Krishna Menon is a much berated man in Indian history. He is held responsible for the Indian debacle against China in 1962. In addition he is accused of having interfered with the process of military selection and needlessly meddled with his army commanders on operational matters.
But some times fact can be stranger than fiction. Perhaps Menon had his faults, but his contribution to the defense preparedness of India, at the present time can all be traced to the genius of Menon.
Menon as Defense Minister
Menon was a long time friend of Nehru and in 1953 was elected to the Rajya Sabha. In 1957 Nehru appointed him the Defense minister. Krishna Menon was a highly articulate and brilliant man; even his critics will concede that. Perhaps that was the reason that a lot many people felt that he needled the Army top brass. There is no doubt that Krishna Menon had great authority on most matters as he was the alter ego of Nehru. Thus one aspect of his personality that cannot be ignored is that he did what Nehru laid down. Thus once the Indian PM had laid down a policy that China was not a threat Menon just went along.
Menon and Defense Self reliance
Despite this weakness, Menon did something that has lived on, as a testimonial to his years as the defense minister. Not many people will give credit that Menon was in many ways responsible for laying the foundations of India's military-industrial base. During his stint as DM from 1957-62, menon did yeoman service to making India a self reliant military power.
Among other endeavors, Menon was responsible for the development of ordnance facilities to manufacture the Ichapore semiautomatic rifle; a tank manufacturing complex at Avadi, Tamil Nadu; facilities to build frigates at the Mazagon Dock naval shipyard in Bombay; and the licensed manufacture of Soviet-designed MiG-23 fighter aircraft in Nasik, Maharashtra. These achievements of Menon cannot be brushed under the carpet.
The 50 odd defense ordinance factories are a testimonial to Menon acumen. Also his selection of the Soviet aircraft for the IAF in the teeth of opposition from the western powers is a feather in his cap. More important he negotiated the deal to ensure that the aircraft was manufactured in India.
However the one place Menon failed was in gauging the Chinese threat. But then even Nehru and the Army general staff erred in their assessments. Generals like Cariappa never brought out any picture of the Chinese threat. Thus to blame Menon only for the debacle against China, may not be correct.
Menon resigned as defense minister, to save Nehru, who accepted his resignation, perhaps to save his skin. But at the end of the day, Menon is the one single factor that put India’s armed forces on the road to self reliance.
Lastly the concept of Sainik Schools (military Schools) was entirely the brainchild of Menon. 24 Schools were set up and are a thriving fountain for the officer As we say give credit, where it is due and Menon deserves his place in the sun for all that he did and executed.
What had Menon to say of the defeat of the Indian Army? In a conversation with Lakshmi Menon( one of his critics) India’s roving Ambassador he said
“Now my enemies will attack me, but I cannot reply because Nehru was personally responsible for all decisions regarding the NEFA and had refused to concentrate as much force there as in Ladakh”
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