Monday, April 13, 2015

More VP Menon, less VK Menon


Hardly anyone except a few hardcore acolytes of Nehru try and rehabilitate the rightfully tainted image of VK Menon, the former defense minister under Nehru's watch. While it is true that Nehru should earn the lion's share for the bungling of various foreign crisis from the status of Kashmir to the loss of Tibet all the way to the defeat by China, it is also true that VK and Nehru were like minded stubbornly ideological individuals who had as per NS Rajaram expose were practically spokesman for Chinese interests.


In the year 1950, two momentous events shook Asia and the world. One was the Chinese invasion of Tibet, and the other, Chinese intervention in the Korean War. The first was near, on India�s borders, the other, far away in the Korean Peninsula where India had little at stake. By all canons of logic, India should have devoted utmost attention to the immediate situation in Tibet, and let interested parties like China and the U.S. sort it out in Korea. But Jawaharlal Nehru, India�s Prime Minister, did exactly the opposite. He treated the Tibetan crisis in a haphazard fashion, while getting heavily involved in Korea. India today is paying for this folly by being the only country of its size in the world without an official boundary with its giant neighbor. Tibet soon disappeared from the map. As in Kashmir, Nehru sacrificed national interest at home in pursuit of international glory abroad.
 
The problem with Nehru was that he was a glory hound and like those Hindutvadis who lambast the West while seeking its approval , was always looking for a pat on the head from the colonial powers. But only the right one. The American ambassador to U.S found Nehru to be "vain ,sensitive,emotional and complicated". One doesn't mind such qualities in an actor,director or any other sort of individual in the creative field but certainly not the head of state!Robert Kaplan in his monumental work "The Arabists" elaborates:"According to Henderson, Nehru's dislike of America had little to do with policy differences but was driven by his British school boy like snobbery regarding America's commercialism and middle class culture. Henderson also found Indian neutralism dangerous and intellectually dishonest."
 
In other words Nehru had no problem with American policy (hence his participation in the Korean war) but he had a snootiness towards their more gruff ,egalitarian and pragmatic approach to matters that his nose in the air British public school boy had nothing but disdain for. Never mind he never actually graduated from college.
 
in September 1949, more than a year before the Chinese invasion, Nehru himself had written: "Chinese communists are likely to invade Tibet." The point to note is that Nehru, by sending mixed signals, showing more interest in Korea than in Tibet, had encouraged the Chinese invasion; the Chinese had made no secret of their desire to invade Tibet. In spite of this, Nehru's main interest was to sponsor China as a member of the UN Security Council instead of safeguarding Indian interests in Tibet.
 
Because of this, when the Chinese were moving troops into Tibet, there was little concern in Indian official circles. Panikkar, the Indian Ambassador in Beijing, went so far as to pretend that there was lack of confirmation of the presence of Chinese troops in Tibet and that to protest the Chinese invasion of Tibet would be an "interference to Indias efforts on behalf of China in the UN". So Panikkar was more interested in protecting Chinese interests in the UN than India�s own interests on the Tibetan border! Nehru agreed with his Ambassador. He wrote, "... Recent developments in Korea have not strengthened China's position, which will be further weakened by any aggressive action [by India] in Tibet." So Nehru was ready to sacrifice India's national security interests in Tibet so as not to weaken China's case in the UN!
 
It is nothing short of tragedy that the two greatest influences on Nehru at this crucial juncture in history were Krishna Menon and K.M. Panikkar, both communists.
 
(and note to a certain someone: both hailing from Kerala!)
 
Panikkar, while nominally serving as Indian ambassador in China, became practically a spokesman for Chinese interests in Tibet. Sardar Patel remarked that Panikkar "has been at great pains to find an explanation or justification for Chinese policy and actions." India eventually gave up its right to have a diplomatic mission in Lhasa on the ground that it was an �imperialist legacy�. This led to Nehru�s discredited �Hindi-Chini Bhai Bhai�. Mao had no reciprocal affection for India......he had only contempt for India and its leaders. Mao respected only the strong who would oppose him, and not the weak who bent over backwards to please him.
 
It is not entirely accurate that Mao had contempt for India and Indian culture. Despite Mao's subscription to communist ideology , he respected if not the Indian present then at least the Indian past as he saw it as a land of Buddha and wasn't that gung ho for war with India.
 
