He was an Indian civil service officer. He was the constitutional advisor to the last three viceroys during British rule. He was the only Indian in Mountbatten’s core team. In Independent India he became Secretary of the Ministry of States. And more importantly, he was the person who along with Sardar Patel achieved the integration of Indian states.
He was Vapal Pangunni Menon. To his friends he was known as V P Menon. Menon played a vital role in shaping Independent India’s fate, but he never received the recognition he deserved. He came from a very humble background and yet reached the heights of the Indian Government Services. Born in Kerala in 1894, Menon joined Government service in 1914. Later, Lord Wavell appointed him Secretary to Governor General. In 1946 he was appointed political reform commissioner to the British viceroy. Though he had the confidence of Government and successive Viceroys, he was a staunch Indian patriot & had confidence of political leaders as well, especially Sardar Patel.
When Mountbatten arrived in 1947, Menon was not included in his core team. Mountbatten had orders to hand over the power latest by June 1948. After Gandhi’s proposal of calling Jinnah to form interim government failed, Menon was the first person to accept that some form of Pakistan is going to be a reality. But Menon opposed the plan of Mountbatten according to which power was to be transferred to the provinces for an interim period. According to this plan provinces had the right to decide, whether to join India, Pakistan or to be Independent. Mountbatten’s plan was the plan of balkanization of this sub-continent with India, Pakistan, and hundreds of princely states. But history had chosen V P Menon to decide the geography of this sub-continent.
After all these events, Menon went to Shimla, where Nehru & Mountbatten were to meet in May 1947. There he informed Mountbatten, of a new approach to the problem, which he had discussed with Sardar Patel in December 1946. Then on the 10 of May 1947 Menon presented his plan to Nehru in front of Mountbatten. The broad outline of the plan was that the Muslim majority areas should be separated from India and power should be transferred to the two separate Governments. He felt that it was better for the country to be divided than to let it scourge in the never ending civil war. On the 3 of June plan suggested by Menon was formally accepted by all leaders. After this, Menon’s task was to prepare & finalize the draft of ‘India Independence Bill’. Actually there were hell lot of events happened in between May & June. Scores of articles will be needed to cover all those series of events, and that is not possible here. So I am just giving you the glimpses of those events.
Menon’s second crucial contribution was related to the accession of princely states. Menon worked as Sardar Patel‘s right hand in the Home Ministry. He took the charge of the Secretary of the States Department on 5 July. Initially he was not sure whether to join Ministry or not because India’s Independence was his life’s ambition and since India was going to be Independent, he thought of retirement. But Sardar Patel persuaded him to join Ministry for the integration of the Indian Union.
|Menon (third from right) advising Patel (second from right)|
Menon drafted an Instrument of Accession for the princely states. He used all his diplomatic skills while negotiating with princes. Initially many Maharajas were unwilling to sign, but eventually they surrendered to Menon’s tactics. By the time of transfer of Power, all except three states, signed the Instrument of Accession. These 3 states were Junagadh, Hyderadabad, & Kashmir. Later Junagadh and Hyderabad surrendered because of strong leadership of Patel, diplomacy of Menon, & threat of Indian Army. But the case of Kashmir was very unique. Hari singh, Maharaja of Kashmir had not signed the Accession Instrument. When Pakistani tribes invaded Kashmir in October 1947, Menon immediately went to Srinagar to discuss the situation with Maharaja. He came back to Delhi, had a meeting with Mountbatten & flew back to Jammu. When he again returned to Delhi, he had with him the Accession papers signed by Maharaja. It was only after these accession papers that Indian Government was able to send troops to Kashmir, and it became an inseparable part of India. His third major achievement was to control the communal riots which followed immediately after the partition. Menon along with Sardar Patel and Mountbatten worked hard to stop the riots.
After Patel’s death in 1950, Menon went into background as he was not close to Nehru. Later he became Governor of Orissa. In 1952 he retired from the service and shifted to live in Bangalore till his death in 1966.
By the policy of Accession Menon had ensured the unity of India. Later he expressed this feeling in his book ‘Integration of the Indian States’ as “My feeling was one of profound thankfulness to God. The threatened fragmentation had been averted and the whole country had come under one political umbrella.”We often heard that the British brought this country into one political umbrella, it’s a fallacy. Rather, it was the duo of Patel & Menon who understood the need of hour and stitched together this union in record time. If Menon had not shown his skillful diplomacy, sharp acumen, this country could have led to civil war. Without Menon India of today would be a very different nation. We can never forget what he has done for this country during that crucial decade of 1940s.