VP Menon – The Architect of Modern India

Bringing order from the nightmare of Chaos
Introducing - Rao Bahadur Vapal Pangunni Menon.

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.

Hodson continues

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
It is not a good idea to cover this part of his life in this blog, for Menon himself has covered it all in a voluminous book called ‘The Transfer of Power’. An avid student of politics or history may refer to it, but needless to say that Menon after working with the British during their times took the lead together with Wavell and Mountbatten in clearing the way towards freedom. The interesting stories like how he and Edwina persuaded the disappointed Dickie from not abandoning the efforts, how VP in a matter of hours, typing with his two fingers as he did all his life, completed the famous plan that decided Indian independence and partition and reached an agreement with Nehru and Jinnah are legendary. He himself says in “The Transfer of Power”: “I had only two or three hours in which to prepare an alternative draft plan and I sat to work on it at once”.

Sardar Patel & the formation of states
Once the British had gone, it was VP’s decision to quit and retire to his favorite Bangalore, but that was not to be so for there was one final master stroke left in his pen. India just before the Independence was not a union but a conglomeration of some 564 kingdoms, and the potential for a right royal mess was looming. Sardar Patel decided to get VP on his side in the accession and formation of states. Between them, they cajoled, persuaded, and even threatened the difficult kings and nawabs to join the Indian union. As it happened, they succeeded admirably, barring Junagad, Kashmir and Hyderabad. These facts and events are also well documented, in Menon’s ‘The story of the integration of Indian states’ (which I have not been able to get a hold of, unfortunately). Many interesting and some controversial stories are still quoted today, like the Kashmir signatures, the Travancore, Junagad and Hyderabad accessions. The Kashmir story is fascinating and I will get to it in a separate blog. The story of how another ruler (Jodhpur ruler who pulled out his pistol pen) drew a pistol at him and how Manekshaw went with him to Kashmir are all fascinating caricatures of this largely invisible man, a stalwart who shaped Indian history and the India we see today. Whatever happened to the pen? The rajah gifted it (or as other stories say was confiscated) to Mountbatten!!

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
At this point of time, all that was left was to conclude with a position commensurate with his experience and brilliance. Menon upon Mountbatten’s recommendation to Nehru, was appointed acting governor of Orissa but was never promoted as a full governor. With that Menon bitterly bid adieu from Delhi, bureaucracy and politics.

Hodson concludes
Yet he died, in retirement in Bangalore, where I spent many hours with him recording on tape his recollections both of the run-up to independence and of the integration of the princely states, a disappointed man; for Nehru, who was not temperamentally in tune with him, denied him the promotion to a provincial governorship which was his final ambition and which his great services before and after independence had made his due. I salute his memory.

Retirement in Bangalore
Menon resigned from the service in 1951 to settle in Bangalore. And thus he came back to his beloved Bangalore, moved to his house in Cooks town and the old timers of Banagalore still mention the big car and the presence of Menon in august functions and as the fighter for civic rights in Bangalore & Mysore. Here he sat and wrote the two great and oft quoted books, The transfer of Power and The formation of states. In addition he contributed frequently to newspapers and magazines, also writing great euologies about people he had difficulties with such as CP Ramaswamy Iyer who had once fought long with him on the accession of the kingdom of Travancore.

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.

Menon’s books
Menon has left behind for us two most important publications. As  KZ Islam stated succintly, ‘The Transfer of Power in India’ is a remarkably calm and impartial review of the events leading to the partition and independence and ‘The Integration of the Indian States’ is a colorful tragi-comic story of the end of the princely system in India. Both these books were written virtually as text-books and they are presently prescribed in the reading of history in the Indian Universities. He wrote a number of other books as well such as An Outline of Indian Constitutional History. The books, especially the former is very interesting and stories such as how Jinnah desperately tried to get Calcutta and the whole of Bengal during the partition make interesting reading.

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
Menon was regarded highly by Mountbatten as his predecessors. Their relationships were cordial and friendly and there are stories of Menon rushing in waking Mountbatten in his bedroom once during a crisis, Quoting KZ Islam from weeklyholiday.net

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’s critics
Some people mention the relationship Menon had with Mountbatten, how he was considered a kind of ear, eye and mouthpiece of Mountbatten. But here others counter stating that he was actually the planner & negotiator who first proposed it to tehd ecider Mountbatten, then got Nehru and Patel to accept the plans and finally managed to get Gandhiji’s approval. Both Menon’s, Krishna and Pangunni were mentioned in this snide comment Mountabtten made many years later in his life. Others even remark that Menon painted himself in a better light than actual in his two books. And finally much is made into Menon’s recalling Mountbatten to a riot struck Delhi to take charge stating that Patel and Nehru had requested so, when Nehru had not actually done it. And I would say - yeah right ‘in hindsight everybody has 20/20 vision’.

