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The doyen of a diplomatic dynasty

A tribute to former Foreign Secretary K.P.S. Menon (Jr.).

A diplomatic dynasty which dominated Indian diplomacy for three generations, not by birth, but by stiff competition, lost its doyen when K.P.S. Menon (Jr.) passed away on September 28. As the Indian envoy to China, Japan, Bangladesh, Egypt and Hungary, KPS (Jr.) built a reputation for diplomatic finesse, extreme courtesy, sharp intellect, warm hospitality and good humour. He left Delhi the day he retired to Thiruvananthapuram, to live in his wife’s home, as every Nair does. He was active in various circles till very recently, visiting Chennai every year to enjoy music and dance. He rarely visited Delhi as though he wanted his successors to make their own mistakes rather than follow his advice.

The stars had foretold many years ago that K.P.S. (Jr.) would be Foreign Secretary one day. It was written in the horoscope of his father, K.P.S. Menon (Sr.), that his son and grandson would occupy the same position that he occupied in the government.

A disciplined diplomat

When K.P.S. Menon (Jr.) was packing his bags for his retirement from Beijing, his mother thought that the astrologer had got it wrong, but a few days before he retired, Rajiv Gandhi summoned him to New Delhi to replace A.P. Venkateswaran, who left in a huff when the then Prime Minister announced publicly that he would appoint a new Foreign Secretary soon. He had least expected it and hesitated, but in the commotion created by the dismissal of Venkateswaran, appointment of any other person as Foreign Secretary would have led to speculation that the Prime Minister had removed Venkateswaran to appoint a favourite. K.P.S., as the senior most IFS officer with a lily-white reputation, was a life-saver for Rajiv Gandhi. He served for two years with distinction at a difficult time. He had some disagreements with Rajiv Gandhi’s policies, but he soldiered on as a disciplined diplomat. He was a pillar of support for me during the Fiji crisis, which led to my expulsion as the High Commissioner.

When I returned to Thiruvananthapuram, the city was called “a three ambassador city” as only two other retired diplomats, K.P.S. and Thomas Abraham had settled down here. Most others from Kerala remained in Delhi or moved to Bengaluru or Chennai. The three of us got together to establish a think tank, the Kerala International Centre. Both of them were not only highly inspirational, but also active trustees giving me directions to run the Centre. Both of them came to our meetings regularly and created an international study culture in the city. K.P.S. often surprised us with his unconventional views, such as his opposition to nuclear weapons and his conviction that government service was not a desirable vocation. He would not advise youngsters even to join the IFS. But we learnt much from him and he was also keen to learn more about international affairs. With both of them gone, I feel orphaned.

It was sad to see K.P.S. Menon (Jr.) lose his memory, but his devoted wife, Lalitha, helped him to jog his memory and keep him interested in various things. The wife of K.P.S. (Sr.) also used to support him in the evening of his life, even reminding him of his favourite jokes and laughing when he haltingly repeated them. K.P.S. Menon (Jr.) had a full and fruitful life, which must be celebrated.

The mantle of this exceptional dynasty now falls on Shivshankar Menon, who also became Foreign Secretary and National Security Adviser and is now in great demand nationally and internationally as an exceptional analyst of past and current international affairs.

T.P. Sreenivasan is a former Ambassador of India and currently Director General, Kerala International Centre, Thiruvananthapuram

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 11:11:56 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-doyen-of-a-diplomatic-dynasty/article29550210.ece

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