Nailing the Prime Minister’s falsehoods about Cariappa and Thimayya

If any Opposition leader had uttered such falsehoods about India’s military history, he would have been accused of dragging the Army into politics, and probably even charged with sedition.

Courtesy: YouTube
Courtesy: YouTube

Mala Jay

If any Opposition leader had uttered such falsehoods about India’s military history, he would have been accused of dragging the Army into politics and probably even charged with sedition. The mainstream media would have bayed for his blood and launched a vicious tirade aimed at destroying his political career.

That’s what happened to Mani Shankar Aiyar. In December last year, the Congress leader was mercilessly pilloried for hosting a private dinner party in which a former Pakistani foreign minister was present as a guest. Aiyar was labeled an anti-national for colluding with the “enemy” to interfere in the Gujarat elections.

Now, at the height of the Karnataka assembly election campaign, even though the Prime Minister has deliberately and indisputably distorted military history, there is hardly a whimper of protest or indignation.

Instead, the electronic media has chosen to gloss over Narendra Modi’s politically motivated and factually incorrect statements about the relationship between India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the country’s first Army chief General KM Cariappa (later Field Marshall) and also about Gen KS Thimayya.

During his campaign rallies in Karnataka, Narendra Modi’s clearly crossed the red line in his obvious attempt to whip-up anti-Congress sentiments among voters in Coorg (now called Kodagu), where both Cariappa and Thimayya hail from. He leveled the very serious allegation that Nehru had “humiliated” the two distinguished generals, who hailed from the region. This was so far from the truth that historians, both military and political, are aghast.

At the height of the Karnataka assembly election campaign, even though the Prime Minister has deliberately and indisputably distorted military history, there is hardly a whimper of protest or indignation

PM Modi distorted facts about General Thimayya

Here is what the Prime Minister actually said.

Regarding General Thimayya, Modi said: “1948 mein Pakistan se yudh jeeta... General Thimayyaji ke netritv mein. Lekin us parakram ke baad, Kashmir ko bachane waale General Thimayya ka us samay ke Pradhan Mantri Nehru, aur us samay ke Raksha Mantri Krishna Menon ne baar baar apmaan kiya tha. Aur isi kaaran, General Thimayya ko apne pad se samman ke khatir isteefa dena pada tha.”

(In 1948, it was under... General Thimayya’s leadership that the war against Pakistan was won. But after that victory, the saviour of Kashmir, General Thimayya, was repeatedly insulted by then Prime Minister Nehru and then defence minister Krishna Menon. And it was for this reason, his honour, that General Thimayya had to resign from his post.)

Modi also said: “Field Marshal Cariappa, 1962, Bharat aur China ki ghatna, aaj bhi itihas ki tawarikh mein darj hai aur unke saath, Field Marshal Cariappaji ke saath kya vyavahar kiya gaya…”

(Field Marshal Cariappa, 1962, India-China war, is in the annals of recorded history. How he was treated, Field Marshal Cariappaji…).

These assertions and insinuations are historical untruths. The substance is false, the context is wrong and there are even inane errors in dates wholly unworthy of a sitting Prime Minister of a great nation like India.

Firstly, General Thimayya was not the Army Chief in 1948. At that time, Thimayya was a divisional commander with the rank of major-general. The Army chief was still a Britisher, General Roy Bucher. As a major-general, Thimayya had two senior officers above him—the corps commander Lt Gen SM Shrinagesh and the Western Army commander, Lt Gen Cariappa. Since he headed the Jammu and Kashmir Force, Thimayya did play a critical role in the Kashmir war, but was never “humiliated” by either Nehru or Krishna Menon—not then, not thereafter.

Moreover, Narendra Modi is entirely off the mark in claiming that Krishna Menon was the Defence Minister in 1948. The Defence Minister was Sardar Baldev Singh.

These assertions and insinuations [about General Thimayya] are historical untruths. The substance is false, the context is wrong and there are even inane errors in dates wholly unworthy of a sitting Prime Minister of a great nation like India.

Recorded history shows that Nehru had high regard for Thimayya. In 1953, India’s first Prime Minister hand-picked Gen Thimayya for a very prestigious appointment—the head the United Nations Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission in Korea.

As several knowledgeable commentators have pointed out, Thimayya carried out his assignment in Korea with such distinction that the Nehru administration recommended him for the Padma Bhushan award in 1954. Moreover, three years later he was elevated the post of Chief of Army Staff, even though he was third in line.

By no stretch of the imagination can this be portrayed as “humiliation” by Prime Minister Nehru.

Indeed, when in 1959, Thimayya offered to resign because he did not agree with the government’s thinking regarding a Joint Defence Arrangement with Pakistan, Nehru personally persuaded him to change his mind and in fact Thimayya continued as Army Chief till 1961.

It is beyond dispute therefore that Narendra Modi is guilty of distorting military history, concocting false theories and spreading disinformation about Nehru’s treatment of Gen Thimayya.

PM Modi distorted facts about Field Marshal Cariappa

Equally horrendous are Modi’s attempt to formulate a fictitious narrative about the even more distinguished son of Coorg—Field Marshal Kodandera "Kipper" Madappa Cariappa.

Gen Cariappa was not Army Chief during the 1962 India-China war. He had retired nine years earlier. In fact, it was his fourth successor who was Army Chief when the 1962 war broke out, as several knowledgeable commentators like Karan Thapar have pointed out.

Equally fact-free are the insinuations that Cariappa was treated shabbily by Congress Prime Ministers since the time of Nehru. Nehru and Cariappa did have some differences of opinion in 1951 because the then Army Chief tended to publicly air his political views. But had the personal equations between the two charismatic personalities not been marked by mutual respect and admiration, Cariappa would not have been appointed as High Commissioner to Australia. Nor would the proud General have accepted the diplomatic assignment had he felt badly treated.

It is also a glorious chapter in the country’s history that decades later it was Nehru’s grandson Rajiv Gandhi who elevated Cariappa to the exalted rank of Field Marshal. No one could have conferred a greater honour

Modi’s claim that Congress Prime Ministers had humiliated Cariappa is thus exposed as little more than petty politics. The kindest excuse one can make is that perhaps Modi’s speech-writers in the PMO may have made some very unfortunate blunders in their research. And, as a consequence of their carelessness, the Prime Minister ended up putting his foot in his mouth during his Karnataka orations and embarrassing himself in public.

A more candid assessment could be that Modi knew full well that what he was saying was untrue but he uttered the falsehood anyway because of his compulsive urge to boost his own image by denigrating the legacy of his predecessors.

However, the last may not have been heard on the subject even though the mainstream media has inexplicably chosen to maintain a conspiracy of silence. But now that the pot has been stirred, various other dark secrets and hitherto hidden aspects of that historic era have started to come to light.

The most shocking is the disclosure of a declassified CIA document that makes specific mention of a suspected 1950 right-wing plot to foment dissensions in the Indian army and to an abortive bid to assassinate Gen Cariappa—allegedly by the same forces that killed Mahatma Gandhi.

A striking report on the chilling details has been published in National Herald. It lifts the veil on information that could undermine Narendra Modi’s new-found love for India’s first Army chief.

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