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A political paradigm

Krishna Menon's birth anniversary on May 3 was yet another occasion to pay tribute to the statesman who guided India's destiny on many fronts, says V.R. KRISHNA IYER.

AS a nation, we owe a tribute to Krishna Menon who was born on May 3, 1896. He was a freedom fighter and served the country in several capacities before and after Independence. He died in October 1974. His address on Kashmir at the United Nations is legendary. He said:

"Why is that we have never heard voices in connection with the freedom of people under the suppression and tyranny of Pakistani authorities on the other side of the cease-fire line? Why is it that we have not heard here that in ten years these people have not seen a ballot paper? With what voice can either the Security Council or anyone coming before it demand a plebiscite for a people on our side who exercise franchise, who have freedom of speech, who function under a hundred local bodies?"

His anti-imperialist role for the liberation of subjugated peoples is well known. He breathed life into the Non-Alignment Movement.

President K.R. Narayanan, way back in 1984, observed at a memorial lecture in Mumbai: "India has been fortunate to have had not only a glorious heritage of culture and civilisation but a succession of great men from the Buddha to Gandhi, from Ashoka to Nehru, from Kautilya to Krishna Menon."

Beliefs that Menon bungled as Defence Minister are best countered by the authoritative observations of R. Venkataraman, former President and Minister for Defence. I quote him because half-truths about Menon still linger and the record must be set straight in all fairness to that fine statesman:

"As Minister for Defence, Krishna Menon brought to bear his great knowledge to strengthen national self reliance. Krishna Menon was to so modernise and indigenise our preparations for defence as to bring them on par with the best anywhere. After a decade of relative inaction, our defence industry acquired, under Menon, direction as well as momentum. Krishna Menon was the first to acknowledge that the defence production base, in the ultimate analysis, could not be divorced from the economic and industrial infrastructure of the country. Thanks to his great foresight and vision, we have now established the necessary infrastructure and expertise in various areas of interest."

Krishna Menon battled with tenacity while living in Britain against the British stranglehold on India, became India's first High Commissioner to that country, represented India at the United Nations and played a supportive role whenever liberation of colonies, defence of national self-determination and freedom and preservation of peace became an issue in the Asia-Pacific region.

Menon was Nehru's close associate and adviser, India's notable Defence Minister and crusader for the nation's secular socialist democratic culture.

For generations of Indians and anti-imperialists everywhere, he remains a legend and a political paradigm that lives in history. For me, Krishna Menon was a dignitary whom I revered and lovingly remembered as a senior, yet affectionate, friend and philosopher.

India today is passing through a crisis; there is a peril of economic recolonisation. In this context, it is relevant to focus on what he had to say:

"Speaking of foreign collaboration, I admit that it gives us expertise and additional resources ... It is however, a question of the terms of economic relations which in a few years may reach the point of no return ... Therefore, in the taking of aid as such, it is no use merely talking about strings. Strings will always be there, but the question is what kind of string is it and how much it can be enlarged... We must also take into account the environment that exists... " (Centurion, May 1, 1978, p.16.)

Our foreign policy, self-reliance in defence and leading role in non-alignment and peaceful co-existence are the dynamic products of the Nehru-Menon legacy. Defending India is not by means of nuclear bombs and missiles but by the ability to inspire a whole people to fight to win a new Swaraj, at once modern and technologically advanced but not patent-dependent on foreign gargantuan corporate power or submissive to abridgement of sovereignty. This is my vision of the Menon Mission.

The writer is a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of India.

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