Celebrating Cariappa: 1st Indian to Take Charge of the Indian Army
(This article on Field Marshal KM Cariappa, the first Indian commander of the Army after the British, was originally published on 28 January 2017. It has been republished from The Quint’s archives to mark his 120th birth anniversary.)
Kodandera M Cariappa is a man known for many firsts, but most importantly, he is known as the man who took charge of the Indian Army from its last British Commander in Chief, General Sir Roy Bucher.
On his 120th birth anniversary, here’s a quick glance at his illustrious career.
A Timeline of Cariappa’s Life
- In 1947, Cariappa became the first Indian to go to the UK for a training course at the Imperial Defence College. The same year, he led the Indian forces on the western front during the Partition.
- During the entire span of his career, which lasted three decades (from 1918 to 1953), he served in Syria, Iraq and Iran.
- In 1949, Cariappa took over the reins of the Indian Army from Sir Roy Bucher, and went on to transform the army’s identity from an imperial to a nationalist one.
- In 1951, owing to his efforts in improving the Indo-US relations, US President Harry Truman conferred on him the ‘Order of the Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit’ – the first-ever award of its kind given to an Indian General.
- In 1953, he retired from the Indian Army and served as High Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand till 1956. After his retirement from the Indian Army, he was expected to have been appointed governor in one of the North Eastern states by Nehru. Instead, he was made the High Commissioner.
- In 1983, he was given the title of the Field Marshal (five stars), the highest honour in the Indian Army. The title has been conferred only twice so far – on Cariappa, and on Sam Manekshaw (Sam Bahadur or Sam the Brave) in 1973.
- In 1993, Field Marshal KM Cariappa breathed his last in Bangalore at the age of 94.
Following India’s Independence, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru called a meeting comprising the Defence Minister and senior party officers. The agenda at hand was to appoint the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS).
Nehru has credited to have proposed at the meeting:
While those present seemingly agreed with the Prime Minister, Lt Gen Nathu Singh Rathore disagreed:
When Rathore was offered the post by Defence Minister Sardar Baldev Singh, he is believed to have declined. He said:
And so it came about that Cariappa became the first Indian to become the Chief of Army Staff on 15 January 1948, a day also celebrated as the Indian Army day.
Nicknamed ‘Kipper’ by the British officials and their wives who couldn’t pronounce his name, Cariappa was known to be fond of reading and sports.
When Cariappa’s Son Was Captured by Pakistani Forces
During the Indo-Pakistan war of 1965, Cariappa’s son, Air Marshal KC Cariappa, who was a Squadron Leader with No 20 Squadron, was captured as a prisoner of war (PoW) by Pakistani troops.
When Pakistan’s Minister of Defence Ayub Khan, who had served under Cariappa in 1945 when the latter was made the commander of the Bannu Frontier Brigade in Waziristan, found out about the capture, he informed his former colleague that his son would not be treated like the other PoWs. To this, Cariappa replied:
Air Marshal KC Cariappa (retd) later on went ahead to pen a book on his father’s life.
Involved With His Troops and Immaculately Dressed – Always
I Ramamohan Rao, Former Principal Information Officer, Government of India, attested the same and said to ANI:
I was touched by his sense of involvement with the welfare of the troops... He went round the parade ground distributing black pepper to each row of soldiers. He asked them about their food, general comforts, whether they received letters from home-and when he met Sikhs and Punjabis, inquired whether they got mustard oil. He knew the habits of soldiers of the Indian Army.
Cariappa died on 15 May 1993. On his death, Pakistan President Ishaq Khan remarked: