Pangunni Menon Vappala, Rao Bahadur
|Also Known As:||"V.P.Menon"|
|Birthplace:||Vappalakalam , near Panamanna, Ottapalam, British India, Malabar District (Madras Presidency)|
|Death:||Died in Bangalore, Karnataka, India|
|Place of Burial:||Jabalpur, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, India|
Son of *********** Menon CHEMANGAT and X X Menon Vappala
|Managed by:||Private User|
About Rao Bahadur V.P.Menon
Vappala Pangunni Menon, also known as V. P. Menon, was an Indian civil servant who played a vital role in stopping the partition of India and the integration of independent India, during the period 1945-1950. ( V P Menon - The Forgotten Architect of Modern India - R P Fernando )
V.P.Menon was the son of a school headmaster in Kerala. Menon had begun as a clerk in the Indian Civil Service, but working assiduously hard, Menon rose through the ranks to become the highest serving Indian officer in British India. In 1946, he was appointed Political Reforms Commissioner to the British Viceroy. VP Menon moved in with his Keralite friends after his wife left him and returned to south India. The couple had actually arranged his marriage and helped raise his two sons. When the husband died, Menon married his widow. 
Menon was the political advisor of the last Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten. When the interim Government had collapsed due to the rivalry between the Indian National Congress and the Muslim League, Menon had proposed to Mountbatten, Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, the Indian leaders, the Muslim League's plan to partition India into two independent nations - India and Pakistan. After the independence of India, Menon became the secretary of the Ministry of the States, headed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, with whom he had developed a bond of trust. Patel respected Menon's political genius and work ethic, while Menon obtained the respect for his work that a civil servant needs from his political superior. Menon worked closely with Patel over the integration of over 500 princely states into the union of India, managing the diplomacy between the States Ministry and the various Indian princes, acting as Patel's envoy and striking deals with reluctant princes and rulers. Patel respected Menon's ingenuity in diplomacy, and often did not question if Menon exceeded any instructions. Menon also worked with Patel over the military action against the hostile states of Junagadh and Hyderabad, as well as advising Nehru and Patel on relations with Pakistan and the Kashmir conflict. The Cabinet had dispatched Menon to obtain the accession of Kashmir into India in 1947
Menon's resourcefulness during this period caught the eye of Sardar Patel, who would become the Deputy Prime Minister of India in 1947
The partnership between Patel and Menon was of a rare kind. Almost every Indian politician was allergic to civil servants, owing to their participation in the British Raj. Many Congressmen had demanded stripping the service of its privileges or disbanding it all together, owing to the role of British-era officers in imprisoning Congress leaders. Nehru himself was reluctant to listen to the civil servants who worked under him.
Thus, after Patel's death in 1950, Menon himself retired from the newly formed Indian Administrative Service. He authored a book on the political integration of India, The Story of the Integration of Indian States and on the partition of India, Transfer of Power. He later joined Swatantra Party.
Rao Bahadur V.P.Menon's Timeline
September 30, 1893
Ottapalam, British India, Malabar District (Madras Presidency)
June 1, 1899
Ottapalam, Kerala, India
November 4, 1925
Shimla, Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, India
December 31, 1965
Bangalore, Karnataka, India
While perusing the stories of Nehru, Krishna Menon and many others I had covered in these blogs, I came across VP’s name now and then. And like the man he was, he and his character were such that they remained largely hidden in those niches and corners. It took me much effort to prise open some of that persona behind them. It could be so that VP wanted to remain hidden, for it is certainly curious that a person of such greatness has not a single biography or major biographical article written about him. In fact even in encyclopedias, his private life is given a couple of paragraphs of space, though much is written about the actions he took and his work. So this article tries to keep the long narrative connected to the person while only gleaning over his majestic work
I am happy that Vijay my friend prodded me to check his story out. VP belonged to to a place I know reasonably well, for at Ottapalam, we have many a relative and friend. So that is where we have to go to start the story. Like Krishna Menon, VP as he was called, had his friends and detractors and during various periods of his career, also powerful sponsors. Long ago I had learned that for one to go up and up in life, it helps to have such a powerful sponsor. But only some are lucky in such matters.
