Signed note by Army’s first Indian chief K M Cariappa found in archives: Military rule temporary measure, scrap political parties. General K M Cariappa didn’t want linguistic states

WEEKS AFTER Indira Gandhi won a landslide victory in the Lok Sabha elections of 1971, the first Indian to head the Indian Army, General K M Cariappa, who was later made Field Marshal, underlined in a clarificatory note that he was in favour of “a military rule, only as a temporary measure to put things right in the country”.

Exhorting Indians to “wake up” and “SPEAK”, he asserted that 90 per cent would “vote for a President’s cum Military Rule to save Democracy”.

The signed note of April 7, 1971 was recently discovered in Karnataka’s state archives. It was written as a clarification for the public after Cariappa had met the then Prime Minister, Home Minister and the Speaker of Lok Sabha following a Parliamentary debate about his comments advocating these measures while informally speaking to the press in Dhanbad in March 1970.

Cariappa was heavily criticised for those remarks, including in Parliament. It was then reported that he had met these leaders to apologise for his remarks, which he denied, asserting that he had “not gone back one inch”.

In the four-page typed note, Cariappa also advocated scrapping the Constitution, all political parties and linguistic states, and restricting adult franchise on the basis of “literacy”. He wanted only three political parties, on the lines of Labour, Liberal and Conservative in the UK, and a new Constitution to be framed after a general election is held when military rule had restored law and order and “things are going on well in the country”.

After a new Constitution is framed, he believed, “the President’s cum Military Rule would end and Democracy would re-enter in its pure form”. Blaming linguistic states for sounding “the death-knell for the unity of the country,” he proposed dividing “India into zones for administrative and economic convenience on the lines of the Army, such as Army Commands, Army Areas, Army Sub-areas and so on”.

General Cariappa was a highly respected and renowned military officer, whose ascension as the first Indian to the post of Commander-in-Chief is celebrated as Army Day on January 15, and had retired from active service in 1953. He had contested two Lok Sabha elections after his retirement, losing in both his attempts, and was made a Field Marshal by the Rajiv Gandhi government in 1986. He died in 1993 at the age of 94.

In the note, he asserts that his proposal of “President’s cum Military rule is not to be a permanent thing. It is to be only temporary until normalcy returns”. He writes that if the common man “feels that a spell of President’s cum Military Rule will give him security, give him better administration, a better life and so on, he has the right to demand it”.

However, he makes clear that he had “never been in favour of military coups”. He adds in the same vein that “there can never be, nor will there ever be, a Military Coup in India”.

The three reasons he ruled out a military coup were: vastness of the country; the three services are separate and have their own chiefs; and, the “heterogeneity of the Communities in the service would not be conducive to provide for a homogeneous outlook in this respect.”

He then goes on to explain that military rule can thus come only either “if the politicians willingly hand over the country to the Army as was done in a neighbouring country” or “if the people demand such a rule”. He clearly seemed to be batting for the second in the note.

The note was discovered by author and journalist, Sugata Srinivasaraju, who told The Indian Express: “The state archives is so disorganised that this note is wrongly attributed to 1948. I don’t know how it landed up there. It is put under the ‘private collection’ category. I don’t even know whose private collection it is.”

Cariappa’s statements about politics and democracy had triggered debate even in the early years after his retirement. It is believed that he was posted as the Indian High Commissioner to Australia and New Zealand from 1953 to 1956 by the government, to keep him away from the domestic scene.