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Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon (3 May 1896 – 6 October 1974) was an Indian nationalist, diplomat, and politician, described by some as the second most powerful man in India, after his ally, 1st Prime Minister of India Jawaharlal Nehru.
Noted for his eloquence, brilliance, and forceful, highly abrasive persona, Menon inspired widespread adulation and fervent detraction in both India and the West; to his supporters, he was an unapologetic champion of India in the face of Western imperialism, who famously “taught the white man his place”; to his Western detractors, “Nehru’s evil genius”. U.S. president Dwight D Eisenhower characterised him as a “menace … governed by an ambition to prove himself the master international manipulator and politician of the age”, while Indian president K.R. Narayanan eulogised him as a truly great man; decades after his death, Menon remains an enigmatic and controversial figure.
As a young man, Menon served as founding editor of the Pelican Imprint of Penguin Books, and led the overseas wing of the Indian independence movement, launching the India League in London, aggressively campaigning within the United Kingdom to win public support for Indian independence, and rallying the support of such superpowers as the Soviet Union. In the immediate wake of independence, Menon emerged as engineer of and spokesman for India’s foreign policy, and, more generally, architect of the non-aligned movement; he headed India’s diplomatic missions to the United Kingdom and the United Nations, and distinguished himself in diplomatic matters including the Suez crisis. In 1957, Menon set the record for the longest speech(8 hours) before the U.N. Security Council while defending India’s rights to the disputed territory of Kashmir, in the process earning widespread popularity and the sobriquet “Hero of Kashmir” in India.
Returning to India, he was repeatedly elected to both houses of the Indian parliament from constituencies as varied as Mumbai, Bengal, and Trivandrum in his native state of Kerala, and served as a minister without portfolio, and later as Minister of Defence, overseeing the modernization of the Indian military and development of the Indian military-industrial complex, and spearheading the Indian annexation of Goa. He resigned in the wake of the Sino-Indian War, following allegations of India’s military unpreparedness, but remained counselor to Nehru, member of parliament and elder statesman until his death