Rao Bahadur Vappala Pangunni Menon(VP Menon)
The son of a school headmaster in Kerala, Menon worked as a railway stoker, coal miner and Bangalore tobacco company clerk before gaining a junior post in the Indian Civil Service. By working assiduously, 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.
V P Menon was the Constitutional Adviser to the last three Viceroys during British rule in India. He was the only Indian in Mountbatten’s inner team. Menon’s plan for the partition of India into two Dominions was the one which was eventually adopted. It was Menon who realised the need to get the Princely States to accede to India before the date of independence and that Mountbatten was the ideal person to facilitate this.
In early days of after independence Menon doesn’t want to continue as a civil servant for the new Indian government because he was thought that he worked for long for British empire now, nobody will trust him for new India. But Vallabh Bhai Patel knew that if V P Menon doesn’t work with him then the dream of uniting India never be in reality.
Menon has never received the recognition he deserved for his contributions and this paper is intended to highlight Menon’s role during this crucial period in Indian history and to draw attention to his views on events and personalities.
Credentials of V. P. Menon included his role as reforms commissioner and constitutional adviser to successive viceroys and his key role in drafting the Indian Independence Bill.
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.
Menon’s resourcefulness during this period caught the eye of Sardar Patel, who would become the Deputy Prime Minister of India in 1947.
VP Menon was present at the meeting between Lord Mountbatten and Hanwant Singh, Maharaja of Jodhpur. It was at this meeting that Hanwant Singh signed the instrument of accession to India. After he had signed and the Viceroy Mountbatten left, only Menon was in the room with him. The Maharaja took out a .22 calibre pistol and pointed it at Menon and said ‘I refuse to take your dictation’. Menon told him that he would be making a very serious mistake by threatening him and would not be able to get the accession abrogated in any case
Role in Political Integration of India
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 565 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 to India in 1947.
The Later Years
The partnership between Patel and Menon was of a rare kind. He was the right hand of Sardar Patel and played a major role in the integration of Independent India. Almost every Indian politician was allergic to civil servants, owing to their participation in the British Raj. Many Congressmen had demanded to strip 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. He was Governor of Odisha (Orissa then) for a short period in 1951.
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.