British spies tried to 'get rid of' Krishna Menon

Last Updated: Mon, Oct 05, 2009 12:52 hrs

London: British intelligence agencies were so suspicious of India's first High Commissioner to Britain - a man with strong leftist sympathies - that they tried to get rid of him, says an authoritative book.

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The attempt to oust High Commissioner V K Krishna Menon failed because of the support of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, says the book 'The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5' unveiled on Monday before the world's press.

The British Joint Intelligence Committee discussed the question of 'Communist influence at the Indian high commission', says the book written by Cambridge University historian Christopher Andrew.

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But the discussion was considered so sensitive that no record was made of it.

However, Guy Liddel, one of the most distinguished deputy director generals of the MI5 - Britain's internal spying agency - noted in his diary that he told the committee: 'We were doing what we could to get rid of Krishna Menon.'

The book says the attempt failed because Menon enjoyed the support of Nehru.

"Though Menon was reported to be threatening to resign after press attacks in India, he was able to count on Nehru's support and did not do so," says the book, whose author told journalists on Monday he was given unprecedented access to nearly 400,000 secret MI5 files.

"Fears of Menon's pro-Soviet sympathies were well founded. On at least one occasion during his later political career in India, the (former Soviet spy agency) KGB paid his election expenses."

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The book says Menon was held in 'deep distrust' not only by the British spy agencies, but also by T.G. Sanjevi, the head of independent India's first domestic security service, the Delhi Intelligence Branch (DIB).

In 1933 the MI5 had obtained a Home Office Warrant on Menon on the grounds that he was an "important worker in the Indian revolutionary movement", with links to the Communist Party of Great Britain.

Menon, a Labour Party councillor in London, had founded the India League in 1932 to campaign for Indian independence.

"To outward appearance, Menon seemed an Anglicized figure. The only language he spoke by the time he became high commissioner in 1947 was English, he disliked curry and much preferred a tweed jacked and flannel trousers to Indian dress.

"But Menon also had a passionate loathing for the British Raj which independence did little to abate," says the book - the result of an MI5 project dating back to 2002.