Sardar Patel warned Nehru: "Even though we regard ourselves as friends of China, the Chinese do not regard us as friends." He wrote a famous letter in which he expressed deep concern over developments in Tibet, raising several important points. In particular, he noted that a free and friendly Tibet was vital for India's security, and everything including military measures should be considered to ensure it. ........But Nehru ignored Patel's letter. The truth is that India was in a strong position to defend its interests in Tibet, but gave up the opportunity for the sake of pleasing China. It is not widely known in India that in 1950, China could have been prevented from taking over Tibet.
Patel on the other hand recognized that in 1950, China was in a vulnerable position, fully committed in Korea and by no means secure in its hold over the mainland. ..... India had little to lose and everything to gain by a determined show of force when China was struggling to consolidate its hold.
 
In addition, India had international support, with world opinion strongly against Chinese aggression in Tibet. The world in fact was looking to India to take the lead. The highly influential English journal The Economist echoed the Western viewpoint when it wrote: "Having maintained complete independence of China since 1912, Tibet has a strong claim to be regarded as an independent state. But it is for India to take a lead in this matter. If India decides to support independence of Tibet as a buffer state between itself and China, Britain and U.S.A. will do well to extend formal diplomatic recognition to it."
 
You can see the seeds of the indecision that lead to the catastrophe. In a nutshell , PM Nehru was torn between being a stalwart cold warrior to receive a pat on the head from his former master Britain and his communist sympathies which he ironically picked up in Cambridge.
 
So China could have been stopped. But this was not to be. Nehru ignored Patel's letter as well as international opinion and gave up this golden opportunity to turn Tibet into a friendly buffer state. With such a principled stand, India would also have acquired the status of a great power while Pakistan would have disappeared from the radar screen of world attention. Much has been made of Nehru's blunder in Kashmir, but it pales in comparison with his folly in Tibet. As a result of this monumental failure of vision � and nerve � India soon came to be treated as a third rate power, acquiring �parity� with Pakistan. Two months later Patel was dead.
 
And with it also died the potential for India to become a super power in that era.
 
Even after the loss of Tibet, Nehru gave up opportunities to settle the border with China. To understand this, it is necessary to appreciate the fact that what China desired most was a stable border with India. With this in view, the Chinese Premier Zhou-en-Lai visited India several times to fix the boundary between the two countries. .....what Zhou-en-Lai proposed was a phased settlement, beginning with the eastern boundary. Nehru, however, wanted the whole thing settled at once. The practical minded Zhou-en-Lai found this politically impossible. And on each visit, the Chinese Premier in search of a boundary settlement, heard more about the principles of Pancha Sheela than India's stand on the boundary. He interpreted this as intransigence on India's part.
 
This is Nehru overcompensating for the earlier lack of nerve believing erroneously that an uncompromising position would restore his tattered image in the world community.
 
China in fact went on to settle its boundary with Mayammar (Burma) roughly along the McMahon Line following similar principles. Contrary to what the Indian public was told, the border between Ladakh (in the Princely State of Kashmir) and Tibet was never clearly demarcated. As late as 1960, the Indian Government had to send survey teams to Ladakh to locate the boundary and prepare maps. But the Government kept telling the people that there was a clearly defined boundary, which the Chinese were refusing to accept.
 
India is still the largest country in the world with an ill defined border with neighboring states still laying claim to its territory. Yes there are Hispanics who drive around Texas and California with bumper stickers that say "Fuck you this is still Mexico" but atleast U.S, Mexican border is officially recognized by all parties even as it is porous.
 
 
What the situation demanded was a creative approach, especially from the Indian side. There were several practical issues on which negotiations could have been conducted  especially in the 1950s when India was in a strong position. China needed Aksai Chin because it had plans to construct an access road from Tibet to Xinjiang province (Sinkiang) in the west. Aksai Chin was of far greater strategic significance to China than to India. (It may be a strategic liability for India  being expensive to maintain and hard to supply, even more than the Siachen Glacier.) Had Nehru recognized this he might have proposed a creative solution like asking for access to Mount Kailash and Manasarovar in return for Chinese access to Aksai Chin. The issue is not whether such an agreement was possible, but no solutions were proposed. The upshot of all this was that China ignored India � including Pancha Sheel  and went ahead with its plan to build the road through Aksai Chin.
 