I pass by Ottapalam often, for it is on the way to many places, especially if you are from Palakkad. It is a place made famous by writers like our great MT Vasudevan Nair and needless to remind the reader that before MT many a luminary hailed from the banks of the Bhratapuzha or the Nila valley. So as we start, once upon a time, there lived in those terrains a poor man, who toiled and rose to become the most trusted Indians amongst the ruling British. Later, he turned out to be the master negotiator for the Indians and the Congress, with the British. On one side was Mountbatten, and on the other Sardar Patel, Nehru, Krishna Menon and a multitude of other heavy duty and seasoned politicians including Gandhiji. In between them was our man from Ottapalam, and his name was Pangunni. Strange name actually, it probably means the person born in the month of Panguni or possibly after the lame Sage of the Himalayas. Maybe it means something else, I don’t know. Today the name is hardly heard in Kerala, and like the Indian independence struggle, it sounds rather ancient.
As an Indian express article mentioned –Few small towns in the country could claim as many movers and shakers in the top bureaucracy as this pastoral municipality of barely 50,000 people. Ottappalam, clearly, has got too used to its men making news to notice. A few minutes down the dusty and narrow bone-shaker of a road winding away from Shankaran Nair’s original home here was the house of the wily V P Menon, Std VII dropout and one-time coolie-turned-secretary of state who more than helped Sardar Vallabhai Patel annex the many princely states to Independent India - more land and more people, in fact, than even Bismarck did in Germany.
Pangunni or VP as he was known moved back and forth negotiating the paperwork of English withdrawal from India and as secretary of state the creation of most of the states that we know today, wresting them away from some 564 princes and kings, sultans and nawabs. He created together with Sardar Patel the union or statehood we know today and swear by, though he has sadly been forgotten by all. That is the incredible story of V.P.Menon, an eminent administrator and diplomat.
For it was VP himself who reminded us many years ago that “A nation that forgets its history or its geography does so at its peril”. Poignant isn’t it, that we forgot not only the history but also the creators of such history?
If you go into the incorporation certificate of many an Indian state today, you will see this at the end - In confirmation whereof Mr. Vapal Pangunni Menon, Adviser to the Government of India in the Ministry of States, has appended his signature on behalf and with the authority of the Governor General of India and His Highness…………..There lies imprinted his name, forever, for those who come across it perchance.
A lot of people have some knowledge about the freedom struggle and many of the players in that game, for that is what it was in hindsight. Nehru and VKK Menon on one side, Patel and VP Menon on the other side…Those were heady days when Nehru ruled the roost and more visible people like Krishna Menon, Patel, Gandhiji and many others made the scenes at Delhi hectic and turbulent to say the least. The Raj was slowly disbanding, the farewell parties were in full swing in Delhi and the ships and the goras were heading back to the Blighty. The P&B liners were sagging with the weight of the looters and the booty, as some snide remarks suggest, for the last time. In the melee, there was one person who was steadfast in his beliefs standing firmly behind Sardar Patel. His name was VP Menon. There is no authoritative biography written about him, so the information penned here is gleaned from a number of sources.
VP was not highly educated, in fact many a write up mentions that he finished 7th standard at the Ottapalam High school. He was born on 30th Sept 1894, a son to a school headmaster with 12 siblings. As the story goes, VP overheard his father discussing the unbearable cost of educating the young boys. VP decided to be a burden no more and left home, like many others, in a train bound for the North. He worked in a gold mine (some other mentions of coal mines as well) and as a day laborer in Mysore to start with and continued at a Tobacco firm in Bangalore. The days in Mysore & Bangalore never left his memory, for when he retired, Bangalore was his destination, and probably the place reminded him of his days in cool Simla. Vappalakalam was where he came from; though he himself shortened it to Vapal and others like KM Panikkar called him Vepali (Vappalakalam is near Panamanna, a mile north of Ottapalam town). The tharavad house still exists and you can see it as well as the family pond, marked in the map.
To trace his path and the distances he traveled and reached, I peruse through some pages devoted to VP Menon by HG Hodson in his charming autobiography.
