Following World War I, under intense pressure, the colonial administration granted select Indians a temporary King's Commission. In 1919, Cariappa joined the first such batch in Indore and joined the Carnatic Infantry in Bombay as a Temporary Second Lieutenant and was promoted to Lieutenant in 1923.
As Captain, he served with the British-Indian Army's 37 (Prince of Wales) Dogra in Mesopotamia. In 1939, in the 2nd (Queen Victoria's Own) Rajput Light Infantry, he was made Staff Captain and saw action in World War II in Syria and Iran and later much closer to home in Burma. For his important contribution to repelling the combined forces of the Japanese Imperial Army and the Azad Hind Fauj, he was made Officer of the Order of the British Empire. After the War, he was made Brigadier in the Frontier Brigade, during which time he commanded Ayub Khan, Pakistan's first military dictator. Of course, at that time, nobody truly believed that Pakistan would even come to exist. In 1947, he became the first Indian to attend the Imperial Defense College in Camberly, UK.
Partitioning the Forces
In 1947, India was partitioned into two dominions and an Army Committee was setup to divide forces between the two new countries. It was a difficult time for everyone, but he took it in his stride, maintaining the highest levels of professionalism. After Partition was completed in 1949, was made Major General and appointed Deputy Chief of the General Staff, when the First Kashmir War broke out. As GOC-in-C of the Western Command, he was instrumental in securing, among others, Kargil and Leh from the invading force.
One defining trait of Cariappa was his refusal to see the Indian Army go down the same route as the Pakistani. While he was open to Indian soldiers practicing their faith, he refused to allow the Army to adopt any religious doctrines. He was clear that any man of any religion could serve in the Army as long as they remained faithful to India. Indeed, he reposed faith in the Indian Constitution and firmly believed in civilian control. This was indeed prophetic because the Pakistani Army, in contrast, wrested civilian control and took over the state soon after.
To this day, the Indian Army continues to hold on to their first native Commander-in-Chief's beliefs on political and religious neutrality, which is a defining feature that has distinguished India from all neighboring countries.
Cariappa used his significant experience to assist other forces in need after retirement. He traveled extensively to Britain, America and Japan and served as High Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand. Closer home, he visited the forward lines in the 1971 Bangladesh War of Liberation, which was fought by the Allied Forced of Mukti Bahini and the Indian Army in the Eastern Theater, and moved the troops to fight on. Significantly, these forces were led by Sam Manekshaw, who went on to become India's first Field Marshal. Indeed, given his decisive role in carving a national army out of an Imperial one, he was quite respected in the forces and continues to be so.
As a mark of gratitude for his services, he was honored with the Order of the Chief Commander of the Legion of Merit by US President Truman in 1950. In 1983, his nation honored him with the rank of Field Marshal, the highest military rank-equivalent in the Indian Army.
He died on 15 May, 1993, peacefully, in Bangalore, at the ripe age of 94. He had seen India go through the ravages of Partition, the Kashmir Wars (he died before the Kargil War), the Bangladesh War of Liberation, the IPKF in Sri Lanka, Indira Gandhi's Emergency, the Indo-China War, the 'Smiling Buddha' nuclear tests, and 1991 Economic Liberalization. As a patriot and a keen observer of the affairs of the nation, he certainly took an interest in the affairs of the country that he loved so dearly. And as a nation, we are forever grateful.
"An Indian to the last breath would remain an Indian. For me, there are only two 'stans' - Hindustan and Faujistan" - Field Marshal KM Cariappa.Acknowledgement: Opinions 24x7 thanks +abhinav singhal for pointing out an error in this article.