KODANDERA CARIAPPA was independent India's first military commander-in-chief.
He fought with distinction on several battlefields during the Second World War and was responsible for reorganising the Indian army into an efficient and disciplined fighting machine. After retirement he was India's High Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand.
Cariappa, who received the Field Marshal's baton 33 years after retiring in 1953, was one of the handful of Indians to be commissioned as an officer in the British Indian Army towards the end of the First World War. Popularly known as Kipper (after his fondness for them at breakfast), he saw action in the Middle East, north Africa and Burma during the Second World War with regiments which have ceased to exist, before being dispatched to tame restive tribesmen in the North-West Frontier province, the NWFP bordering Afghanistan.
Soon after India's independence in 1947 Cariappa, then a Lieutenant- General, was charged with defending Kashmir State in the north from Pakistani invaders. Defying orders issued by General Sir FRR Butcher, the last British commander-in-chief of the Indian army, Cariappa positioned soldiers at strategic places, eventually stopping the raiders from overrunning the state, and before the United Nations brokered a ceasefire. An eccentric, who cultivated old- world values, Cariappa named this deadly military confrontation Operation Tutti Frutti.
Later, as the first Indian army chief, he reorganised the Indian army and raised the redoubtable Brigade of Guards modelled on the British Coldstream Guards, throwing open recruitment to Indians from any caste or community.
A shot from a rifle heralded the birth of Kodandera Cariappa in 1900, in Sanivra Santhe in Coorg, south India, in accordance with local custom in an area known as the cradle of Indian warriors. The son of a teacher, Cariappa was schooled locally before joining Presidency College in Madras in 1917.
Two years later he was one of the few Indians selected for the King's commission and as a 2nd lieutenant was dispatched to Mesopotamia (now Iraq) with Napier's Rifles in 1920 to quell an Arab insurrection. With the Indianisation of the British Indian Army, Cariappa was transferred to the 2nd Rajputs from which he raised and commanded a machine-gun battalion during the Second World War as a Lieutenant-Colonel in Burma. In 1945 he was appointed OBE.
Cariappa retired in 1953 after four turbulent years as India's army chief. Policy differences between him and the prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, led to the Commander-in- Chief's post being abolished after Cariappa's retirement and split between three individual service chiefs. However, despite differences, Nehru persuaded Cariappa to be India's High Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand, a post he held for three years till 1956. He was promoted Field Marshal by the President in 1986.
Cariappa was a close friend of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, Pakistan's dictator and army chief in the Fifties and Sixties, and often visited him after retirement. But when Khan offered special medical treatment for Cariappa's fighter-pilot son, taken prisoner during the second India-Pakistan war in 1965, Cariappa politely declined the offer.
Cariappa assiduously pursued his homespun philosophy of 'Deepcud', an acronym for discipline, energy, endurance, perseverance, courage, unselfishness and determination. And, when the Chinese attacked India in 1962, he was spotted by an embarrassed recruitment officer in his home town in Coorg, standing in line, waiting to enlist.
Cariappa was a soldier's soldier who founded the Indian Ex-Servicemen League and daily responded to hundreds of letters from retired soldiers seeking financial help and jobs for their children. A stickler for discipline, he always dined in a dinner- jacket, even when eating alone, and stopped children on the road to comb their unruly hair.