Military Literature Festival

How Indians rose up to be Officers

For long, they were given petty roles in the British army. Indianisation was achieved in 1949 with Lt Gen KM Cariappa becoming C-in-C

How Indians rose up to be Officers

A first: Field Marshall KM Cariappa went to the Royal Military College in Sandhurst; (left) President Giani Zail Singh hands over Field Marshal baton to General Cariappa

Brig MP Singh (retd)

The Army Day is celebrated on January 15. The day marks the completion of Indianisation of the army by appointment of a native Indian officer, Lt Gen KM Cariappa, as C-in-C of the Indian Army on January 15, 1949. Cariappa replaced the last British C-in-C, General Francis Robert Butcher.

The struggle for Indianisation was long and arduous. Pandit Nehru recorded in his autobiography, Discovery of India: “All key positions were kept in the hands of Englishmen and no Indian could hold the King’s Commission. A raw English subaltern was senior to the oldest and the most experienced Indian Non-Commissioned Officer or those holding the Viceroy’s Commissions. No Indian could be employed at army headquarters except as a petty clerk in the accounts department.”

Throughout World War I, Indian leaders supported the war effort in the hope that for the acquisition of freedom and democracy, it was necessary to back the British in their struggle. But the British were unscrupulous towards Indians. Consequently, the tempo of hatred of the British rule rose.

The highest rank obtainable by an Indian in the army was that of Subedar, and that too was given at a ripe age of 65 to 70 years. In the third session in December 1887, the Congress demanded that the military service in the commissioned grades should be opened to the natives of the country and that the government should establish military colleges in the country where natives could be trained for a military career as officers of the Indian Army. General Frederick Roberts, C-in-C, rejected the proposal on the ground, saying: “No rank that we could bestow upon them could cause him to be considered equal by the British Officer, or looked up to by the British soldier in the same way that he looks up to the last joined British subaltern.” Paradoxically, Roberts was full of admiration for Rajputs, Sikhs, Dogras, Jats, Gorkhas and select Mohamedans. Brigaded with British troops, he said, “I would be proud to lead them against any European enemy.”

Under constant pressure from freedom fighters, a proposal was put up according to which Indians of higher classes were to receive commissions in only two regiments, one of cavalry and the other of the infantry. The scheme was rejected by the Secretary of State, the Earl of Kimberlay, who recommended that two local regiments might be raised and located on the Baluch frontier for the protection of Dera Ghazi Khan and Pashin. The Indian officers appointed to these units were required to be placed under the supervision of British officers, which was not accepted. Another scheme in which Indians holding commissions were to be given all privileges, except the command, was considered. The Secretary of State accepted the scheme because of its modesty, for, bestowal of a mere honorary rank of high grade was in reality to be lower than Second Lieutenant which emphasised its inferiority. Honorary commissions were granted for ‘honoris cause’ to a few VCOs of exceptional ability, but, they were not counted among the effective strength of the King’s Commissioned Officers.

Yet another proposal of Indianisation of the army was put up in 1900 by Lord Curzon, the Governor General. He proposed the formation of an Imperial Cadet Corps of about 20 to 30 men, drawn from princely and noble families of India. As a result, in 1905, a special form of King’s Commission in His Majesty’s Native Land Forces was instituted for Indians who had qualified through the Imperial Cadet Corps. The commission only carried the power of command over Indian troops, and those who held it were not to rise above the rank of Major. The arrangement was frustrating as only men from princely classes could obtain it. The number of officers holding these commissions was only seven in 1917, and was increased to nine by the end of World War I.

The struggle continued

Throughout WWI, Indian leaders, notably Gandhiji and Lokmanya Tilak, supported the war effort in the hope that for the acquisition of freedom and democracy, it was necessary to back the British in their struggle. They pledged unstinted support to the war. But the British were unscrupulous towards Indians. Punjabis settled in the US asked Indians abroad to return to India and free their homeland from colonial government. Termed Ghadarites, seven of them were hanged to death on November 16, 1916. Such incidents raised the tempo of hatred of the British rule. To calm the Indians, on August 20, 1917, Secretary of State for India, Edwin Montagu, announced in the House of Commons: “The policy of His Majesty’s Government is that of increasing association of Indians in every branch of administration and the gradual development of self-governing institutions with a view to progressive realisation of responsible government in India as an integral part of the British empire.”

The Montagu-Chelmsford report tabled in November that year was full of praise for the gallant and faithful services of the Indians during the war, which rendered Indians eligible to hold King’s Commission in the army. As a result, 10 vacancies at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, were reserved annually for Indians with good family background, which was undoubtedly an important step in so far as it served as a breakthrough for their appointment as Commissioned Officers. The measure, nevertheless, fell much below the Indian aspirations. They considered that against a loss of 53,485 dead, 64,350 wounded and 3,762 missing Indians during the war, the reward of 10 vacancies yearly at Sandhurst was too modest.