Swatantra party
For a while possibly because he had nothing better to do, he joined the managing committee of the Swatantra party as joint secretary. Between this period, and his death in 1966, he was also involved in many negotiations with various princely rulers, though he had become very ill towards his last days. His presence in the Swatantra party resulted in the induction of many senior distinguished members into the party like Hegde, Lobo and Sreenivasan. Menon did however belong to the old school for he once stood up to oppose abolition of hereditary village officers in Mysore, stating that “the efficiency of the hereditary cadre can never be equaled by men recruited on miserable salaries from other families”. Menon however had an aversion for mass politics and supported conservatism.

Menon and Travancore
One of the states that proved difficult to accession was Travancore. Menon had a tough adversary in Dewan CP Ramaswamy Iyer. It took a good amount of coercion, persuasion and luck to get Travancore to accept, following CP’s unfortunate stabbing at a rally. In the end the Maharani just wanted her daughter Lakshmi Bayi to get a higher privy purse than Princess Lalithamba bayi.

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
His daughter is mentioned often in books. She is married to of Maj Gen DC Misra. Not much mention is found about his wife Kanakam or children in the public media.

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….

Harry Hodson -“Autobiography”
The Man Who Divided India - Rafiq Zakaria
The Transfer of Power in India – VP Menon
The Swatantra Party and Indian Conservatism - H. L. Erdman
Jawaharlal Nehru, a biography - Sankar Ghose
At the turn of the tide - Lakshmi Raghunandan
Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire -Alex Von Tunzelmann
Great Administrators of India - M.L. Ahuja

Pics – Hand sketch from Ahuja’s article with thanks. Nawab with Menon from Rajbhavan Bhopal ( though Menon looks somewhat different here) , Simla conference from ‘Transfer of Power’


Anil Nair said…
Maddy, another well researched and insightful note. Thanks!

Goodness is generally interred with the bones, probably more so for the silent and those who do not prefer limelight. Your attempt to uncover that goodness is heartening.

Need to read this blog again, and probably again, to connect to the bits and pieces of historical incidents that you refer to. Especially that connected with the accession of Kashmir, and thereabouts, and the ‘running around’s. Looking fwd for that!

Yes, like KM Panicker said, he decimated the kingdoms of India - not only Kerala, right? I think Sardar wrote that way.

(By the way, that grand uncle of our dear poet of folksongs and folklore from Kavalam, deserves your research too!)

Vijay said…
Thanks Maddy! I always thought VP was an ICS man. Your post revealed his more humble beginnings. In his book, J.N.Dixit says that the British game plan was for a Balkanized subcontinent with India, Pakistan and hundreds of princely states. This would have enabled her to continue to manipulate and meddle. India would have ended up like Africa with multiple banana republics. There is a depth of gratitude owed to the duo of Patel and VP who stitched together a union in record time. Thanks for this rare insight into this unsung stalwart.
Pradeep said…
A good writeup.... As you'd expect, talk of VK, and the first thing that comes to my mind, is about the Sainik Schools he opened. Interesting to note that hadn't had a high level of education and about the Bangalore connection.
Maddy said…
Thanks Anil..

Interestingly VP decimated the kingdoms but formulated the workable states that did pretty well so far..
so he is the new parasuraman who created Kerala, i suppose, maybe that is what KMP meant.

I had written earlier about KMP...have sent you the link
Maddy said…
Thnaks Vijay..

Well, strictly speaking VP was an ICS bureaucrat, but not one who belonged to the cadre of covenanted officers coming through the system after passing the requisite exams and from the upper social strata to classify as an administrator (as it was then), but he was the lone case of one who broke through.