Brought up in a matriarchal extended family in that part of Madras province which is now Mysore (?) state, VP did well at school, learning English as all secondary pupils did in Madras; but when he overheard a family conversation about the cost of his further education he decided not to be a burden, but to leave home and make his own way in the world. An Englishman gave him a clerical job in Bangalore, where, he told me, he sat under a crimson gulmohor tree and pondered his future. He decided to move towards the centre of government of India. On his way north, he was offered a job teaching English in a small Muslim-ruled state. “There is one little condition,” they said; “you will have to become a Mussulman.” The agnostic young Menon thought this no fatal obstacle, until he learnt that virtually the only requirement for conversion was circumcision: permanent amputation for a temporary job he thought too high a price.
As we see from Hodson’s notes, VP reached Simla in the 1914 time frame, aged 20, connected somehow with the Madrasi crowd there and joined the British bureaucracy as a lowly clerk or steno typist. (Please see corrections regarding the years at Delhi, below)
In Simla the “Madras connection” helped him to a post in a government office. Thence his ability and industry alone took him up the ladder of promotion to become deputy to my predecessor as Reforms Commissioner, Sir Hawthorne Lewis. Menon was lucky to be drafted to the Reforms office, for merit could shine more effectively there than in a large hierarchical department manned in all its upper ranks by ICS men. He had the opportunity to show his brains, assiduity and sound sense in the arduous work of serving the Round Table Conferences on Indian constitutional reform (for which the Reforms Office had indeed been created) and implementing the new constitution, the Government of India Act 1935.
My friend Premanth provided me with some detail of the early years in Delhi. Menon reached Delhi and connected up with some very helpful and well played Malayalis. One of them, the eminent Mr CK Kunhiraman from the Viceroys secretariat helped him in his time of need and provided him the necessary recommendations for a job there. Another well wisher and supporter was Mr Anandan. Mr Kunhiraman later moved to Sri Lanka and worked to start the Ceylon Congress.
Even though we have the faded, grainy photograph of him, Menon was described as bespectacled, bald and cheerful but engaging man with snaggled teeth. Was he a jovial guy? Was he a serious chap, a nerd perhaps? Was he timid or outspoken? I would think from all I read that he was the serious and meticulous type, very firm in manner and speech. This firmness was to stand in good stead when he later worked with political stalwarts like Gandhi, Krishna Menon, Nehru, Patel, various pompous Englishmen and of course the many hundred egoistic kings and princes during the formation of states. But in those early days, it also resulted in him getting bullied terribly by a junior ICS officer named Lancaster. Another interesting story tells it all, as accounted by Hodosn.
On his first visit to England as part of the secretariat of the first Round Table Conference he had an unforgettable experience. When he had just joined the government service and was under training in his home province he was horribly bullied by a junior ICS officer, Lancaster by name. Later, when working in the Home Department he had to deal with the file on this same man’s compulsory retirement for arbitrary behaviour and general unsuitability. Arriving in London with very few personal contacts, and somewhat bewildered, he was agreeably surprised when an Englishman came up to him on Victoria station and asked did he not come from Madras, whereabouts, and so on, explaining that he himself was a former Madras civilian. He turned out to be none other than Mr Lancaster, unrecognisable with a beard. He insisted that for the rest of Menon’s stay in England he should spend every weekend in his house. When their friendship had become close enough to allow it, VP asked Lancaster why he had behaved as he had. He replied: “Imagine a young man of 23, without much training or background, suddenly finding himself with almost absolute power over a large number of subject people. Can you wonder that he forgets his discretion, his balance, his manners? People exclaim at the wickedness of some rajahs: I am surprised that any of them are good.” He had realised how wrong he had been and was trying to make amends for his misbehaviour by befriending lonely Indians. That encounter was one of the foundations of VP’s undying affection and loyalty towards the British—sentiments which in no way trammelled his Indian-ness or his aspirations for his country’s freedom.
For 11 years Menon toiled, and steadily impressed his superiors and rose up the ranks. It appears that he married Smt Kanakamma around 1941 at the late age of 46 and fathered three children, two sons and a daughter. His greatest abilities as stated by his peers was that he knew how to get things done and had both the knowledge and abilities to go with it. Pangunni Menon was by temperament a conservative, with no time for the social radicalism of Nehru or Gandhi. By 1942 (when quit India started) he had risen to become the constitutional secretary to the Viceroy. As Fernando writes - When the post of Reforms Commissioner became vacant in 1942 following the departure of H V Hodson, there was some reluctance to appoint an Indian to a position of such intimate trust on political and constitutional matters. However, the Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, had been so impressed by Menon’s loyalty, judgement and technical knowledge that he was appointed to the post.
