Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa, the first Indian Commander-in-Chief from 1949-1953, had more than his share of controversies. One of his controversial statements about the need for a military rule in India was recently discovered in Karnataka state archives through a clarification made in a signed note dated 7 April 1971, after Indira Gandhi’s landslide election victory.
The revelation about General Cariappa has shone a light on how India’s military generals have often commented on the politics of their time. In the seven decades since India’s Independence, both serving and retired generals have been mired in controversies for their indiscretions and public statements that transgressed into political domain, for their personal political convictions, for promoting self-interest by endorsing government policies, for their naivety, military humour, and at times due to their assumed sense of superiority of military values.
These indiscretions and controversies reflect that the generals live a cocooned life, divorced from the reality of India. This is why they rarely become successful politicians.
But if Field Marshal Cariappa stands out in the long list of military generals airing their views on political situations publicly, then it’s only due to the nature and content of his remarks as reflected in the signed note cited above – the invocation of a military rule, albeit as a temporary measure to restore law and order; a new constitution; reorganisation of states on zonal pattern; a three-party political system; and making education a criterion for voting rights.
Cariappa categorically ruled out a military coup in India due to the Indian Army’s heterogeneous composition. His idea of military rule was based on politicians willingly handing over power to the Army, like it happened in Pakistan.