Silly man Rajaram, why would Nehru care about the superstitious rabble who go on and on about Mt Kailash and Manasarovar?
After all in Nehru's own words :  'By education I am an Englishman, by views an internationalist, by culture a Muslim, and I am a Hindu only by accident of birth'
 
Hindsight is 20/20 of course but having known about this at the time , how could you NOT expect India to lose that war. Indeed the author Sitar Ram Goel, a stern critic of Nehru, was asked to lead a guerilla movement in a black ops type mission but his condition was that Nehru step down!
 
So much for Nehru's role in the mess but what of his adviser VK Menon? Well of him there is not really much to say except that he shared Nehru ideological affinity for communism and hence his heart neither his head was in combating China.
 
He had a talent for making enemies when not needed. As an acerbic and unlikeable personality, it was particularly ill advised for him to be the public face of Indian interests abroad. He was rather  notorious for delivering a 8 hour long speech at the UN on Kashmir (note: not about China which was the more pressing matter) in 1957. His apologists claim that it was instrumental in getting the Soviet vote in the Security Council to accede Kashmir to India
 
But Ramachandra Guha has a different take on the matter
 
Through January and February, the Security Council held several sittings on Kashmir. Pakistan, represented by the superbly gifted orator Sir Zafrullah Khan was able to present a far better case than India. Khan convinced the delegates that the invasion was a consequence of the tragic riots across northern India in 1946-47; it was 'natural' reaction of Muslims to the sufferings of their fellows. He accused the Indians of perpetrating a 'genocide' in East Punjab, forcing 6 million Muslims to flee to Pakistan. The Kashmir problem was recast as part of the unfinished business of India's partition. India suffered a significant symbolic defeat when the Security Council altered the agenda item from the 'Jammu and Kashmir Question' to the 'India-Pakistan Question'.
 
In other words, Zafrullah Khan presented quality while Menon large bloviated quantities of hot air. Like his mentor Nehru, he was simply showboating especially as the Soviets during the height of the Cold War would've voted in favor of India anyway.
Zafrullah Khan had managed to internationalize the Kashmir issue and so the ball was in Menon's court which he fumbled.
 
The apologists of VK Menon are usually shrill and coarse anti Western hyper patriots who appreciate his anti American and anti Western rhetoric. And to be fair it did come in handy during the invasion of Goa where Western opinion turned sharply against India and we needed such a pitbull to defend our national interests.
 
Alas that is where the praise has to end. It appears that people like VK Menon manage to forge meaningful and lasting alliances when they march lockstep in ideology. This was the case with Goa and his populist appeal for sticking it to the West be it speech or action.
 
But it breaks down when he has to go loggerheads with those who share his views(communist China) to protect his national interests.
 
This phenomenon is not unique to India. One reason that Hollywood is unable to make any unabashed patriotic war movies apart from WWII is simply because Americans fought WITH the Soviets instead of against them.
Hollywood then as now is nest of communist sympathizers and Soviet apologists, there are more actors and directors who love Castro and Hugo Chavez than there are who supported George W Bush or even Ronald Reagan.
 
It also doesn't help that he had a sneering contempt for the Indian military viewing it as hold over from the colonial era, a view perhaps not completely unjustified. And he wished to break it up and re divert its resources for factories making household goods!
 
Let us move on to another Menon-VP
 
VP in contrast to VK Menon was a bit of rough neck and rebel from his early youth. Despite his privileged upbringing, he ran away to work in a coal mine as he didn't want to subject his family to the high cost of education.
 
By sheer grit and talent , he came close to Patel and Rajaji to become Secretary of the Ministry of States. To this end, he presided over the integration of Junagadh and Hyderabad.
 
Not to mention the earlier accession of Jodhpur where a rather colorful incident occurred:
 
VP Menon was present at the meeting between Lord Mountbatten and Hanawant Singh, Maharaja of Jodhpur. It was at this meeting that Hanwant Singh signed the instrument of accession to India. After he had signed and the Viceroy Mountbatten left, only Menon was in the room with him. The Maharaja took out a .22 calibre pistol and pointed it at Menon and said 'I refuse to take your dictation'. Menon told him that he would be making a very serious mistake by threatening him and would not be able to get the accession abrogated in any case.
 
