Celebrating Cariappa: 1st Indian to Take Charge of the Indian Army

Celebrating Cariappa: 1st Indian to Take Charge of the Indian Army

India

(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.

KM Cariappa working on military strategy.
KM Cariappa working on military strategy.
(Photo Courtesy: Blogspot/Namesakexpert)

A Timeline of Cariappa’s Life

Here’s a stamp dedicated to KM Cariapa.
Here’s a stamp dedicated to KM Cariapa.
(Photo Courtesy: FaujiKids.com)

Snapshotclose

  • 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.

The Genesis

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:

I think we should appoint a British officer as a General of the Indian Army, as we don’t have enough experience to lead an army.

While those present seemingly agreed with the Prime Minister, Lt Gen Nathu Singh Rathore disagreed:

You see, sir, we don’t have enough experience to lead a nation too, so shouldn’t we appoint a Britisher as the first Prime Minister of India?

When Rathore was offered the post by Defence Minister Sardar Baldev Singh, he is believed to have declined. He said:

My senior Lt Gen KM Cariappa is better for the job.

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.

KM Cariappa.
KM Cariappa.
(Photo Courtesy: FaujiKids.com)

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.

Cariappa tries his hand at cricket with Australian boys. 
Cariappa tries his hand at cricket with Australian boys. 
(Photo Courtesy: National Archives of Australia)

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:

He is my son no longer... He is the child of this country, a soldier fighting for his motherland like a true patriot. My many thanks for your kind gesture, but I request you to release all or release none. Give him no special treatment.
Source: The Business Standard
KC Cariappa with wife Meena.
KC Cariappa with wife Meena.
(Photo Courtesy: Upper Crust)

Air Marshal KC Cariappa (retd) later on went ahead to pen a book on his father’s life.

Cover of the book written by KM Cariappa’s son Air Marshal KC Kariappa.
Cover of the book written by KM Cariappa’s son Air Marshal KC Kariappa.
(Photo Courtesy: Amazon.in)

Involved With His Troops and Immaculately Dressed – Always

(Photo Courtesy: Blogspot/Namesakexpert)
Known for his personal touches... he believed in the necessity and power of personal communication, addressing his troops frequently. He was immaculately dressed at all times and wore a flower in his button hole.
Rohit Singh, Associate Fellow at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies
KM Cariappa with the then Indian Finance Minister CD Desmukh in 1953.
KM Cariappa with the then Indian Finance Minister CD Desmukh in 1953.
(Photo Courtesy: National Archives of Australia)

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.
General Cariappa at the Australian War Memorial.
General Cariappa at the Australian War Memorial.
(Photo Courtesy: National Archives of Australia)

Cariappa died on 15 May 1993. On his death, Pakistan President Ishaq Khan remarked:

What a sublime soul. Pakistan has lost a brother.
Source: Field Marshal KM Cariappa: His Life and Times by Brig CB Khanduri

(The Quint is now available on Telegram. For handpicked stories every day, subscribe to us on Telegram)

Follow our India section for more stories.

India

    Also Watch