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Nehru and the Indian Army

Updated on December 19, 2017


When India achieved freedom in 1947, it inherited a highly professional army. At that time the C-in- C of the Indian army was a British general Sir Claude Auchinleck. He was a man with stature and oversaw the division of the Indian army and its assets between India and Pakistan.

He was followed by Sir Robert Macdonald Lockhart of the Sikh Frontier Force and Sir Francis Roy Bucher of the Scottish rifles. So long as these men were in charge as C-in- C, India, Nehru kept quiet. In 1949, he had his first swing at the army and promoted General KC Cariappa as C-in- C, superseding the more able general Kulwant Singh. Nehru had some fear of the army as hhe felt that all along it had helped British rule and he wanted to downgrade it further.

He had his way with the next chief of the armed forces, General Rajendra Singh Jadeja and abolished the post of Commander-in-Chief and replaced it with COAS (Chief of Army Staff). This was a significant and shrewd move by Nehru, as he at one stroke demoted the status of the army chief.

This was the beginning and after that Nehru’s distrust of the army increased. The fact is that all his life he had sat on satyagrah and civil disobedience movements led by Gandhi and had no comprehension of what is the role of the army and its effect in power projection around the world. In short he lacked strategic vision.

Nehru's Paranoid Fear of a Coup

In the early fifties, the sub-continent was in a state of ferment and the countries adjacent to India, namely Pakistan and Burma saw military coups. In Pakistan General Ayub Khan seized power, in a blood less coup that overthrew the civil government. Ayub Khan was an officer of the British Indian army and had many friends among the leading Indian generals in the Indian army. Ayub came to power in 1958 and continued till 1968, when he was replaced by another military general, Yahiya Khan.

The significance of the rise of Ayub Khan was not lost on Nehru and he began to make his own conjectures. The situation was made more complicated for Nehru, when in Burma General Ne Win sat in the driver’s seat. This was a surprise to Nehru as the Burmese were Buddhists and he could not understand how a pacifist country could allow an army general to become the supreme leader. Army rule in Burma led to some bloodshed and Ne Win is credited with a statement during an agitation “Army is out to kill and not fraternize with agitators " or words to that effect.

Both these coups unnerved Nehru and he decided to meddle with army promotions to see that loyalist generals were only promoted, who would be beholden to him. He thus did tremendous damage to army command and control. In addition many leaders of the Congress party led by the National President Dr Rajendra Prasad asked that the army be disbanded as it was a relic of imperialism.

Nehru did not disband the army but he set in motion command and controls that took away all initiative from the army top brass and he himself and his appointed defense minister Krishna Menon began to run the army. By these measures Nehru thought to obviate a military coup, India and its defence be dammed.

Ill equipped Indian troops against China
Ill equipped Indian troops against China

Nehru's House Crashes

Nehru had his way and he appointed a supine General Thapar as Army Chief. He also shelved all proposals to modernize the army and no new weaponry in tanks or field guns were added to the army arsenal. In addition one of his cousins General BM Kaul was appointed a Lieutenant General and he used troops to build a housing colony, instead of carrying out battle exercises. This edifice was bound to come down and China proved the nemesis of Nehru.

Nehru had lost almost 30000 square miles of Indian Territory to China, due to his failure to ask the army to occupy the vacant lands. The Chinese moved in and occupied the area known as Aksai Chin. Nehru woke up and without a thought asked the army to “throw out" the Chinese. It was an off the cuff remark, but China took it literally and struck across the Himalayan border. The Indian army thanks to the machinations of Nehru was caught with its pants down and suffered a massive defeat.

The house built by Nehru crashed and his reputation as a world leader was trashed. He lost face and after this defeat rarely ventured out of India as he felt shamed. But the fact remains that he was to blame for this predicament and history will not forgive Nehru, for his dereliction of duty towards the army and failure to understand that the position of a country in the polity of nations depends on military power


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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR


      3 years ago from Abu Dhabi

      I agree SK, Subhas Bose would have made a great prime minister

    • profile image


      3 years ago

      Who has no original power to become the boss of the country will always be in fear. If the first Indian Prime Minister were Subhas Chandra Bose.


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