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Sunday, 11 June 2017

Lives of the Generals - Part 1

(Anecdotes about Thimayya)

by Mookonda Nitin Kushalappa

In 1948 Pakistani raiders invaded Kashmir and war with India was imminent. The then Lt. Gen. Kodandera Madappa Cariappa became head of the Western Command and led Lt. Gen. S. M. Shrinagesh and Maj. Gen. Kodandera Subayya Thimayya. It was during this war that Thimayya helped India secure Ladakh.

Without oxygen cylinders, the famed fighter pilot Mehr Singh, who later became Air Commodore, flew Major General Thimayya 23,000 feet above sea level over uncharted mountainous territory. After Thimayya landed safely in Leh, Ladakh, he commanded tanks in the 11,500 feet high Zojila pass and destroyed 25 enemy army bunkers, despite heavy snowfall. This showed that Thimayya was not afraid to take risks and that he was able to lead dangerous operations because of his dynamic personality.

Thimayya was commissioned into the army in 1926. During WWII, he successfully commanded active operations in Burma and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) for his services. He represented India during the surrender of the Japanese and was awarded the 'Keys to Manila' in the Philippines.

Thimayya became the chairman of the Neutral Nations Repatriation Committee after the Korean War (1950-1953). It was a delicate task since he had to manage troops from different nationalities. It was his team's responsibility to ensure that the large number of North Korean and South Korean PoWs were safely sent to their respective homes. For this role Thimayya won accolades internationally.

The two generals from Kodagu, Field Marshal K. M. Cariappa and General K. S. Thimayya, eventually rose to become chiefs of the Indian army. Officers such as Cariappa and Thimayya were able to create awe in their seniors as well, which was no easy task. Even Nehru, the first PM of India, who felt this way, had to do something about it.

Khushwant Singh, the novelist and journalist, states that during government ceremonies V K K Menon, the then defence minister, would take General Thimayya around in his car. Menon would sit next to the driver and hence make Thimayya to sit in the back seat. Thimayya found this awkward; he was being treated as more important than his boss, the Union minister in-charge of the armed forces. But Thimayya found a way to get out of this. He would take up the driving wheel himself and make the driver sit behind. Then he would chat with Menon as he drove the car.

Wing Commander (retd) R V Parasnis writes in the Rediff Special : “The differences between Menon, the defence minister, and General Thimayya, chief of army staff, grew over the former's interference in military matters and promotions and postings of officers, as Thimayya refused to be browbeaten. There came a time when he resigned in protest (possibly on the matter of promoting Gen. Kaul out of turn). Nehru worked his charm and managed to get Thimayya to withdraw his resignation, but eventually spoke in Parliament criticising the general, contrary to what he had promised.”

Cariappa had already demanded that India must face China. But Nehru didn't heed. While Thimayya informed the PM and the defence minister about the possibility of war breaking between India and China he was not taken seriously. In 1961 Thimayya retired as the army chief and China had already started attacking India.

General Pran Nath Thapar succeeded Thimayya as the Army Chief. China invaded India and then the 1962 Sino-India war broke out. Lt. Gen. Brij Mohan Kaul was put in-charge of the war efforts in the north-east. The war ended with China voluntarily withdrawing its offensive while it was still winning. Gen. Kaul then resigned from his post.

Major General Kodandera Arjun Muthanna is related to both Field Marshal Cariappa and General Thimayya. He was commissioned into the 10th Battalion of the Garhwal Rifles Regiment, then served in the 18th Battalion which was posted in Sri Lanka and later commanded the 12th Battalion. He had the following anecdote to narrate.

“Timmy was known to the family as Dubbu, a loving diminutive for his real name of Subayya. My uncle (father's younger brother) told us how he was sent to live with Timmy's family at Sunnyside in late 1920s (their residence in Madikeri, which after being the office of the District Transport Office is now being converted into Gen Thimayya Museum). My uncle used to peep into the ballroom, from the the stair case, watching, in wonder, guests of Timmy's parents dancing to the music of the band which was brought in from Bangalore. My uncle resented having to dress up and wear shoes and a couple of days later my uncle kicked off his shoes and fled back to his mother.”

“Both the Generals were known to be charismatic leaders. Cariappa's insistence on form and rules was apparent in all aspects of his life, professional and personal. He was always dressed formally as respect to the person who was visiting him. While Cariappa was a stickler for rules and form, Thimayya was more informal and jovial.”

The photographs are from the books 'Field Marshal K M Cariappa' (Niyogi books, 2007) by his son Air Marshal K C 'Nanda' Cariappa, 'Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw', by Brigadier Panthaki and Mrs. Panthaki (Niyogi books, 2014) and the article's author.

Captions : 1. A 1962 cartoon in The Pioneer newspaper, Lucknow, showing Cariappa waking up the politicians as China attacks.
2. Cariappa awarding Dhyan Chand a trophy in 1951.
3. Field Marshals Manekshaw and Cariappa, 1986
4. General Thimayya's statue in Madikeri.
5. General Thimayya with the then Major General Manekshaw in the Gorkha regiment barracks.

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