In fact the original Dickie plan that was sounded out by Menon based on Mountbatten's formula was a balakanization plan. Nehru was appalled and that set VP in motion and in 3 hours the new plan and partition as we see today was typed with 2 fingers & resubmitted. In reality this final version was already drafted by Menon earlier and the draft had been sent to Britain which Mountbatten claims he never saw.
Maddy said…
thanks Pradeep,

VK Krishna Menon was of course the creator of Sainik Schools, but VP Menon was a different kind. Krishna Menon retired in Madras though and was a barrister (from UK) by education and hence considered equal by Nehru (amongst other abilities). This must have been the reason why Nehru never liked VP and secondly the fact that Nehru & Congress on the outside, despised ICS personnel
Very exhaustive tribute to this great man. I had to read thrice to fully assimilate. Incidentally have you written about Sir C Shankara Nair.
Maddy said…
Thanks PNS

for reminding me about CSN...even though most of us see the tall deepastambam at Guruvayur every now and then, we know not the person who donated it and his life. that was sankaran nair, who dared to sound the death knell to matriarchy and voiced his opinions against gandhiji's methods...

fodder for another day I guess..
A well-researched entry which brings out the greatness of the man who achieved so much working silently and away from the public eye. We often hear the statement that we owe it to the British for integrating the country. The irony is that but for Menon and his Dominion Plan (known in British records as the 'Menon Plan') the British would have managed to break up the country into several pieces and leave it as divided as when they had arrived here. Great work, Maddy.
GVK said…
Fascinating account that could as well be the synopsis for a film script, if someone were to come forward to make a documentary for History Channel.
Ottapalam, the place that gave VP Menon and many others to modern Indian history, ought to have a town museum (if it hasn't one already)to celebrate its folks.
gopakumar said…
Great research indeed Sir!!!..Am really amazed by the depth of the reserach and the hard work you have put in to bring this gem of a piece ..This work can be a small text book in itself for the History enthusiasts..Kudos to Sh V.P Menon and Hats Off To You Mr Maddy! as always.
Maddy said…
Thanks CHF..

The story of some of the states especially Kerala is very interesting - i will get to it in a forthcoming blog..
Maddy said…
Thanks GVK..
VP simply walked away from the scene after Patel died. Ottapalam has not really done for all these people, though some old timers mention their relations with these people in conversation. They do not have a museum, to my knowledge!
Maddy said…
thanks gopakumar..
the problem still is finding out the person behind the story and the reasons for the drive that took him to where it did. Almost everybody who mentions him states his brilliance. There is so very little available in the various books I checked, and some information comes by from friends..I will add a bit here and a bit there as it comes in..
Dev said…
Great post as usual, Maddy. Unlurking myself to comment a bit.

V. P. Menon and my paternal grandfather were 'cousins', the exact degree of cousinhood unknown because the matrilineal system has no room for the patriline, and V. P. Menon is on the patrilineal side of my tree. My paternal great-grandfather was himself a Pangunni Menon and may indeed have been of the Vappala family as my grandfather and his Vappala cousins were very close. Unfortunately no one around seems to know much about my great-grandfather and to confirm what family he really was from.

Not many in Kerala would know about V.P. I would think, as his karma-bhoomi was Delhi and Simla. The one person who has written about him is Capt. C. P. Krishnan Nair (perhaps in a foreword to V. P. Menon's books), of the Leela Group. He seems to have known V. P. quite well. I am sure you have seen Manekshaw's account of V.P's dealings with Hari Singh re Kashmir's accession to India.

The family lore is quite bereft of V. P. anecdotes, unfortunately, except for a couple, one of which adds a bit more color to the episode of his leaving Ottapalam. Two different humiliations were in play, apparently. One suffered at school on account of fees which he could not afford, and one at the local tea shop where the chai-wallah drew attention to the expanding deficit in his account and said something that rankled V.P's sense of family honour. Nair hauteur was not in short supply, apparently. Anyway, it was sufficient for him to set fire to the thatch roof of his school and skip town by train, ticketless to Madras.

My father used to needle his friends in Cochin about how his 'uncle' kept their Maharaja waiting in an ante room when he came from Delhi to secure Cochin's accession to the Union.

Thin fare, I am sorry to say. I wish I knew more, especially of him as a person. I hope to do more research as opportunity presents, starting with my own great-grandfather, Pangunni Menon, of dubious and questionable memory.

You do a tremendous service with this blog, and it is greatly appreciated. May the new year bring you everything you desire.
Maddy said…
Thanks Dev..
Are you sure VP knew Krishnan Nair? I recall reading somewhere that he had helped Nair at Bangalore, but unfortunately have no details.

Those bits you provided add much color to the story, and I will continue to mine for data.

I have a couple of other tidbits as well, send me an email if you can, so I can check it with you.
Kariyachan said…
Malayatoor Ramakrishnan has written a bit abt Vappala in his famous(rather infamous) Brigadier Kathakal.. Hilarious;)
Maddy said…
thanks Kariachan..

