers at the United Nations. Once, when an African delegate was waxing eloquent on the benefits his country had derived from its former 'benevolent' British rulers, Mr. Menon reminded him that "there is as much benevolent imperialism as there is a vegetarian tiger."

During the Eisenhower administration when India protested to the United States against its military assistance to Pakistan, the then US secretary of state, Mr. John Foster Dulles, assured the Indian leadership that Pakistan would not use these arms against India. Mr. Menon's classic rejoinder to him was that "a gun has yet to be invented which can be fired in one direction only." He also once said that the reason why the sun did not set on the British empire was that "even God does not trust the British in the dark."

Around this time when India was in the news following Pakistani attempts at the United Nations to drum up support over Kashmir, Mr. Menon was once a guest on a prime time TV programme in New York and was questioned by three well-known American journalists. He got so irritated at a question (on Kashmir) by one of them that no sooner the latter had completed it,  he said:
"Before I decide to answer your question, let me correct some elementary mistakes in it, which show your ignorance of the subject we are discussing."

Mr. Menon then began like a school teacher to explain to the crest-fallen journalist, watched by millions of viewers all across the country, the intricacies of the scenario in Jammu and Kashmir. Once, at a press conference when a reporter pointed out to him that a particular expression had used was not grammatically correct, Mr. Menon retorted angrily, "My dear chap, please do not teach me English; it is an accident of birth with you but I have spent years of my life learning it."

In spite of this bad blood between them, Mr. Krishna Menon was a journalist's delight. With a little needling, the latter was always assured of an excellent story. It is, however, not difficult to imagine why some Americans disliked, if not hated, this man who, as someone had said, "has shown the white man his place." Precisely for this reason, the underdog in America admired and even adored Mr. Menon. In fact, as soon as it was known that he would be visiting
the United States, producers of major TV networks in the country vied with each other to get him on their shows. With his appearance on their programmes, the latter's rating would suddenly shoot up bringing in more advertisement revenue for the networks. During the UN General Assembly sessions the common topic of discussion among taxi drivers and lift operators in New York was Mr. Menon's performance at the world organization.

Mr. Menon was, of course, aware of the feeling of dislike some Americans had for him. Once, when  an irate New Yorker asked him why he persisted in visiting America when he knew very well that he was not liked by her people, Mr. Menon's retort was, "I visit your country not because I particularly like it but because the United Nations to which my government sends me happens to be here." "And as to the second part of your question," he added, "so what if you don't like me? Many of my countrymen back home do not like (John Foster) Dulles."

Mr. Menon, however, had occasional lighter moments with journalists. He was a teetotaler but his well-known 'tea-total' was very high. When a correspondent asked him whether it was true that his daily consumption of tea was forty cups, Mr. Menon said that the report was exaggerated. He drank only thirty-eight cups a day! On another occasion he told a reporter that the question the latter had asked him was like mixing whisky with buttermilk. "I do not know what happens to your whisky, but my buttermilk would be spoilt," he said amidst laughter.

During Mr. Menon's visits to New York, the Indian ambassador at the United Nations was Mr.  Arthur Lall, a distinguished member of the ICS, who was an affable and suave diplomat.  Mr. Menon  was quite fond of Mr. Lall who ably assisted him in his work at the world body.  In Mr. Menon's  absence he officiated as the leader of the Indian delegation. In fact, it used to be said that  whenever Mr. Menon was away, there was always a "Lall."

The important role Mr. Krishna Menon played in connection with Goa's liberation is well known.  It was he as defence minister who persuaded a reluctant Jawaharlal Nehru to send the army into Goa after having convinced him that Portugal was on the verge of internationalizing the issue of its 'overseas territories' in India, with the help of its friends and allies. There were also persistent press reports at the time that Portugal was secretly negotiating a defence treaty  with Pakistan. If these reports were true, things would have been all the more complicated for India. It was a painful decision for Nehru to take, which, no doubt, caused a temporary setback to his image. The alternative, however, would have been prolonged agony and deprivation for the people of Goa, Daman and Diu, while distinguished diplomats at the United Nations continued to debate and deliberate on the issue till kingdom come.

Mr. Krishna Menon will always have a pride of place in the hearts and minds of a grateful people  of Goa, Daman and Diu. I, for one, shall never cease to admire the one and only leader in the country who could silence an angry and hostile Western world, which accused India from the housetop of aggression in Goa, by his now famous brilliant off-the-cuff retort that "colonialism itself is a permanent aggression."

 

[TGF comment:  TGF does NOT accept the above Nevrekar comment "Mr. Krishna Menon will always have a pride of place in the hearts and minds of a grateful people  of Goa, Daman and Diu. We submit that most Goans, did not and do not know who Krishna Menon is or was.

Menon would visit schools and deliver lectures . TGF personally heard Krishna Menon on several occasions. He was a very intelligent person with an excellent command over the English language. From all accounts, and from Mr. Nevrekar's own description, Menon was also a self consumed pompous ass. There is NO way that TGF will ever accord to Menon a pride of place in their hearts.  TGF believes that good people are usually humble and not arrogant snobs.

