A Coffee Table book is defined as ?a large, lavishly illustrated book, especially one intended only for casual reading?. It can'tbe true of the biography of Field Marshal K.M.Cariappa written by his only son, Air Marshal K.C. Cariappa, though, yes, the book is large in size (11 ?x 8??), is profusely illustrated, but, let this be said rightaway, is written in a rich and stirring style. Field Marshal Cariappa is a name that may not immediately stir the memories of the GenNext, but, by any reckoning, he was a remarkable man, with several Firsts to his credit. He was a Coorgi or Kodava, born in a martial family in Coorg on January 28, 1899 and passed away on May 15, 1993 at the ripe age of 94, greatly remembered and honoured by the Indian armed forces of which he was the first Indian Commander- in-Chief, following independence.
Remarkably enough, Cariappa has many Firsts to his credit. Thus he was the first Kodava to join the first batch of Indian cadets at the Daly College, Indore, from where he was commissioned, the first Indian officer in the good old British days to enter Staff College, Quetta, the first Indian officer to be a Brigadier and then a Major General, the latter in 1947 and probably the last Indian officer to have had a live contact with Mahatma Gandhi?and that is quite a story. The Mahatma had rebuked Cariappa for the latter'sviews on non-violence and Cariappa, feeling greatly flattered, sought a meeting with the Mahatma which was granted though it happened to be on Gandhi'sday of silence.
All that the Mahatma could convey to Cariappa on a piece of paper was whether he had read what Gandhiji had written about him in Harijan. Cariappa could only say he felt flattered at being recognised at all: the two met again a few days later when Gandhiji asked him why he had taken off his shoes on his first visit and had done so on his second. Cariappa could only say that he thought it was only ?proper that he should do so, when coming to meet a godly man?. The two had an interesting conversation. Cariappa too, had a friendly relationship with Nehru with whom he pleaded that the Army should not be divided following partition. Writers the biographer: ?While Pandit Nehru agreed with him in a sense, he did deem it unavoidable?. But the more sensational revelation concerns the fighting that started in Kashmir soon after India attained Independence. The biographer writers that the Indian government was apparently pressurised into accepting a UN-sponsored unilateral cease-fire that was ?against the advice of both military commanders who were directly involved with the operations?. One of them was Cariappa himself. The other was Maj. Gen Thimayya. Writes the biographer: ?They were convinced that the capture of Muzzaffarabad, now the capital of Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir was imminent?. Then why did Nehru order cease-fire when the Indian Army was about to drive out the invaders? The Army had been peremptorily ordered to suspend all offensive operational. If Gen. Cariappa was ordered not to carry out offensive operations which would threaten Pakistan'ssecurity such as the advance on Muzzaffarpur and Mirpur. Nor was the Air Force permitted to attack installations near Muzzaffarpur and Mirpur and vital bridges being used by Pakistan. The author quotes Lt. Gen S.M. Srinagesh as saying in an address to the Staff College: ?The language which the Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) used on receiving these instruction had to be heard to be believed?. Gen Cariappa himself was asked on many occasions why the Indian Army did not evict the frontier tribesmen who had attacked India, supported by the Pakistan Army and why it was decided to have the Cease-Fire Line dividing the state. Cariappa'sreply was that it was the government which dictated and determined policy and not the Army.
What is important to remember is that even as Nehru had decided to refer the Jammu and Kashmir issue to the Security Council, the Army had its ?tails up? and was confident of clearing most of Kashmir and re-investing Gilgit. The Cease-Fire was ordered as from the midnight of December 31, 1948. According to Cariappa, the Army was very disappointed by the decision but ?orders were orders?. Interestingly, a few years later, according to the biographer, Cariappa asked Nehru the reason for the Cease-Fire. Nehru'sanswer is apologetic and unconvincing. Nehru told Cariappa: ?You see, the UN Security Council felt that if we go any further, it may precipitate a war. So, in response to their request, we agreed to a Cease-Fire. Quite Frankly, looking back on it now, I think we should have given you a few days more, ten or fifteen days more. Things would have been different then?. That sounds like a lame excuse. In the first place India should not taken the issue to the security Council. Once the matter was handed over to the Council on a golden platter, the US and its chamchas used it to harass India and we have been paying for it even now. Cariappa had cordial relations with Nehru though, Cariappa'sson writes: ?Father was perceived as being too popular, not only in the Army but among those in other walks of life too. Perhaps there was lurking suspicion that Father might engineer a coup. Nothing could have been further from the truth?. But it is interesting that he has made this point. Was there something more than that, that is kept in the dark? But Cariappa evidently had more respect for Vallabhbhai Patel than for Nehru. The biographer says that for Vallabhbhai, Cariappa had ?the greatest respect? and when the Sardar died, Cariappa was ?particularly saddened?. As the biographer put it: ?Father considered him the one person capable of firmness that was required at that point in time to hold the country together.? As Cariappa saw it ?it was Sardar Patel'sfirm handling of the situation in Hyderabad that saved the day?. There is plenty more information in this supposedly Coffee Table book to digest. Importantly, the dozens of pictures tell us a lot more of the man than what a hundred more pages of printed matter could have done. The author of this book, Cariappa'sown son, deserves our sincere thanks. He has brought us the flavour and feelings of another day even while adding to the history of the land in ample measure.