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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 50, December 3, 2011

Krishna Menon: Not Millstone but Milestone

Friday 9 December 2011, by Nikhil Chakravartty


[The following is N.C.’s ‘New Delhi Skyline’, written precisely fortyfive years ago on November 29, 1966 and published in Mainstream (December 3, 1966). It is being reproduced now as it helps to understand the situation prevailing within the ruling Congress fortyfive years ago.]

At one time Krishna Menon was an enigma to many in Indian politics. Today Krishna Menon has become the touchstone of political awareness for different groups at the power-centre of the Congress.

The raging controversy has shaken the High Command almost as severely as it did at the time of the two dramatic tussles for succession to Prime Ministership in the last three years. And out of this battle royal, the High Command as a whole has bruised itself much more severely than Sri Menon himself.

A key feature of this entire episode—perhaps the most crucial in the post-Nehru era so far—has been the significant coming together of the two stalwarts of the Right, Sri Morarji Desai and Sri S.K. Patil. Ranged against them in disarrary have been the Prime Minister and the Congress President; in fact, the ccombined Right could take the maximum advantage of the mutual antipathy that prevails today between Smt Gandhi and Sri Kamaraj. Five years ago, a senior Cabinet Minister who was a mutual friend of both Sri Desai and Sri Patil tried to bring them together but was told off by the latter that even if they two agreed they could never unite. Today this almost-axiomatic feature of the current Indian political scene seems to have changed and the meeting of minds that Sri Patil and Sri Desai could arrive at over the Krishna Menon controversy is a significant indication of the shape of things to come. It is at the same time a measure of the strength as well as weakness of both the Right and the Left inside the Congress.

By itself, the allocation of a seat to a leading political figure like Sri Menon is not a matter of dispute for the Congress leadership, because it is taken for granted that Sri Menon can win his way to the Lok Sabha from most of the constituencies in the country. It is precisely because of this mass eminence that he commands that the Right forces wanted to stage a crisis of veto in the allocation of his present constituency in North Bombay: a sort of stalling action was planned by Sri Patil to demonstrate the strength of his faction as also of the entire Right. He therefore decided to concentrate on making a prestige issue out of the controversy around Sri Menon’s ticket for North Bombay.

In fact, Sri Patil had been trying to precipitate controversy at the time of the Ernakulam AICC when Sri Patil and his Syndicate were issuing warnings that Sri Menon would not be given the North Bombay constituency. At that time the Congress High Command, particularly Sri Kamaraj and Smt Gandhi, did not seem to have attached much importance to this objection: they were confident that the issue could be settled at the Central Election Committee. At Ernakulam itself, Sri Kamaraj is believed to have made it clear to both Sri Chavan and Sri Patil that he would like Sri Menon to get the North Bombay constituency, since it is the normal procedure for a sitting member having won with a large majority to be asked to stand from his own constituency. Although at an informal level Sri Patil had never relented in his objection to Sri Menon contesting from Bombay, political observers in the Capital believe that perhaps he would not have forced a crisis over it if he could have managed to wangle the Home portfolio after the ouster of Sri Nanda in which Sri Patil played a leading part. In fact, Sri Patil’s disapp-ointment over the Home portfolio was regarded as a setback for the political prestige of the Syndicate.

Then came Sri Patil’s operation in which he got the Pradesh Election Committee in Bombay to eliminate Sri Menon from the list of recommen-dations to the Centre; this was done without the consent of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress and the Chief Minister Sri V.P. Naik despite the fact that two of the Assembly constituencies within Sri Menon’s present parliamentary constituency of North Bombay fall within the jurisdiction of the Maha

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