The man who shaped India as we know it today: VP Menon's great-granddaughter recounts his story
Asiaville spoke to Narayani Basu, a historian and the author of V.P. Menon: The Unsung Architect of Modern India about the life of the top civil servant responsible for giving India its shape. The great grand-daughter of Menon also threw some light on the tensions between him and Nehru, and his view on Kashmir.
When India became independent in 1947, one of the major challenges was the integration of the Princely States, which then constituted over 40% of the country's land area. Sardar Vallabhai Patel was in charge of making sure that the task was completed well and smoothly. Patel was not alone in this endeavour. Equally important was the role of Vappala Pangunni Menon, or VP Menon, his secretary, who travelled across the country to visit the flamboyant and whimsical princes, with the official offers to join India - "an offer they can't refuse", to quote The Godfather.
A former coolie in a mine who accidentally entered government service and rose through ranks without ever writing the ICS exam, he flattered and coerced the princes to sign documents to give up their country and powers, all through his words, delivered with a thick Malayalam accent.
The task was done so well that with the exception of Kashmir, the integration was nearly forgotten by people within a few decades. While Patel was remembered through statues and speeches, the contribution of Menon was largely forgotten.
"There are countless books and biographies—collections of letters, even—on and about the stalwarts of India’s freedom movement. However, deafening silence envelops the man who was responsible for nearly every major document that paved India’s path to independence, and for the shaping of the Indian state into the map we know today," says Narayani Basu, a historian, who is also the great-granddaughter of Menon.
More than half a century after his death, she took up the task of writing his biography, relying almost entirely on official documents found in archives in Delhi, London and Kerala, and on the letters and papers in her family’s possession.
Here she talks to Asiaville about her soon-to-be-launched book, V.P. Menon: The Unsung Architect of Modern India. Apart from the life and personality of Menon, she touches upon subjects such as his criticism of Nehru and view on Kashmir.
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