I used to think malayatoor mentioned Krishna menon in his brigadier kathakal, not VP. I recall the mention of the jeep scandal and all that which is connected to VK, not VP. And the character of menon depicted by Malayatoor is of a sarcastic bigwig (defense minister) in Delhi which is VK, though VK never spoke in malayalam. But I do recall mentions of the menon talking about palghat which is only possible in VP's case for VK is from calicut. Have to recheck the brigadier stories which I have.
Nishant said…
Hi Maddy,

Thanks for this post. I have been reading 'India After Gandhi' by R.C. Guha and that is how I came to know about V.P. Menon. He and Sardar V. Patel were so instrumental in creating the country India as we know it. And to imagine that I had never heard his name before reading the book. My general knowledge and awareness aren't of a very high level but as far as I remember my history books in school also had no mention of him. I am glad that someone has done some research on this man and written a blog on him.

Maddy said…
thanks nishant.
regretfully a number of these charatcters were so down to earth and never played to the gallery..
bringing them to the fore is no easy task
Truth Raj said…
Great work Maddy. Sardar and VP Menon have been sidelined to give way to Nehru. Because the achievement of Sardar and VP menon will dwarf Nehru and the current Congress party.
Maddy said…
Thanks Truth raj..
VP was such a simple person I believe, he did not even bother about the world around him, but concentrated on the task at hand..
Dear Maddy, Great Work indeed!..
1) I always think that the new IAS cadres should be given class about relation of VP and Sardar Patel, which is a Classic example of how to deal with your Political superiors.

2) I read Capt:Krishnan Nair Nair's biography ("Krishna Leela") where he mentions VP's help in getting introduced to UK businessmen and acquiring technologies from them for his garments factory initially(The brand was an instant hit named 'Bleeding Madras'). CP calls VP 'My Uncle VP' and mention about him with due respect and lot of love..actually mention about VP multiple times in his memoirs.

3) I think the confrontations with CP Ramaswamy would have been interesting!.Both were talented and CP has immense knowledge about constitution and other matters as he himself was Oxford educated and a lawyer himself.Their meeting would have difinately interesting moments for sure. We all knew CP initially surprised everyone by putting forward his 'AMERICAN MODEL'- theories...
Dear Maddy, Great Work indeed!..
1) I always think that the new IAS cadres should be given class about relation of VP and Sardar Patel, which is a Classic example of how to deal with your Political superiors.

2) I read Capt:Krishnan Nair Nair's biography ("Krishna Leela") where he mentions VP's help in getting introduced to UK businessmen and acquiring technologies from them for his garments factory initially(The brand was an instant hit named 'Bleeding Madras'). CP calls VP 'My Uncle VP' and mention about him with due respect and lot of love..actually mention about VP multiple times in his memoirs.

3) I think the confrontations with CP Ramaswamy would have been interesting!.Both were talented and CP has immense knowledge about constitution and other matters as he himself was Oxford educated and a lawyer himself.Their meeting would have difinately interesting moments for sure. We all knew CP initially surprised everyone by putting forward his 'AMERICAN MODEL'- theories...
Maddy said…
thanks pachu..
was travelling hence the delayed reply
yes, i heard that krishnan nair had great regards for VP...but could not get his write up on VP
VP and CPR had some meetings from what i read, it did not go very well, and CPR would have tried his browbeating tricks with VP I'm sure
Nalini Hebbar said…
KP Menon is my father,Vappala Radhakrishna Menon's uncle (my father retired as the Joint Secretary, CSIR)...I don't know the actual connection but we do have a letter written by him to my father.
Your blog post is very interesting...I didn't till now know that VP played such a great role in the history of India.
Maddy said…
hi Nalini..
You mean VP right?
Such a pleasure hearing from VP's Kin....There is so much more to VP, enough to write a book, but so little on the personal side to balance and temper it..perhaps that is why nobody wrote about him, I guess
Nalini Hebbar said…
Slip of the fingers :)
Prad Meno said…
Hello - this is a very interesting article. I came across the 'Menon Plan' while reading Indira Gandhi's biography and the details of the Mountbatten's task of transitioning power. Out of curiosity googled the name and found out a whole lot more. I grew up in Cooke Town in Bangalore, and many a time have passed by that house on Wheeler Road extension adjacent to the railway crossing and the ITC 'cigarette factory' with the name 'VP Menon' at the entrance. Being a Menon myself, I was naturally curious about the person and the only thing the local folks knew was that he was once a governor of an Indian state. Never have I heard mention of his role in architecting India as we know it. Thanks for this illuminating article - Pradeep Menon
Prad Meno said…
Hello - this is a very interesting article. I came across the 'Menon Plan' while reading Indira Gandhi's biography and the details of the Mountbatten's task of transitioning power. Out of curiosity googled the name and found out a whole lot more. I grew up in Cooke Town in Bangalore, and many a time have passed by that house on Wheeler Road extension adjacent to the railway crossing and the ITC 'cigarette factory' with the name 'VP Menon' at the entrance. Being a Menon myself, I was naturally curious about the person and the only thing the local folks knew was that he was once a governor of an Indian state. Never have I heard mention of his role in architecting India as we know it. Thanks for this illuminating article - Pradeep Menon
Prad Meno said…
Hello - I grew up in Cooke town in Bangalore and over the years have passed that house countless times. That house with the name 'VP Menon' on the gatepost is on Wheeler Road extension, across from the railroad crossing and the ITC 'cigarette factory'. The only thing the local folks knew about the name was that he was once the governor of an Indian state. I never knew that there was so much history behind the man. I came across mention of the 'Menon Plan' in Indira Gandhi's biography and the description of the times around the transition of power from the British. I then started researching that online and came across this article. Very informative and detailed - so thank you for the post. Pradeep Menon
Maddy said…
Thanks Pradeep.
VP is a very interesting chap.
try reading his books, they are interesting
piscean said…
Hello Maddy ,

