Picking up the threads of new wartime assignments, Cariappa found himself in Baghdad once again. This time, he had joined the 10th Indian Division under Major General William Slim who was once his role model. General Headquarters had especially chosen him for this area, as they combined to become a formidable cohesive force at the Command level in the field. Here, in the capacity as DAA & QMG, Cariappa's engagements took him to Syria, Iran and Egypt. Thus was heralded the marvellous ascension of Cariappa under British Army.
A very interesting episode occurred while Cariappa was on the move with the Indian Army, through a small city called Der'azr in Syria. Someone had spread a mischievous rumour in advance in the city that the approaching Indian Army will be molesting their women-folk. The poor Mayor took immediate precautions by ordering that all the women must remain indoors till these soldiers cleared out.
The effect of such an order can easily be fathomed. So, when it became impossible for these wretched women to bear this confinement, the cheerless Mayor gathered his courage and met Cariappa and asked for his permission if he could allow the women to come out of their homes. Cariappa was shocked at this strange request and enquired why in the first place had they been restricted in such a manner. He was hugely bewildered when he heard the Mayor expressing his fear about the Indian soldiers' assumed misconduct. Cariappa calmly reassured the Mayor and the women were soon on the streets and moving about happily. Not a single one had been harmed.
As an initiation into ascension, Cariappa was awarded the 'Mention-in-Despatches' medal, for his excellent work in this area, which is given for conspicuous gallantry. During this time, he visited the frontlines and saw to it that all needs of the jawans were addressed. In the light of his close liaison, he devised new alternatives with his shrewd planning and thus provided better logistic support. But more than this, his deep love for his men had made him very popular among them. They did not mind his 'stick' of discipline and hard task-mastership. By now, his devotion forced the British Anti-Indian lobby to crumble. He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. It implied an important change in the British way of thinking and brought in a rich harvest of fruits for India vis-a-vis the Indian Army.
Lieutenant General William Slim, who had also been promoted, was among the first to send his warmest congratulations, coming to know of K.M. Cariappa's ascension to a further prestigious post. It was a moving letter, in which he poured lavish praise on Cariappa, saying that there was no one better than him to work with. This letter was received by Cariappa after Slim's forces had retreated from Burma.
As a result of the changes in the army, Cariappa was made the first Indian Commanding Officer (CO) of a Battalion. This meant he was the first Indian to have British officers under him. He had finally succeeded in impressing the Britishers to Indianise the Indian Army, which meant higher promotions not only for himself, but also for other Indian officers. This was an important milestone not only in his ascend towards the top, but also for the Indian Army to move ahead with renewed confidence.
In his race to ascend to the top, Cariappa was given the command of a battalion to be raised on 15th April 1942. This battalion was named as 7th Rajput Machine-gun Battalion. He couldn't ask for more when the orders allowed him a free hand to put his act together at Fatehgarh, with eight British and three Indian officers (KCOs) as his subordinates.
Not outlined but implicit in the orders, were the expectations of the highest level of dynamism, pride and prestige. With the allotment of the new Vickers machine-guns and the Range-Finders which were still in the process of final trials for accuracy, the Battalion was listed as one of the elite formations and Cariappa had to make it fit for 'operational readiness' at the earliest. He took up the job as a challenge and within a span of just one year, this unit lived up to its expectations and could move into the battlefield at just two hours' notice. With Cariappa's ascension in armed forces, came more responsibilities, which he adjusted to the fullest. The Battalion had been thus put through day and night rigorous training sessions. It was nothing less than a miracle. Cariappa had motivated his jawans with the same spirit of self-confidence with which he always faced every challenge.
On 1st April 1943, Lt. Col. Cariappa was a very proud man, as he handed over the charge of this unit to Lt. Col. G.B. McNamara. By this time, this leading formation had undergone further conversions. Major General Frank Messervy, who was later allotted to Pakistan Army, evaluated Cariappa's performance and said that he was fit for Command Formations. As such, K.M. Cariappa's road to ascension was even more polished in the way, with every top ranking official recommending about his excellence.
On being relieved, Cariappa was urgently called to the Headquarters, Eastern Command, Nomkum, Ranchi to plan and provide logistic support for the entire Eastern Region. Here, General Slim's 14th Army was preparing to re-capture Burma from the Japanese. Incidentally, U.S. forces were also thrown in here under the American Lieutenant General Stilwell and this involved extra liaison work for Cariappa.
This was the time when Mahatma Gandhi's Quit India Movement was causing widespread unrest in India after failure of the Cripps Mission. The mounting countrywide protests had put the British Raj in a tight spot. The only silver lining was that in the midst of their despair, the Indian Army did not let them down either inside the country or abroad in Africa or Europe and the recruitment in the Army went on unhampered. This was, of course, not true for Singapore and Malaya where Netaji's INA (Indian National Army) was creating havoc.
By August 1943, i.e., within four months of Cariappa's arrival at Nomkum, a new South East Asia Command (SEAC) was formed under Admiral Louis Mountbatten and the 14th Army became a part of it. In the new set up, Cariappa volunteered to be in the front lines where multi-pronged operations had been launched against the advancing enemy which included amphibian and air assaults. It is interesting to note that the Royal Indian Air Force (RIAF) which had just completed its 10th year on 1st April, 1943 started pounding the Japanese in their air-to-ground and air-to-air combat sorties, while the United States Air Force (USAF) mounted their bombing runs by its Liberator Squadrons. These 4-engine bombers were later inducted in the RIAF.
