Bengaluru: Did the man blamed for India's humiliating defeat at the hands of Mao-Zedong's Communist China in the 1962 Sino-India conflict, shoulder the blame for a military debacle that the Indian Army should have taken responsibility for?
Contemporary historian and Congress party apparatchik, Jairam Ramesh's 700 page 'A Chequered Brilliance, The Many Lives of V.K.Krishna Menon' on India's then defence minister, whom he describes him as " one of the most consequential, controversial and contradictory" personages in the years 1925-1962, " certainly seems to think so.
He speaks of the bond that developed between Mr Menon and Chinese premier Chou-En Lai and how Mao's armies turned what could have been a permanent solution to the border dispute on its head; interestingly, he also cites K Subramanyam, India's leading military expert, who wrote that "1962 was basically a debacle caused by inept, incompetent military leadership," and that the political class - mainly then prime Minister Jwaharlal Nehru and Menon - bore the brunt of the responsibility as the first book written on the '62 drubbing was 'Himalayan Blunder' authored by Brigadier J. Dalvi "which came to dominate the thinking that everybody was at fault except the military".
Mr Ramesh said that it fell to Mr. K Subramanyam to challenge this, "by stating that of course Krishna Menon had made mistakes but holding him solely responsible for what happened absolves the military for its poor leadership on the ground."
He also noted the dark side of army personnel, who had been painted as great heroes. He pointed to Gen. Chaudhury, whom he said functioned as the 'Military Correspondent' for the Statesman newspaper for 14 years, writing on military matters without the permission of the government or the army.
More interestingly, he brings up the despatches by Mr. Malcolm Mcdowell ( then British High Commissioner to India) to his government which details conversations with then Indian army chief, the legendary Gen. K.S Thimayya in successive diplomatic missives to the British government which the author accessed, that Mr Ramesh says could have seen the general held for treason. "As a serving Army Chief, he spoke against the Krishna Menon (Defence Minister) to a foreign diplomat," said Mr Ramesh, "that's treason."
The relationship of Mr. Menon with the armed forces were complicated by the fact that Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru's confidante simply couldn't equate with the three principles under which the army functioned - hierarchy, superiority and the chain of commands, none of which Mr. Menon adhered to, explained Mr Ramesh, laying the ground for the friction between the defence establishment and the minister.
Mr Krishna Menon's disastrous reading of China's intent, he says, should not take away from his path-breaking 'Make in India' moves as the man who helped initiate the setting up of HAL, DRDO and pick the Soviet Union to initiate the first indigenous production of the MiG fighter jet. Post the China debacle, and India seeking arms and military aid from the U.S., the resignation of Krishna Menon as the defence minister, was the price that the post-Nehru Indian establishment paid.
"However, amidst his many mistakes, we shouldn't forget that in 1954, the architect of the Indo- China peace accord was Krishna Menon and this agreement helped instill peace in Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. Goa also became part of India through Krishna Menon, who also prevailed on the virtues of creating a constituent assembly which was largely contested by the liberals and thinkers of the times. "It was only then that Nehru emerged as the champion of Constituent Assembly," says Mr Ramesh.
"He was Nehru's ideological comrade, his soul-mate, he played an important role in the transfer of power in the 1940s which culminated in the independence and partition of India. Following this he rose to become the global envoy of India, where he acquires the reputation as 'Formula Menon' who was much approached during times of crisis,", Mr Ramesh said, during a discussion Thursday, about his book at Takshashila Institution on Thursday with co-founder Nitin Pai.
On the border dispute with China that continues to linger, he notes how "India lost the last chance in 1960s for a negotiated settlement of the border issue which could have otherwise been negotiated by a deal formulated by Mr. Menon."...