But it is the events unfolding upto the invasion of Hyderabad that gives up a further glimpse into the tortured psyche of Nehru and the ingenuity ,resolve and insight of Menon
 
From MKK Nair's book "The Story of An Era told without Ill Will"
 
“On April 30, 1948, Indian Army withdrew fully from Hyderabad. After that, Rizvi and the Razakars began to behave licentiously all over the state. Mountbatten had left and Rajaji was the Governor General. Nehru, Rajaji and Patel were all aware of the dangerous situation prevailing in Hyderabad. Patel believed that the army should be sent to put an end to the Nizam’s wantonness. At about that time, the Nizam had sent an emissary to Pakistan and transferred a large sum of money from his Government account in London to Pakistan. At a cabinet meeting, Patel had described these things and demanded that army be sent to end the terror-regime in Hyderabad. Nehru who usually spoke calmly, peacefully and with international etiquette, spoke losing his composure, ‘You are a total communalist. I will never accept your recommendation.’
 
"Im a Muslim by culture"

Patel remained unperturbed but left the room with his papers."
 
I suspect Patel was quietly smirking at this impotent prima donna Nehru.
 
The situation in Hyderabad worsened day by day. Rajaji wanted to find a solution to the basic issue and also conciliate between Nehru and Patel. He called V P Menon and talked to him. VP let Rajaji know that the army was being kept battle-ready and could be asked to attack at any time. Rajaji invited Nehru and Patel to come to Rashtrapati Bhavan (then the Governor General’s house) next day. V P Menon was also asked to be present. Early that day,An ICS officer named Butch  handed Menon a letter. It was from the British High Commissioner and protested the rape of seventy year old nuns of a convent two days earlier by Razakars. V P Menon handed over the letter to Rajaji when he reached for the meeting.
 
Can you smell what the Menon is cooking?

 The meeting at Rashtrapati Bhavan began after Nehru and Patel arrived. Rajaji in his typical style described the situation in Hyderabad. He felt that, to safeguard India’s reputation, a decision should not be delayed any longer. Nehru was concerned about international repercussions.
 
"Im an internationalist by views"
 
Rajaji then played his trump card – the letter from the British High Commissioner. Nehru read it. His face turned red and veins bulged on his bald head. Anger choked his words. He shot out of his chair, slammed his fist on the table and cried out, ‘Let’s not waste a moment. We’ll teach them a lesson.’
 
"By education an Englishman"
 
Rajaji immediately told V P Menon, ‘VP, inform the Commander in-Chief to proceed according to the plan’

VP conveyed the order to General Busher. Nehru sat with his head in his hands. He drank tea and remained silent. Rajaji smiled and said: ‘If it is cancer, it has to be removed, even if it is painful.’

V P Menon returned to his office after the meeting and quickly planned the things to be done. The Commander-in-Chief of Pakistan was also an Englishman who nursed feelings of enmity with Indian leaders. When Busher took over from General Lockhart as Commander in-Chief, he had sworn allegiance to India in God’s name. Soon after Busher heard from V P Menon, he instructed Rajendra Singh who asked General Choudhary to begin military action at three next morning. At seven that evening, Busher contacted Karachi and spoke with his counterpart there. The conversation was in French.

Next morning at ten, V P Menon walked into Busher’s room. Assuming that he had come for details of the Hyderabad action, Busher brought him up to date with its progress. VP then said, ‘I know all that. I have come for something else. Did you speak with Pakistan’s Commander in-Chief yesterday evening.’ Hearing this, Busher’s face went pale.

‘VP, are you saying that we friends cannot speak with each other?

‘Was that a friendly conversation?’

‘Do you doubt it?’

‘Why did you speak in French?’

‘Have you started tapping telephones?’

“Shouldn’t we if circumstances warrant? Was it really a friendly chat?’

‘Of course!

 V P Menon took out a document and gave it to Busher. It was the transcript of the previous evening’s conversation and an English translation which read:

Busher: Attack on Hyderabad begins tonight. Will not last many days. If you must do anything, do so right away.

Pakistan C-in-C: Thanks. Shall inform Liaquat Ali. Jinnah is on his deathbed.

Busher: After I do my duty, I shall be in your hands.’

Busher who had pretended to be offended by telephone-tapping was sweating now. He looked sorrowfully at V P Menon and said, ‘What should I do, VP? I have made a mistake. I am sorry.’