To me he was the best of friends and colleagues. It must have been a wretched disappointment to him not to move up to the Reforms Commissionership when Lewis became Governor of Orissa, but he never showed the slightest sign of jealousy or coolness towards the young ignorant Englishman who had been appointed instead. I think he craved the post as much because it had been a job for the ICS, who had looked down on him as an uncovenanted civil servant, as for its rank and emoluments. There was a natural reluctance to appoint an Indian, however well qualified, to a position of intimate trust on political and constitutional affairs, but Lord Linlithgow had been impressed by Menon’s loyalty as well as his judgment and technical knowledge, and he duly succeeded me as constitutional adviser.
But his greatest associations came first with Mountbatten and later with Sardar Patel.
He had the full confidence of Lord Wavell, though he was not at one with the Viceroy over the conduct of the Simla conference in 1945 (his memorandum on the alternatives open after the failure of the conference, printed in an appendix to the last volume of the Transfer of Power documents, is a monument of good sense); but in the earlier weeks of the last viceroyalty he was neglected by Mountbatten, who had brought eminent advisers from England to reinforce the Viceroy’s private secretariat and who no doubt felt that an Indian, a Hindu, could not avoid being partisan in the tense inter-party and inter-communal negotiations for independence.
However, Mountbatten realised before long what an invaluable counsellor he had in Menon, who brought not only unrivalled knowledge of Indian constitutional matters but also confidential personal contacts with important Indian figures, including top civil servants like Mahomed Ali, administrative architect of Pakistan and BN Rao, draftsman of the new Indian constitution. And at the moment of crisis, when Nehru spurned Mountbatten’s first plan for the transfer of power, it was to Menon that the Viceroy turned. In a matter of hours Menon devised, and secretly negotiated with Patel, the plan for an early demission of power to two Dominions under the existing constitution, altered to eliminate British control, which proved the key to the whole problem. It was a masterly effort, drawing upon the deep thought that VP had given over many years to India’s constitutional progress, which he and his predecessors in the Reforms Office believed could be best advanced on the historical pattern already set in the British Commonwealth. In all this, Menon was the devoted servant both of the regime to which he had given his working life, and to his own country whose constitutional freedom he had perceived as his ultimate professional goal.
VP Menon and Indian independence
Sardar Patel & the formation of states
One writer says - The partnership between Patel and Menon was of a rare kind. Almost every Indian politician was allergic to civil servants, owing to their participation in the British Raj. Many Congressmen had demanded stripping the service of its privileges or disbanding it all together, owing to the role of British-era officers in imprisoning Congress leaders. Nehru himself was reluctant to listen to the civil servants who worked under him.
The Patel Menon understanding started in August 1946, was key to the transfer of power, division of India and the merger of the princely states into India. Their relationship is famous and many a time, Menon was singled out by Patel to broach things to difficult people and secure their agreement. One example is the famous case of the early princely integration efforts that Gandiji did not think will succeed.
The iron man Patel used tough methods to coerce the princes, but the question was what would Bapuji say? Suppose he called it coercion, a breach of his principle of non-violence? Patel did not like to face Gandhi, and left the job of convincing Gandhi to Menon. Menon met Gandhi in Birla House and told him that it was all done in the interest of the concerned Princes themselves. Gandhi finally agreed and accepted that it was like administering ‘castor oil to resisting children'.
Quoting Menon to sum up the relationship ‘The Sardar was endowed with the art of getting things done, and we established an ideal team spirit between the political head and the officials working under him. When once a policy was agreed upon, the Sardar never interfered or bothered about details. It was as if I was the driver and he trusted me to get him to the agreed destination: he never indulged in ‘back seat’ driving. I kept him informed, morning and evening, and often late at night, of the progress made, and, if specially important or difficult decision had to be made, I consulted him. Otherwise he was content to leave everything to me. When he had his unfortunate heart attack in 1948 I realized the necessity of hurrying through the process of integration, for without him at the head of the Ministry, I doubt whether the job would ever have been completed. I therefore redoubled the speed with which I worked, and fortunately it was brought to a conclusion while he was still in charge.’