It was lovely reading again all that I have heard and read about V.P.Menon in your Blog. V.P Menon wa my Father's Maternal Uncle . His elder sister my Grandmother gave him her gold chain when he decided to leave home to help him along the way. My father lost his parents when he was very small and came under V.P.Menons charge. We have wonderful memories of our holidays in Vapalakalam - a beautiful family home built by V.P.Menon for his mother ,my Paternal Great grandmother who also was mother to my father.
- Narayan Menon
Maddy said…
Thanks Piscean..
glad you liked it - will write soon about his special relationship with Sir CP
ramuk_looc said…
Nice read.
I have been searching online everywhere for the past few weeks, trying to find "Transfer of power" and "Integration of India". No luck :(
Hi Maddy, Not sure if you got this book,

If you have not read, happy reading.
Maddy said…
Thanks Vijay
No I do not have it, much appreciated!!!
KP Nair said…
Karan Thapar in his SundaySentiments column in Hindustan Times of 17 Nov 13 claims VPs daughter- in- law as his masi n his grand children as his cousins. What gives?
KP Nair said…
Karan Thapar in his column SundaySentiments in Hindustan Times of 17 Nov 13 lets it be known that VPs daughter-in-law is his masi n his grand children his cousins. What Gives?
There is also another story about how VP had to leave Ottapalam.
It is heard that as student activists, he and one of his close friends, had some disputes with the managers of the school. The managers were annoyed and consequentially they were planning some severe action against them. The boys came to know about it in advance and on a night put fire to one of the thatched roofs of the school and left by a Madras bound train, of course, without tickets. They were still in the beginning of their teens and searches were on from their families and at some point of the journey his friend was caught but VP remained untraced and could proceed on his great journey. Also heard is that, later, his friend had to face legal actions for his role in the incident at the school.
His name PANGUNNI was one of the simplest names which was widely used in Malabar area till the middle of the twentieth century. I think that it has nothing to do with any sage of the Himalaya or the month Panguni. Probably it is one of the oldest names coming from antiquity, having origins in the formative years of Malayalam. – There had been many PANGUs and PANGUNNIs in Malabar till the middle of the twentieth century. Also there had been many other similar names like Kantunni, Kuntunni, kunhunni and the like, which are very simple with no speific meaning .
Maddy said…
Thanks mr chandrashekaran...
appreciate your comments, interesting aside!
K R A Narasiah said…
I have been looking for some material on VP. It was so heartening to read your posting. In fact I am an admirer of VP. I knew he was not an ICS but did not know that he had such early life. I have written a book titled Lettered Dialogue which was launched a few years back by Gopal Krishna Gandhi. Since the protagonists of the book are Kritika (Wife of Bhoothalingam an ICS officer of that time) and and my uncle Chitti Sundararjan, I read a bit about the then ICS officers. In any case thank you for the factual account of one of our great men. I read bot his books more than half a century back when I was sailing. I loved them.Keep up ypu good work. If you wish you can contact me inm my mail address narasiah267@gmail.com
K R A Narasiah
Maddy said…
thanks Mr Narasiah..
glad to hear from you..
Another interesting ICS account is Chettur's..
K R A Narasiah said…
My note about S K Chettur was published by Muthiah in his Madra miscellany column of The Hindu

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