OFTEN referred to as the father of the Indian Army, Field Marshal Kodandera Modappa Cariappa was one of the most decorated generals of the Indian Army. He was in the very first batch of Indian officers of the Indian Army, and had the distinction of being the first Indian to qualify at Staff College, the first Indian Commanding officer, the first Indian Brigadier, the first Indian Army General Officer (1947), the first Indian Army Commander (1948), and the first Indian Commander-in-Chief (1949).
Belonging to the Coorg district of Karnataka, a region that is particularly known for its natural beauty and for giving India a regular supply of excellent soldiers and army officers, Cariappa often heard stories of valour of World War I veterans of his region. It was not long before he started dreaming of becoming an officer himself. He soon won his Commission, and found himself at Daly Cadets College, Indore. It was there that he learnt the basics of military warfare, battle tactics, leadership techniques, and administrative skills. His officers were very happy the way this young man was shaping up, so they sent him to the prestigious Royal Military College, Sandhurst. He was made Second Lieutenant in 1919, and was posted first to the Second Battalion of the 2/88th Carnatic Infantry, and then to the 2/125th Napier's Rifles.
India was soon going to be independent, but Independence was coming at the cost of Partition. Cariappa was totally against Partition, but when the inevitable happened, he advised the new leaders that the defence of the realm should now be their top priority. Since most of the top officers before Independence were British, there was a vacuum after their departure. Cariappa realised this problem, and saw the need of setting up new institutions to train young officers. He believed that an "officer did not become a great commander without long experience and passion for study of war". A tireless worker that he was, his only complaint was that there were only 24 hours in a day, and not 48. "There is so much to do and so little time to do it." Cariappa always led from the front, and by personal example. He used to tell his jawans, "I will never ask you to do anything that I am myself incapable of doing." He believed that the Army should uphold its glorious tradition and should keep itself away from politics. He was also against the idea of the so-called 'martial races', for he believed that anyone could become brave and courageous if proper training was given, and the right atmosphere was created. He felt that raising regiments on the basis of religion or caste was the ploy by which the British kept Indians divided. So he tried to make the Army as democratic as possible.
After his long and illustrious career, Cariappa retired in 1953 prompting Nehru to say: 'People like you should never retire." After retirement he was appointed High Commissioner to Australia. But although he had retired, he never forgot his dear soldiers. In fact while in Australia, he was impressed by the methods that the Australian Government employed to help its ex-servicemen. Cariappa brought this to the notice of the Indian Government, and his recommendations were soon adopted.
Showing spiritual leanings from the beginning, Cariappa now found time to study the ancient scriptures, especially the Upanishads and the Bhagvadagita. In spite of all the love and respect the he got from his countrymen, there were times when he was appalled by the slow manner in which things moved. A man of action, he decided to enter politics, but ended up tasting defeat.
Recognising the General's role, President Harry Truman of the United States honoured him with the 'Order of the Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit', and the Indian Government made him Field Marshal.