When Patel died, the funeral in Bombay was a tame affair at a public crematorium. Many of the Princes whose states Patel had taken away took special planes to reach Bombay for the event. V. P. Menon was there, isolated and forlorn. Nehru was among the mourners but left the funeral oration to Rajaji, as Nehru said that he was emotionally disturbed. Rajendra Prasad, now President of India, broke protocol (to Nehru's annoyance) and attended the funeral.
Menon, Nehru and Orissa
Retirement in Bangalore
Menon was a serious Bangalore resident, mentioning many a time of his having owned a house there for thirty years and having lived there for 10 years. Well, it was in his house that he sat to write the two great memoirs on the request of Patel. But once Patel was gone, Menon had hardly the great drive he possessed once before.
But there is another even better anecdote related to this great man, occurring as he was wandering around in search of work.
As a young man newly arrived in Delhi enroute Simla to seek his first job in government, all his possessions, including money, were stolen. In desperation he turned to an elderly Sikh at the station, described his plight, and asked for a loan of 15 rupees to continue on to Simla. The Sikh gave him the money, but when V.P. asked for his address so that he might repay the loan, the Sikh said that he owed the debt to any stranger who came to him in need, as long as he lived. The help which came from a stranger was to be repaid to a stranger. He never forgot that debt, even on his death bed. At that unfortunate time a beggar came to the family home in Bangalore asking for help to buy sandals as his feet were covered with sores, V.P. asked his daughter to take 15 rupees from his wallet and give it to the beggar. That was his last conscious act.
LK Advani states - Menon’s two books The Story of the Integration of Indian States and Transfer of Power are classics, indispensable for anybody who wishes to study the triumphs and tragedies in that important era in India’s history.
Menon and Mountbatten
It is doubtful if any Indian official or non-official saw the workings of the British Indian Government more closely than V.P. Menon. V.P. attended the Round Table conferences in 1932-33. He was one of the two Secretaries of the Simla Conference called by Wavell in August 1945. Among the Indian Officials who assisted the Cabinet Mission Delegation in 1946 was V.P. Menon. And the grand finale was his single-handed drafting of the Partition Plan as directed by Mountbatten.
Imagine, the liberty being given to V.P. It was left to Menon to change and chop the (Transfer of power) Plan as he thought fit. Menon's draft was circulated a few days later to the Governors of India's eleven provinces who had been summoned to Delhi for a conference with the Viceroy. The moment they read it, they realized that their days were numbered. 'The blighter's pulled it off,' one of them said. 'What is he - a swami or something?'
Mountbatten says ‘When I arrived in India in March 1947, I was indeed fortunate to find V P Menon as the Reforms Commissioner on the Governor-General’s staff. I had never previously met him but I found immediately that his encyclopaedic knowledge of the Indian problem and his close contacts with the major Indian leaders especially Sardar Patel were invaluable to me - indeed it is fair to say that without the constant help and advice of V P Menon, the transfer of power as early as August 1947 would not have been possible’. George Abell the viceroy’s private secretary for example was the first to admit that Mountbatten’s vision and good sense in bringing V.P. right into the policy-making fold had been perhaps the biggest single personal factor in his success. Mountbatten wanted to award Menon a knighthood but Menon felt that as the servant of the new Government, it would be inappropriate. Hence he was given just a certificate.
Menon and Travancore
The story of how the Cochin ruler just wanted free copies of the Almanac (Panchangam) and a hand fan in return to joining the Indian union is another interesting story.
As KM Panikkar was to write later, VP a Malayali would finally prove to be the next sword of Parusurama and decimate the Kerala kingdoms once created by Parasurama.
VP Menon’s family
Vapal Pangunni Menon after all the furor, wrote of Britain: "They left of their own will; there was no war, there was no treaty - an act without parallel in history." Sixty years after the event, Clarke establishes that, after all, nothing became the British in India so much as the leaving of it.
As somebody said there is not a word said, not a train named, not a road named, not a building named after the architect of the negotiation and the creation of the Republic of India, Vapal Pangunni Menon. From what I know, there is only one minor recognition for this great man - V. P. Menon Award for environmental initiatives.
But as I said before, history is unkind to some, kind to others - that is how it was and that is how it will always be….
December 31, 1965
Jabalpur, Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh, India