Nehru and the Indian Army
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 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.
He followed up 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 distruct 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 In short he lacked strategic vision.
Nehru's Paranoid Fear of a Coup
In the early fifties, 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.
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.
Both these coups unnerved Nehru and he decided to meddle with army promotions to see that loyalist generals were promoted. He thus did tremendous damage to army command and control. In addition 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 though to obviate a military coup, India and its defence be dammed.
Nehru's House Crashes
Nehru next 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.
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 house built by Nehru crashed and his reputation as world leader was trashed. He lost face and after this defeat rarely ventured out of India as he felt shamed. But he had done great disservice to the nation by downgrading the army.