KM Cariappa
Field Marshal KM Cariappa | Indian Defence Research Wing
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Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa was instrumental in keeping the Indian Army away from politics and attempted to forge an all-inclusive army.

New Delhi: Popular discourse on Field Marshal Kodandera Madappa Cariappa is often limited to placing him as the first ‘Indian’ commander-in-chief of the Indian Army who took over from Roy Butcher on 15 January, 1949, and the second person to have been conferred the rank of Field Marshal in 1986 after former Army chief Sam Manekshaw.

There are, however, countless other factors that make him a towering figure in the history of Indian military, all of which is still relevant and important on his 120th birth anniversary, which falls today, 28 January.

Field Marshal Cariappa was not only instrumental in drawing a strong dividing line between the Indian Army and politics but he also helped shape the Army into a highly professional force in its formative stage.

He attempted to do away with caste, creed and other barriers in the Indian Army by raising the Brigade of The Guards — a mechanised infantry regiment of the Indian Army — in 1949. Recruitment to it was open to all regions, castes, creeds and all sections of society.

Military historian and national security analyst Mandeep Singh Bajwa says that such was his stature, that Field Marshal Cariappa interacted directly with then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, not allowing anyone in the bureaucracy or others in the corridors of power to take liberties with him.

“But the crucial fact is that he kept the Indian Army away from any kind of political influence, in contrast to the political nature of the Pakistani Army,” Bajwa told ThePrint. “When Ayub Khan was appointed the commander in chief of the Pakistan Army in 1951, the Pakistan Army clearly had a role in shaping the foreign and domestic policies of the state.”

The military coup that followed in 1958 only testified to the political nature of the Pakistan Army.

“He wanted the Indian Army to be an apolitical entity and that’s the reason he decided against inducting former INA personnel into the Army as they had become political soldiers,” Bajwa adds.

A distinguished career and a run-in with a junior

Field Marshal Cariappa had a distinguished career as the Army chief but before that he led Indian forces on the Western Front during the India-Pakistan War of 1947.

He was instrumental in recapturing Zojila, Drass and Kargil and created a linkup with Leh before the then Indian government decided to abide by an UN-brokered ceasefire on 1 January, 1949.

An illustrative anecdote about his character relates to the 1965 Indo-Pak war. Field Marshal Ayub Khan had served under Cariappa in the British Indian Army. In 1965, Cariappa’s son, Flt. Lt. K.C. “Nanda” Cariappa, was taken prisoner of war by Pakistan after his aircraft was shot down. Khan had offered to release him, but Cariappa made it clear to Khan that his son was not to be given any special treatment.

Bajwa says that the interest of the nation was always first with Cariappa. “He accepted pay and ration cuts for the forces because he felt that it would help the cause of nation building,” he says.

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The officer from Coorg

Cariappa was born in Coorg and was educated at the Central High School at Madikeri and the Presidency College in the then Madras state.

He began his Army career under the British and was among those in the first batch of King’s Commissioned Indian Officers at the Daly Cadet College in Indore.

His remarkable career had several firsts.

He was the first Indian officer to undergo the course at the Staff College, Quetta, in 1933. He also saw action in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Burma and became the first Indian officer to be given command of a unit in 1942.

In 1947, Cariappa became the first Indian to be selected to undergo a training course at Imperial Defence College, Camberley, UK.

He also oversaw the division of the British Indian Army between India and Pakistan during Partition.

He was chosen over General S.M. Shrinagesh and Lt General Nathu Singh Rathore to head the Indian Army.

After retirement, he served as the Indian high commissioner to Australia and New Zealand.

He died in Bengaluru in 1993 at the age of 94.

The current army chief General Bipin Rawat has said that Field Marshal Cariappa deserves the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest civilian award.

Also read: General ‘Jake’, Indian Army’s 1971 war hero who negotiated Pakistan’s surrender

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  1. The secular and apolitical values of the Indian Army were founded by Field Marshal Lord William Slim and its Patriotic Nationalism by Field Marshal Lord Chetwode. General Cariappa would be the first to say so. If he were alive. I knew both him and Field Marshal Manekshaw personally. This is just to underscore that Kipper was a bigger man than today’s faux Nationalists and Secularists. A lesser man would have declared Martial Law when Nehru refused him the one additional brigade necessary for Timmy to re take all of Kashmir. Nehru was sitting on two idle brigades in reserve. Slim and Curzon delayed the vicious reprisals for the Mutiny by the British Indian Political service). It was not until Chelmsford and Reading that the “Divide to Rule” plans began to unfold with the creation of the Indian National Congress (Alan Octavian Hume), Akali Movement (Kartar and Karg), Depressed Classes Movement (Phule and Ambedkar) ,Communist Movement (Chittaranjan Das) and the Draavid Movement (EVR Naiker) and systematically eliminated al the genuine freedom fighters and Nationalists. When Clement Attlee fumbled and dropped the Indian Ball following the Indian Naval Mutiny in a panic as the war weary British soldiers Sailors and Airmen wanted to return to their homes post haste and what with the Mutniy and the Indian National Army, British control of the Indian Servicemen was tenuous, India dropped into the lap of the British stooges. Vallabhai Patel personally supervised the incineration of the Indian Political Service Archives at Calcutta so that the truth may never be confirmed with authentic Historical documents. Field Marshal Manekshaw who witnessed this, told me, personally, about this during one of my visits to his home in Coonoor. He used to be a neighbour and very closed friend of my Dad’s elder brother. Air Marshal Rajaram DFC on King George’s Avenue. As a result, my uncle was the only Air Officer ever to have a Bat Man who was loaned to him by Sam. Kipper was my senior at School, though he passed out a long, long, time before I was born and I cannot claim to know him as well as I knew Sam. Kipper was very reserved with juniors unlike Sam who was more like an indulgent School Senior (like most of my Dad;s brothers) with a mischievous sense of humour. The ghost of the Indian Political Service will be delighted that all their divide to rule policies of stealing from some for the benefit of others on the basis of race ( caste, tribe), religion, language, geography and proximity to power have not only been kept alive but have been turned into a fine art by the Constitution, Laws, Judiciary , Politicians and Bureaucrats of India post 1949, most particularly with the selective abrogation of Articles 14 and 15 (Fundamental Rights of equality under law) and Articles 25 and 28 (Fundamental Right of Freedom of religion)

  2. Well, I would put it this way… Field Marshall Cariappa came with independent Bharat as first commander in cheif… Well before Bharat Ratna. He is above all Ratna.

  3. My late father had the opportunity to serve under the able administration of fld Marshall kariappa.when he was hospitalized at command hospital my father though not well himself insisted that he should meet the ailing chief
    .. I accompanied my father to the hospital and no sooner did both meet they were over joyed and they continued to discuss nostalgic beautiful days. I was greatly honoured to be part of the great officers company.

  4. When Ayub Khan assured the Field Marshal on welfare of his captured son, FM Cariappa replied that all captured soldiers were his sons.

  5. Politicians are the selector for Bharat Ratna. So they always give it to there fellow politicians. But Bharat Ratna or no Bharat Ratna, Cariappa is way ahead of any Bhrat Ratna.

  6. Field Marshal Cariappa should have been given Bharth Rathna long back, but politicians have different thoughts in their minds.

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