During this ongoing period of wartime turbulence, Cariappa was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for his meritorious Staff services. Cariappa's ascension in British Army was furthered in the upcoming days. He was now a Colonel and was recommended for the Field Rank of a Brigadier. He received this promotion on 1st November 1944 and was posted in the Wilcox Committee for a year as a member of the Re-Organisation Committee for the Indian Army.
The situation in the closing years of the 20th century was just a shadow of what it was during the earlier times when Brigadier Cariappa was given the command of the Bannu Frontier Brigade in early 1946. Bannu lies in the heart of the Frontier Province and is well connected by roads and a metre-gauge railway. The deadly guerrilla attacks had turned this area into a 'British graveyard'. This compelled the top-brass to bring back Cariappa here for a second time, after a gap of ten years.
A fanatic fakir, Haji Mirza Khan was whipping up religious sentiments of the tribes against the Britishers. Cries of 'Jehad' against these 'infidels' rang out all over this country of desolate mountains. British policy of using brutal force in dealing with these insurgents had not changed much in these ten years. The tribes were baying for blood and fire and sword for these Kafirs. They created devastation on the convoys, camps and garrisons by blowing up bridges, cutting the water-mains and sniping on the sentries guarding the pickets and outlying units.
The increasing number of casualties contributed to an atmosphere of frustration among the soldiers, but the Britishers were in no mood to call it quits. Knowing the nature of the tribal folk, Cariappa decided to tackle the difficult situation of insurgency with his two-pronged policy of compassion and tough operational flexibility. K.M. Cariappa's ascension while in British Indian Army had ensured foolproof planning for war strategies. He established a rapport with Mirza Khan on the one hand but on the other, he adopted a new day-night counter-guerrilla strategy and his troops began paying them back in the same coin. The fortunes of this kind of war change easily.
One day, his sincere efforts to win their hearts bore fruit all of a sudden when he chanced upon a group of Pathan women resting on the roadside with loads of water-pitchers. Cariappa enquired about it and found that these women had to fetch drinking water from a place, many miles away. He was deeply moved. Returning to his camp, he talked to his jawans and a bore-well was ready in no time, near the village itself. Next week, the same fakir was at Cariappa's door along with a group of armed tribals. They embraced him tightly and addressed him as Khalifa (God's Messenger). That was precisely the day when the tribal insurgency was tamed. But their Khalifa did more than that. Cariappa saw to it that no Hindus or Sikhs of that area were harmed when they left their homes and migrated to India.
Cariappa stayed there for only about a year. He was called to Delhi to preside over one of the court martials of the INA (Indian National Army) prisoners. The fate of these personnel had become a sensitive topic of national dimensions, which clashed with British prestige. Although, on gaining Independence, India treated them as freedom fighters, Cariappa opposed their re-entry into the Army on grounds of principles. Though Cariappa's sublime ascension during British rule was not tinged with anti-Indian sentiment, yet he was quite strict in matters of armed forces rules and regulations, which at times cropped up in clashing views.
In preparation for granting Independence to India, Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck chose Cariappa to attend a course at the Imperial Defence College, U.K. in January 1947. Incidentally, Field Marshal Slim, Cariappa's long-time friend, was the Commandant here. Although Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery had initially expressed his reservations, Cariappa prevailed upon everybody when his views were heard on the partition of India.
By March 1947, the then British Prime Minister, Sir Clement Attlee relieved Field Marshal Wavell and sent Lord Mountbatten to India. Meanwhile, Cariappa's stay at the Imperial Defence College was cut short as the Indian Armed Forces-the Army, Navy and Air Force had to be divided in view of the fast-moving political events in the wake of the partition of the country into India and Pakistan.
As the modalities for dividing the Armed Forces were being worked out, Cariappa opposed it vigorously. However, he was not alone in voicing his opposition. Thousands of soldiers became openly sentimental at the prospect of seeing their colleagues going separate ways. Cariappa made desperate attempts to convince both Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah. He proposed to keep the Army undivided for a period of at least five years. Chakravarti Rajagopalachari liked the proposal. Lord Mountbatten praised Cariappa's bold stand and placed them before Nehru, Jinnah and Liaquat Ali with slight modifications. To make them acceptable, he suggested that the Armed Forces of the two countries may be pooled together. But nobody accepted them.
The division of the Armed Forces was termed as-'Reconstitution' of the Indian Armed Forces. K.M. Cariappa's ascension during British Indian Army did not come to much avail when division of army men were considered. Indian government had gained a fresh status free from British supremacy, as such, British regulations were not taken into account. The only consolation for Cariappa was that most of the British officers had opted to remain behind. Their services were badly needed by India.
When the time came for parting, Cariappa presented a souvenir to his Muslim friends which showed two jawans-a Hindu and a Muslim-standing side by side pointing their guns at a common enemy. Then he delivered a moving speech and said, 'Au Revoir'-till we meet again! It is significant to note that he never said 'Good Bye' and the orchestra's notes 'Auld Lang Syne'-The good old days-echoed through the hall of Delhi Gymkhana Club. K.M. Cariappa's ascension never did make him a stricter, who would always look down upon his fellow officers. But, he had in the way, become even more submissive to army rules, governing everyone as his own.
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