V P Menon asked him, ‘Did you not swear allegiance to India in the name of God, with your hand on the Bible?’

Busher: ‘VP, please save me. I am willing to atone for what I have done. Don’t humiliate me. Help me for our old friendship.’

V P Menon obtained a letter from Busher that read, ‘I resign on personal and health grounds. Please accept it immediately’ and left. General Cariappa was then given charge of the Indian army.
 
One wonders if it was Nehru who provided the details of the attack to Boucher. After all he is a "Hindu only by accident"
 
So what if the Razakars raped hundreds of Hindu women, god damnit is the British nuns who demand more justice! Why it is the British themselves who had implied so!
 
One almost wishes that there were vulnerable British nuns in Tibet....
 
VP Menon's was a bravura performance. VP Menon was an autodidact who never attended high school while VK Menon had multiple degrees from University College,London and the London School of Economics.
 
Compare and contrast.
 
How many of our diplomats and civil servants educated in Doon, St Stephen and other elite schools"("English by education" ) are taught the glories of Mughal civilization and Urdu either directly or by popular and elite culture proxy("A Muslim by culture") and subscribe to fashionable cosmopolitanism found in think tanks, academia and the media("internationalist by views") but do celebrate Diwali to impress their foreign friends with the "festival of lights" but grovel and self flagellate when speaking of  Sati ,caste system and devadasis("Hindu by accident") have even the resolve never mind the resources of VP Menon?
 
A rhetorical question if ever there was one. Once upon a time we had a Taxila and Nalanda Universities which produced  the Maurya and Gupta empires which rooted out foreign, indeed Western "progressive", invaders even as they sought peace and trade through building military strength and cultural bridges. An identifier of a wise ,strong and self confident super power.
 
 
Compare and contrast.
 

7 comments:

  1. An eye-opening article about Nehru.

    For whatever reason, the British favoured Pakistan over India. One 19th century Englishman describes how leaders of the Muslim community would visit British officers and then spit on their doorway while leaving. Despite all this, the Brits masochistically loved and respected them. Even to this day, BBC has a marked pro-Pakistan slant in its news reporting.

    "One reason that Hollywood is unable to make any unabashed patriotic war movies apart from WWII is simply because Americans fought WITH the Soviets instead of against them."

    Hey what about Rambo and Forrest Gump?

    "Silly man Rajaram, why would Nehru care about the superstitious rabble who go on and on about Mt Kailash and Manasarovar?"

    I don't think even the "rabble" would consider Mt Kailash a fair exchange for the strategically important Aksai Chin. Anyway China does allow Indians to go on pilgrimage to Kailash. Post-Xiaoping China is all about money, money, money. Need I point out that Kailash pilgrimage is only for the affluent among the pious.

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  2. After 1857, Brits hated Muslims and allied with Hindus. But after 1900, they began to hate Hindus and started to ally with Muslims as Hindu dominated Congress started to become a source of trouble to British rule in India.

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  3. nehru will soon be junked into the dustbin of history...if he hasn't been already.

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    1. "which produced the Maurya and Gupta empires which rooted out foreign, indeed Western "progressive"," - problem is that our school kids learn more about the religious angle of ancient hindu empires (like promotion of hinduism etc) and very little about other facets.So they dont get any idea about the glory of ancient India.And 90% folks stop learning on their own after reaching a particular age or position in life.Thus we have got a whole population which thinks Nehru and Gandhi= India of the past,present and future.

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    2. I didn't know VP Menon was such a great personality.I only knew his name from some passing source which I can't even remember.Everywhere we see the wrong persons getting glorified.This is what communist historians have done to our history.I feel it all the more when I see Indian youth worship Che Guevara . Anyway hopefully things will change in the near future.

      YSV you had hinted that you would put up an article on freemasonry .That was way back in october-nov 2014,so I thought that you might have forgotten the point :) You can write it in the future according to your convenience.

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    3. well, i admit that he still hasn't been junked yet. But i willing to wager that it will happen in the next 50 years. Thanks to the internet, a lot of skeletons in the closet of nehru have been exposed, to people who would have never known. I remember when i was a kid in primary school back in india (live abroad now), i thought nehru was like a santa claus-like figure who loved children. lol

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    4. @ edgardo mortara

      You cannot be blamed.Even I had a rosy picture of Nehru in my childhood.However this Santa Claus had died of syphilis LOL :)

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