WWI ended on November 11, 1918 and the sacrifices by Indians were rewarded by Jallianwala Bagh Massacre on April 13, 1919, which changed the attitude of the freedom fighters from supportive to aggressive. When the Legislative Assembly met in February and March 1921, the Indian members pressed their demand for greater association of Indians in defence forces and Indianisation of the officer cadre. Consequently, a committee headed by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru was appointed and its report was submitted on March 21, 1921. The three resolutions that concerned Indianisation were: 1) Not less than 25 per cent of the King’s Commissions granted every year should be given to His Majesty’s Indian subjects to start with; 2) Adequate facilitates should be provided in India for the preliminary training of Indians to fit them to enter the Royal Military College, Sandhurst; 3) The desirability of establishing in India a military college such as Sandhurst should be kept in view.

Speaking in the Legislative Assembly, Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru said: “To my mind the Indianisation of the commissioned ranks of the army is even more important than any question of immediate constitutional advance. Without an efficient Indian Army, officered by our own nationals, self-government for Indians must be a very unreal and shadowy thing…”

The pressure led to the establishment of the Prince of the Wales Royal Military College at Dehradun. This institution was intended to impart preliminary training to Indians preparing for entry into Sandhurst. The institute opened on March 13, 1922. Arrangements were made to enable 70 boys to be trained for six years.

Another step forward was the setting up of the Military Requirements Committee under the chairmanship of the C-in-C, Lord Rawlinson, who agreed with the recommendations of the Sapru Committee. In January 1923, the Viceroy conveyed to the Secretary of State a scheme of Indianisation which outlined the procedure for complete Indianisation in three stages of 14 years each and opening of an Indian Military College. The Secretary of State was very annoyed on reading the proposed scheme and telegraphically said: “Reports of a widely held belief, not only among Indians but among Englishmen, are being constantly received in England that our mission in India is regarded by us as drawing to a close and that preparations are being made by us for retreat. Such an idea if it exists is a complete fallacy, and its continuous existence can only lead to intensified challenges to our authority and a decline in morale among services…. We regret we cannot sanction your recommendation for Indianisation.”

Simon Commission

After prolonged correspondence, General Rawlinson in a speech to the Legislative Assembly announced the intention of the government to Indianise eight units. The Indian member of the Viceroy’s Executive Council called the 8-unit scheme ‘unsatisfactory and insulting’. In June 1925, a new committee called Indian Sandhurst Committee or Skeen Committee was appointed. This committee recommended that the number of vacancies at Sandhurst be increased from 10 to 20, Indians be made eligible as Kings’ Commissioned Officers in Artillery, Signals and Engineers too and that a military college be opened in India. The government did not accept the recommendations of the Skeen Committee in full but agreed to increase the vacancies reserved for Indians at Sandhurst from 10 to 20 per year.

Reacting to the new scheme, Pandit Motilal Nehru pointed out that “the whole thing is that there is no intention of putting India on her feet at an early date. He went on to address the Legislative Assembly: “I may say at once that the word Indianisation is a word I hate from the bottom of my heart. I cannot understand that word. What do you mean by Indianising India... The army is ours, we have to officer our own army, there is no question of Indianising there. What we want is to get rid of Europeanisation of the Army…”

Simon Commission arrived in India in 1928. Relying on the British argument that independence or dominion status could not be granted to India till it had its own national army officered and manned by Indians, a committee under the chairmanship of Pandit Motilal Nehru demanded ‘stepping up of the Indianisation of the army, specially by providing opportunities for military training in the country’. The Committee considered it obligatory on the government to establish military training schools and colleges in India. A cadet college was established at Indore where KM Cariappa was trained to be an officer.

The military college

The political situation of the country was such that the demand of the Indians for Indianising the army at a rapid pace could not be withheld for long. As President of the Indian National Congress, Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru hoisted the national flag of India on January 26, 1930 and passed the memorable resolution on the establishment of a sovereign independent republic of India. Finding the Indians adamant about a National Army of their own, the British were obliged to appoint on May 23, 1931 a committee under the chairmanship of the C-in-C General (later Field Marshal) Sir Philip Chetwode in order to work out the detail of the establishment of a military college in India to train candidates for commission.

The Chetwode Committee recommended the establishment of an Indian military college with a training course of three years, the age of entry being 18 to 20 years. The college, named the Indian Military Academy, was opened at the Railway Staff College building in Dehradun on October 1, 1932.

The first batch of 40 cadets, which included Sam Manekshaw, arrived at the IMA on September 30, 1934. They called themselves ‘Pioneer’ and they passed out in December 1934. An officer senior to the Pioneers was Cariappa, who after schooling in Coorg and graduating from Presidency College, Madras, joined the Cadet College at Indore where he did extremely well. He was sent to Royal Military College, Sandhurst, and commissioned in 1919 as 2/Lt. After active service in Iraq, Syria, Iran and Burma during World War II in 1946, he was promoted to Brigadier. During the Kashmir War of 1947-48, he assumed charge of operations and got two quick promotions. On January 15, 1949 he was appointed C-in-C Indian Army, which completed the process of Indianisation. Since then, January 15 is celebrated as Army Day.

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