Menon would have been an excellent opposition politician, but NOT a diplomat. One might win small duels with quick witted, smart Alec quips and wise-cracks, not help solve problems at international levels. If anything, Menon's rhetoric and Nehru's socialistic protectionism drove India right into the arms of the pauper communist USSR.  Menon,  Nehru and their collective arrogance and false pride, left India in the doldrums for a good 30+ years post Independence.

As often happens, smart Alecs are so full of themselves that they eventually fall flat on their faces. In the case of Krishna Menon, his fall came with his utter and absolute negligence involving the 1962 war with China.  Menon, the Defence Minister,  was so busy winning verbal duels that he left the North Eastern front ill-prepared, ill-equipped and totally confused.  No wonder then, that the Chinese Army decimated their Indian opponents.

TGF also is totally bemused by the following from Mr. Nevrekar "The alternative, however, would have been prolonged agony and deprivation for the people of Goa, Daman and Diu, while distinguished diplomats at the United Nations continued to debate and deliberate on the issue till kingdom come"

In other words, Mr. Nevrekar appears to support unilateral action by countries who have the might, without waiting for the United Nations. The United Nations, after all is a place where distinguished diplomats at the United Nations continued to debate and deliberate on the issue till kingdom come.  What a chilling thought.......as this  2002 comes to a nervous end, and a very unpredictable 2003 is about to begin!!

TGF]
 

This Vasant Nevrekar article has been submitted to TGF by
Ben Antao
December 12, 2002

 

Ben Antao's follow-up comments on the Vasant Nervekar article  December 15, 2002

1. Re: Mr. Krishna Menon will always have a pride of place in the hearts and minds of a grateful people  of Goa, Daman and Diu

Mr. Nevrekar often uses cliches in many of his reminiscences in his memoir A Peep into the Past. Mr. Menon may have held a "pride of place" in Nevrekar's heart. He shouldn't have generalized his feeling for other Goans.
Mr. Menon doesn't hold a pride of place in my heart. I admired him as a speaker, but he was too arrogant for my liking.

2. Re:
The alternative, however, would have been prolonged agony and deprivation for the people of Goa, Daman and Diu, while distinguished diplomats at the United Nations continued to debate and deliberate on the issue till kingdom come.

This so-called "agony and deprivation" is an exaggeration; it reminds me of another phrase "sorrowing lies my land." I had been living in Goa from my birth in 1935 to 1954 and then for a month or more in 1955, 1958, 1959 and 1960, I couldn't envision a prolonged agony and deprivation.

During the years that I was studying and working in Bombay (1955-1960),
Goans in Goa had an enviable standard of living. Mr. Bandodkar, the first chief minister, the Dempo Bros, the Chowgule Bros. the Timblos, the Salgaokars, Dr. Jack de Sequeira had carried on successful businesses.

Mr. Nevrekar is guilty of myth making just as Lambert Mascarenhas was before him. I too was in favor of Goa's freedom, ( I actively participated in the freedom movement activities in Bombay) but I wouldn't say that Goans would have suffered "agony and deprivation" if India did not liberate it in December 1961.


3. I did not like Krishna Menon because he was an avowed Communist. And I didn't like Soviet-style communism because it was a dictatorship of the proletariat--it wasn't a democracy. As I loathed Salazar's dictatorship so I detested the Soviet dictatorship.

I believe in real freedom, in real democracy that caters to the will of the people, not a democracy that imposes the will of the politicians on the people. I don't like the democracy that operates in India today.


Ben Antao
December 15, 2002

*******

Wing Commander (retd) R V Parasnis - in Remembering a War (The 1962 Sino Indian Conflict)

Menon, along with Nehru, caused havoc in the army's working, disregarding professional opinion and advice, violating all channels and levels of communication and encouraging the same within the army hierarchy, which ended with disastrous results in the Sino-Indian conflict. Like his boss, Menon believed in giving verbal orders and disliked records.

When the prime minister and the defence minister give an ear to a junior general over the heads of other generals, including the army chief, and the junior boasts about this, the morale and effectiveness of the senior officers is bound to suffer, even as the army hierarchy begins to disintegrate.

This is just what happened progressively in 1961-62. The cancer eventually entered the mainstream services and though there are strong tendencies to counter such evils ingrained within the armed forces culture, it is slowly but surely spreading, thanks to the generally weak Indian character.

After the infamous '
Jeep scandal' (purchase of Jeeps for the use of the army, which the army rejected on account of their poor condition, but was forced to accept since the Jeeps were already paid for), it became necessary to remove Krishna Menon, who had fixed that deal, from the post of high commissioner to the United Kingdom because of political and media pressure.

But Prime Minister Nehru rewarded him by making him Minister for Defence with Cabinet rank. This tradition has been faithfully carried forward to date by the followers of Nehru and by politicians who vehemently opposed him and the policies of the Congress party, with equal vigour. In power and out of power, political compulsions seem to demand different ethics.

It is not out of place to mention here that the government dropped the case slapped on the nondescript company that had supplied the Jeeps soon after Krishna Menon took over as defence minister.
 (from Rediff.Com December 18, 2002 )

 

 

other articles by Mr. Nevrekar

Goans......not Goanese, please!

 

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