Obituary: Krishnarao Shelvankar
Friday 03 January 1997
As an intellectual, he successfully challenged established political philosophy in the Thirties and Forties in England through two influential books. His Problems of India (1940), a brilliant critique of colonial rule, was one of the first books written by an Indian author to be published by Penguin. It was banned in India, then under British rule but, undaunted, Shelvankar went on to challenge Aldous Huxley's famous Ends or Means? (1937), forcefully responding with Ends are Means. Both books earned him kudos and influenced an entire generation of political leaders living under colonial bondage.
As the London correspondent for the Hindu newspaper for 26 years, Shelvankar provided an incisive and analytical insight into the newly emerging world order after decolonisation in the Fifties and Sixties, and an individual coverage of the Vietnam war. Thereafter he served as India's consul general at Hanoi and then as ambassador to the erstwhile Soviet Union and Norway.
Whilst greatly influenced by Marxism, Shelvankar was a genuine socialist, drawn intellectually to oppose colonialism. He joined the India League in London, then at the forefront of India's independence movement, and remained a member till he died. He was also influenced by Harold Laski, under whom he studied at the London School of Economics, and by Krishna Menon, one of India's best-known Leftist intellectuals, the founder of the India League and Penguin Books, India, and later independent India's first high commissioner in London.
Krishnarao Shelvankar was born in Madras, in 1906, into an upper-class Maharashtrian family and educated at the Theosophical School founded by Annie Besant and Giddu Krishnamurthy. After graduating locally he did his doctoral thesis on "The Idea of Equality" at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, in 1929, and then went to the LSE.
He joined the Hindu, southern India's best-established paper, in 1942 as their London correspondent, retiring 26 years later. For some two years in between he was press adviser to Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India's first prime minister, and was often called upon to represent his country at international forums like the United Nations. In 1968, he was sent as India's consul general to North Vietnam, a country whose cause he had espoused sympathetically as a journalist. Three years later he became India's ambassador to the Soviet Union and, later, Norway before retiring in 1978 and settling in London.
Although a permanent resident in England, returning home infrequently, Shelvankar retained his Indian citizenship. But on his occasional visits home he was shocked by India's poverty, disappointed that so little had been achieved after independence.
Krishnarao Shelvankar, journalist and diplomat: born Madras 3 March 1906; London correspondent, the Hindu 1942-68; Indian consul general, Hanoi 1968-71, ambassador to the Soviet Union 1971-75, ambassador to Norway 1975-78; died London 19 November 1996.
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