General CK Karumbayah, SM, in his article wrote about Cariappa, -“ As the senior most officer, history thrust upon him greater responsibilities as soon as India gained independence. It was largely because of him Indian Army retained its cohesion, discipline, professional competence and an apolitical nature. If not for him probably the Indian Armed Forces could have got embroiled in politics as what happened in Pakistan.” Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck rightly concludes the above statement by stating, “ He set a fine example to those of his countrymen who followed his foot steps.”
Family Background and Up-bringing.
Cariappa’s father Madappa was a revenue official in a small town Snivarasante in North Kodagu. Madappa married Kaveramma – a charming, graceful and pious young lass, who belonged to Codanada clan. They had six children - four boys and two girls. Cariappa was second and was born on 28 Jun 1900.He was very loveable and due to his winsome, jovial and witty disposition he was known as ‘Chimma’ to his near and dear ones.
Cariappa was a student of Central High School, Madikeri and was an intelligent student with keen interest in sports and games. As a student in school he was slim, fair and somewhat tall for his age. He was very active, popular and even mischievous. There were occasions when he organized revolts against nagging professors and their outmoded practices.
In the year 1917, Cariappa went to Presidency College, Madras as a boarder. Apart from being a brilliant student he excelled in cricket and tennis in particular- the games, which usually fashioned a polished gentlemen of times. Cariappa even as a student longed to be a ‘soldier’ - his ancestral traditional profession. He used to tell his mother in his young days that one day he would become ‘a big officer’.
While he was still a student in Intermediate class in Madras Presidency College, he was selected for pre-commission training in year 1918. In year 1919, he was one amongst 39 Cadets who were given the King’s Commission after his training at Dally College, Indore.
1920 - posted to 2/88 (Coorg) Carnatic Rifles.
1920-22 - Adjutant in 2/125 Napier Rifles in Mesopotamia.
1922-25 - Posted to 1/17 Dogras and 1/7 Rajputs in Wazirstan-North West Frontier Province (NWFP).
1933 - Attended Staff College, Quetta- NWFP.
1936 - Posted as Deputy Assistant Qurter Master General at Deccan.
1938 - Posted Brigade Major of 20 Infantry Brigade, Quetta.
1941 - Posted Deputy Assistant Quarter Master General of 10 Infantry Division and served in Iraq, Syria, and. Iran under General Slim.
1942 - Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and raised and commanded the 7th MG (Machine Gun) Battalion Rajput Regiment.
1943 - Posted Assistant Adjutant and Quarter Master General of 26 Infantry Division at Arakkan Front in Burma.
1944 - Promoted to Brigadier and took over command of Bannu Frontier Brigade in NWFP.
1946 - Attended Imperial Defence College, UK.
1947 - Promoted to Major General and appointed Deputy Chief of General Staff, Army hQ.
1947 - Promoted to Lieutenant General and took over Command of Eastern Command.
1948 - Promoted to General and appointed as Commander-in-Chief of Indian Army in place of Sir General F Roy Bucher on 15 Jan 1949.
1953 - Retired on 14 Jan 1953.
1986 - Bestowed the rank of Field Marshal on 25 Apr 1986.
Courage of Conviction and Forth-rightness
Cariappa is known for his forthrightness. In expression and in numerous occasions others misunderstood him. Cariappa sometimes even disagreed with mahatma Gandhi – the Apostle of Non-violent war, by stating, “non-violence was of no use under the existing circumstances in India. Only a strong Army can make India one of the greatest nations in the world”.
General Cariappa during a discourse with mahatma on 'ahimsa' and in justification of his views stated, “we soldiers are a very much maligned community. Even, you think that we are a very violent tribe. But we are not. Of all the people in the world, the one community, which dislikes wars, is the soldier community. It is not because of the dangers and the horrors in the battlefield; but because of the knowledge we have of utter futility of wars to settle international disputes. We feel one war merely leads to another. History has taught us this “.
When accused of army spreading violence, General replied “in the democratic country soldiers do not initiate wars, Governments when they have failed to get satisfactory solution to international problems declare wars….. We merely carry out orders of the Government- and therefore of the people”.
Vision and Awareness of Existing Circumstances. (Anecdotes and Utterances)
* General Cariappa always strived to impress people and powers that be, that without some discipline masses of people are but the crowd and the rabble, that democracy is but a ‘mobocracy’ without discipline and direction, that the rulers and the administrators without character are but a gang of ruthless power seekers and exploiters and that loss of morale leads to the collapse of will to improve and to succeed. He made bold to suggest to political leaders that some kind of military training for all the citizens would improve their way of life and chase lethargy and indiscipline out of their lives. But he has met with rebuff that he wanted to make India a military nation.
*Gen Cariappa had a large jungle area surrounding his post retirement abode ‘ROSHNARA’ at Madikeri. The pension he received was meager and not adequate to maintain a large establishment and live a life of comfort.His friends advised him to cut trees from the jungle, which was his own, and sell the timber so that he could live life like a lord. He scoffed at the suggestion. He loved the environment the flora and fauna too much to accept the idea. Instead he adopted a life of simplicity and dignity, which was the hallmark of the man. He was a man of limited desires and considerable self-control.
*When General Cariappa was asked ‘What prompted you to settle in Mercara, a small town without many modern amenities, instead of settling in Bombay, Delhi or Bangalore as many dignitaries do?” he answered “This question has been asked many times and some of my friends question my wisdom of selecting a small-town like Mercara to spend the evening of my life. I have always told them that there is no place like Mercara (coorg) for me in the whole world and this land of ‘Cauvery Mata’ far excels all other land and I hold it dear as the cradle of my childhood, the Brindavana of my youth and the Varanasi of my old age”. This is where his root lay.
* General Cariappa believed in the 'pitru devo bhava (worshipful remembrance of parents) and is highly proud of being the son of his dear father.In his article in the Bhawans Journal in the 1965, General Cariappa wrote that “To me the greatest personality I have ever known in my father. I well remembered he telling me ‘my son live your life on your own merits. Do not ask for favours, nor be under any ones obligations’ ”.
* When General Cariappa was asked why he did not accept any assignments in some big business firms, when he was offered so many, he replied. “Think of a retired General of a big country like India approaching a civilian officer or waiting for a minister seeking some concessions or help for a company over which he presides, with that sole object of earning some coins!” When the General was reminded that many Generals after he had done that he quipped “, But you must know that I was the first Commander-in-Chief of independent India and I have the responsibility of maintaining the dignity of the high office I held”.
* General KM Cariappa when he was the chairman of the All India Sports Council he came in contact with Mr. Vijay Merchant. While on a discussion between both at Vallabhai Patel Stadium in Bombay, a young man hurriedly tried to pass between the two on his way to the enclosures. General stopped him gently and very mildly asked him whether it would have been better for him to merely say “Excuse me, may I pass, please”. And added, “Either of us would have then said “sorry’ given you ample space to go by moving on one side. This is where we lack discipline, my young man and unless young people like you are disciplined, we shall have nothing but indiscipline in the rank and file in this country. I hope you understand ?”. The young man felt so ashamed of himself at this mild admonition. Later General introduced himself extending right hand and shook him warmly saying “ I am pleased to meet you and I trust you will remember in the future what I have said and pass it on to others”.
Field marshal KM Cariappa’s vision envisaged a disciplined youth working towards the unity and prosperity of the country. His advice to them was to develop virtues of Physical fitness,Moral correctness, Mental alertness, Discipline, Selflessness, Honesty, Loyalty, Sense of duty and above all character.
-Col R Ravi Nair-