Krishna Menon

Location

57 Camden Square
London, NW1 9XA
United Kingdom
51° 30' 26.5428" N, 0° 7' 41.4768" W
Other names: 

Vengalil Krishnan Krishna Menon

V. K. Krishna Menon

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Date of birth: 
03 May 1896
City of birth: 
Calicut
Country of birth: 
India
Date of death: 
06 Oct 1974
Location of death: 
New Delhi, India
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jun 1924
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Y
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1924–59

2
About: 

V. K. Krishna Menon was an activist, councillor, diplomat, lawyer and editor. Born in Calicut, south India, he attended the Native High School there before studying for a BA at Presidency College, Madras, and attending Madras Law College. Encouraged by Annie Besant, he travelled to England in 1924, originally to take up a job at a Theosophists' school in Letchworth. In England, he continued studying law, and was called to the Bar in 1934. He also studied at the London School of Economics under Harold Laski, gaining a BSc and an MSc in politics as well as a teaching diploma.

Menon joined the Commonwealth of India League on his arrival in England, becoming joint secretary in 1928 and transforming the organization into the India League, with Indian self-rule as its stated goal. For the next two decades, he campaigned tirelessly for the India League alongside key British political figures such as Bertrand Russell, Harold Laski, Michael Foot and Fenner Brockway, as well as other Indians in Britain. Financing most of the activities himself, he held meetings, organized events, addressed groups, produced articles and pamphlets, and lobbied key Labour MPs. In 1932 he organized and, with Labour MPs, participated in a delegation to investigate social, economic and political conditions in India, publishing the findings one year later. The publication, Condition of India, with a preface by Russell and a cover by artist Eric Gill, was banned in India. Menon also enjoyed a close working relationship and friendship with Jawaharlal Nehru, helping to put forward Congress's position in Britain and coordinating Nehru's visit to England in 1935.

Krishna Menon edited the Twentieth Century Library series for the Bodley Head from 1932 to 1935, and became founding editor of Pelican Books, the non-fiction, educational imprint of Penguin Books, in 1935. A committed socialist, he was concerned with the plight of working-class Indians in Britain - supporting the lascar strikes of the late 1930s, for example - as well as that of their British counterparts. He was Labour councillor for the Borough of St Pancras from 1934 to 1939 and from 1944 to 1947, working alongside Barbara Castle, and an independent councillor from 1940 to 1944. In 1944 he established the St Pancras Arts and Civil Council, and in 1945 he was appointed chairman of the Education and Public Library Committee. In 1955, Menon was made a freeman of the Borough of St Pancras in recognition of his significant contribution. Menon came close to becoming a British Member of Parliament when he was pre-selected by the Labour Party for the safe seat of Dundee in 1939. His candidature was cancelled, however, because of his primary allegiance to India, and he resigned from the Labour Party in protest, rejoining again in 1944.

In 1947, Krishna Menon was appointed independent India's first High Commissioner in the UK. He held this post until 1952 when he returned to India to pursue his political and legal careers there. He died in Delhi in 1974.

Involved in events: 

Delegation to investigate conditions in India, 1932

World Peace Congress in Brussels, 1936 (as nominee of Congress)

Second World War (air warden in St Pancras)

Indian Independence, 1947 (appointed High Commissioner in the UK)

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Published works: 

Condition of India: Being the Report of the Delegation Sent to India by the India League in 1932 (London: Essential News, 1933)

Why Must India Fight? (London: India League, 1940)

Britain’s Prisoner (London: India League, 1941)

India, Britain and Freedom (London: India League, 1941)

The Situation in India (London, India League, 1943)

Unity with India against Fascism (London: India League, 1943)

Contributions to periodicals: 

Daily Worker

Indian News

India Pictorial

Information Bulletin

Manchester Guardian

New Statesman

News India

Secondary works: 

Arora, K. C., V. K. Krishna Menon: A Biography (New Delhi: Sanchar Publishing House, 1998)

Chakravarty, Suhash, V. K. Krishna Menon and the India League, vols 1 and 2 (New Delhi: Har-Anand, 1997)

Chakravarty, Suhash, Crusader Extraordinary: Krishna Menon and the India League, 1932–6 (New Delhi: India Research Press, 2006)

George, T. G. S., Krishna Menon: A Biography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1964)

Lengyel, Emil, Krishna Menon (New York: Walker Books, 1962)

Ram, Janaki, Krishna Menon: A Personal Memoir (Delhi and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997)

Silverman, Julius, ‘The India League’, in A Centenary History of the Indian National Congress, 1885–1985 (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1985)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto Press, 2002)

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Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/448-56, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Krisha Menon Papers, Nehru Memorial Library and Museum, New Delhi

‘India League Collection with Handbills, 1941-1960’, Serial No. 439, Nehru Memorial Library and Museum, New Delhi

‘Documents Relating to the India League’, Miscellaneous Microform Collections, Centre of South Asian Studies, University of Cambridge