An interesting anecdote about a great Indian soldier, Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa, is lodged in my memory since childhood. As a habit, I keep asking questions. I had asked a question about Cariappa Park during my school days. Nobody had an answer till the senior political leader from Baramulla, Sheikh Mohammad Akbar, told me a fascinating story of how he had fulfilled the desire of the people of Baramulla, as chairman of the Town Area Committee, to commemorate Cariappa.
Once, after chasing the raiders beyond Uri, Cariappa was stopped by a group of people at Baramulla and told that they had suffered a lot due to the absence of food supplies, including salt. It was a puzzling question for the general, as no stocks were available with the army. But he fulfilled his assurance the next day when he visited the old town and distributed flour, rice and salt to the most needy families. He followed this gesture in many ways in various parts of Kashmir. K.S. Thimayya, whom he had put in command of the 19th Infantry Division at Baramulla, followed Cariappa in this regard. Grateful Baramullians named a park after Cariappa and the park exists even today.
My quest to learn more about Cariappa was deepened when I heard some commanders in Kashmir asserting during the recent turmoil that “yes”, stones would be answered through bullets and pellets. The people of Kashmir feel this attitude has been encouraged after Major Nitin Leetul Gogoi was awarded for using a civilian as a “human shield” in Budgam.
The Indian army’s history tells us that Cariappa showed great valour as a commander and the success he obtained was squarely his own. But many people in India may not know that apart from his military valour, he employed another natural tool as a workable mechanism to deal with the people all around including the enemy. Reading authors like B.C. Khanduri, J.S. Bindra, S.K. Sinha, L.P. Sen, K.C. Cariappa and others, I came to know of many interesting stories woven around the personality of that great soldier. When I came to know of Cariappa’s Waziristan experience, I was flabbergasted.
In June 1939, Cariappa was transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Rajput Regiment which became his parent unit. The battalion moved to Waziristan and he had to spend three years there. He was posted Waziristan in 1922 as well.
In November 1945, Cariappa was finally given command of a brigade. He was posted as commander of the Bannu Frontier Brigade in Waziristan. Having served in the NWFP as a young officer, Cariappa was conversant with the terrain as well as the habits of the Pathan tribesmen who lived in the area. He had seen that the British policy of trying to keep them under control by force had not succeeded and he resolved to try a different method. He decided to win the hearts and minds of the tribesmen by extending a hand of friendship. He knew that they were warm and hospitable if treated with respect and as equals.
One day, while passing through a village, he saw a group of Pathan women carrying pitchers of water. When he found out that they had to fetch water daily from another village, four miles away, he immediately ordered a well to be dug near their own village. He followed this gesture with many similar deeds. The Pathans were overwhelmed and started calling him “Khalifa”. Later, when the region was torn by communal strife, Bannu remained a haven of peace thanks to the goodwill generated by Cariappa. When Jawaharlal Nehru visited Bannu in 1945 as head of the Interim Government, Cariappa organised a public meeting which was attended by all tribal leaders. The next day, when he visited Razmak where another brigade was stationed, Nehru was fired upon by the tribesmen and the visit had to be called off. Nehru was impressed by Cariappa’s leadership qualities and rapport with the tribesmen.
Veekay’s History Book (Victory of Knowledge Global Publications) tells us an interesting story about Cariappa. “In February 1946, he was appointed Presiding Officer of one of the General Court Martials constituted to try members of the Indian National Army (INA). Before the trial, he visited some of the detention camps, where the prisoners were lodged. He found them full of rancour and hatred against the British for treating them badly and holding them without trial. Cariappa was pained by their plight and wrote to the Adjutant General, requesting him to expedite the trials. He also recommended that some of them such as Shah Nawaz Khan, G.S. Dhillon and P.K. Sehgal should be pardoned. But, when as Chief of the Armed Forces he was to consider the recommendation to accommodate Indian National Army (INA) personnel including Shahnawaz, Dhillon and Sehgal and he refused to take them into the Indian Army, particularly for the reason that they would bring politics into the Army. There was a lot of pressure on him for this and Nehru relented only after Cariappa threatened to resign on this issue.”
I invested some more time to understand both sides of Cariappa’s character. He was a very tough general when it came to leading the armed forces, as was required by military ethics, and he never compromised his principles.
B.C. Khanduri, who worked with him as operations staff officer, says in his book Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa; His life and Times that, “Once between Mahura and Uri, he was snipped at from close quarters. He showed no signs of fear while his staff officers perspired.”
Lt. Col. J.S. Bindra, as intelligence and liaison officer with Cariappa recalls in his book an incident at Srinagar. He says: “The 268 Infantry Brigade was without a commander for a few days. Cariappa informed Army Headquarters to post Brigadier Bikram Singh. He (Bikram Singh) represented to the army that his relations with Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad, the then Deputy PM of J&K, were not too friendly and that Bakshi might create problems for him in his command.Cariappa asked him what else? Then, he told Bikram to put his ego in his pocket and do what he desired him to do. Bikram was in Tithwal by the same night and on the job”.
The other side of his character is described in Veekay’s History Book: “While Cariappa admonished Thimayya for lighting a cigarette while travelling in an Army vehicle, he asked the driver to stop to allow Thimayya to smoke.”
Lt. General Sen in his book, Slender was the Thread: Kashmir Confrontation 1947-48, describes another quality which Cariappa possessed and it was his broad-mindedness. He says, “He treated all troops the same and was utterly free of any parochial feelings.” He was best known for his love for the Indian soldier. Troops not only loved him, they worshipped him. But then, he never pardoned if anybody indulged in a crime.
Cariappa is no more but his philosophy of military leadership is available to us. Many retired and serving generals have emphasised again and again that there is no military solution to the Kashmir dispute. It has to be resolved through methods other than force. I am confident that the spirit of Cariappa’s soldiery would be a better guide at this critical juncture of the Union’s relationship with Kashmir.