By S.K. Sinha | PUBLISHED: 31, Jan 2011, 17:05 pm IST | UPDATED: 31, Jan 2011, 18:35 pm IST
The Indian Army celebrates January 15 as Army Day. This is a landmark date in its history. It was raised as a colonial army nearly three centuries ago and became a national Army on August 15, 1947. Yet, till January 14, 1949, the top leadership of the Army was British; only on January 15, 1949 did an Indian for the first time become its chief. This was the fulfillment of a demand for inducting Indians as officers in the Army made by Raja Rammohan Roy before a Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1833.
The Uprising in 1857 ruled out the acceptance of that demand. Starting with the second session of the Indian National Congress in 1886, this demand was revived repeatedly in its subsequent resolutions. The imperialists vehemently opposed this. Two well known commanders-in-chief had strong views in the matter.
Lord Roberts wrote, “Native officers cannot take the place of British officers. Eastern races, however brave and accustomed to war, do not posses the qualities that go to make good leaders of men”.
Lord Kitchener wrote about deep-seated racial repugnance in the Army: “Chiefly it is due to an honest belief — which is not altogether unfounded — that any substitution of Indians for British officers must be detrimental to the interests of the Army”. It was only after the First World War that in recognition of the outstanding contribution of the Indian soldier, recognised the world over, the British government allowed a very small trickle of Indian officers into the Army. General, later Field Marshal, K.M.Cariappa was among the first batch of some half a dozen Indians commissioned in 1919.
I was a student in Patna when I first heard of Cariappa. There was a news item with his picture in the national newspapers in 1942 saying he was the first Indian to be promoted to the rank of Lt Colonel. Soon after I joined the Army in 1944, I heard that he was the first Indian to be promoted to Brigadier. Little did I then imagine that I would have the great good fortune of working closely under him.
I first met Cariappa on August 14, 1947 at a farewell party given by Indian officers to departing British and Pakistan officers. Cariappa was the chief host and among the guests were Lord Mountbatten and Field Marshal Auchinleck. In his speech he gave fulsome praise to British officers for building our wonderful Army.
He was sentimental about officers going to Pakistan, saying, “We have shared a common destiny for so long that our history is inseparable. We have been brothers. We shall always remain brothers”. A silver trophy showing a Hindu and a Muslim soldier holding their rifles pointing towards a common foe was presented to Brigadier Raza, the senior officer going to Pakistan. What an irony. In less than three months Indian and Pakistan soldiers were shooting at each other on the battlefields of kashmir.
On August 15, 1947 Cariappa was promoted to Major-General and became the first Indian general officer. On January 20, 1948, he took over as Western Army Commander in the rank of Lieutenant-General, again the first Indian officer to hold that high rank. I was a Major at that headquarters as General Staff Officer, Operations. We were conducting operations in Kashmir.
I had to brief him in the Operations Room about the operational situation in Jammu and Kashmir. He complimented me on my briefing and inquired about the most threatened place in the state. I replied that there were reports of heavy enemy build-up against Naushera and a major attack appeared imminent.He said he would like to go there the next day. I accompanied him to Naushera. He went round the defences and then told Brigadier Usman that Kot feature overlooked our defences and must be secured.
Two days later Usman mounted a successful attack against that feature. He named it Operation Kipper, the general’s nickname. A week later, over 10,000 enemy attacked Naushera. With Kot held by us, our troops inflicted a crushing defeat on the enemy, who retreated leaving over 900 dead. This was the biggest battle of the Kashmir war. Usman became a national hero.
Cariappa would spend some 10 days every month on tour in Kashmir and I invariably accompanied him as his staff officer. I recall two instances of his personal courage.
We were travelling in a jeep to Uri. The brigade commander suggested to him that the flag and star plate on the car be removed as the area near Hemen Buniyar was under enemy observation and prone to sniping. Cariappa refused and said he wanted to see how accurate the enemy firing was.
On another occasion, Cariappa stood on a hilltop near Tithwal to survey enemy positions. The local commander told him that the enemy could observe us and we should view the area from inside a bunker. He ignored his advice. We all stood in the open for a few minutes. As we started coming down the hill, an enemy shell landed where we had been standing.
Cariappa was a few years older than my father in age. I marveled at his stamina and energy. I found it not easy to keep pace with him. He was a staff officer’s nightmare. No detail, no matter how small, escaped his eyes. I had to keep jotting down numerous points and prepare copious tour notes.
One day, as we returned from tour, we saw his two children coming out of his other staff car. They had missed the school bus. The ADC had sent the staff car to fetch them. Cariappa was furious at the misuse of government transport. He directed me to initiate disciplinary action against his ADC.
Next morning he sent for me and inquired what action I had taken. I told him that I had admonished him and he had assured me that he would not make that mistake again. He inquired, “What about the loss of petrol to the government?” I replied that we were depositing `40 in the Treasury, at the prescribed rate for the eight miles for which the staff car had been used. He said the amount should be debited to his personal account.
Apart from the highest standard of personal integrity, Cariappa was a strict disciplinarian. He summarily sacked three serving major-generals, one for being drunk at a function in Raj Bhavan at Mumbai, the second for being unduly friendly with a junior officer’s wife, and the third for misuse of regimental funds.
In 2010, a year of scams galore, the image of the Army has also been besmirched along with that of the judiciary, bureaucracy, media and of course, the political leadership. The Army needs to recall the high standards set by Cariappa and endeavor to live up to them.
# The author, a retired Lieutenant-General, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as Governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.( FnF received this article through mail and producing it for the awareness of our younger generation)