Congress Chronicles – How Gen. Thimayya was let down by PM Nehru, leading to defeat in 1962 war

This article will throw light on Gen. Thimayya’s resignation and subsequent withdrawal, and how he was let down by the country’s then political leadership. First, a little about his credentials. He is the only Bharatiya officer to have commanded a brigade in WWII. He successfully commanded a division in 1947-48 Kashmir war and his induction of tanks into Zoji-La was acclaimed worldwide.

In 1959, Timmy was the Chief of Army Staff (COAS) when war clouds with China were looming on the horizon. He was cognisant of the shortfalls in force levels and logistics / equipment to face a realistic Chinese threats. His proposals on actions for dealing with this were rebuffed by Defence Minister Krishna Menon.

The Chief was presenting facts which were politically inconvenient and contrary to the assurances the Defence Minister and PM had been giving parliament and people that,

(a) There was no threat of war from China and

(b) If it came to that, we were in a position to defeat them.

When Menon did not heed to the military advice, Thimayya thought it was his duty to bring the matter to the PM’s notice. Not only did the PM not pay heed to his warnings, Menon took him to task for bringing the matters to PM’s notice over his head. Thimayya put in his papers.

This was on 31 August 1959. That evening Nehru called Thimayya to his house and pacified him, assuring him that he would take necessary steps to set matters right. He also pressed Thimayya to withdraw his resignation, which he did being a gentleman.

The matter was leaked to the press, and there was an uproar in the parliament the next day. It was downplayed, made out to be one of ‘procedural difficulties experienced by him (Timmy)’ due to ‘unconventional approach of Mr Krishna Menon’. Nehru promised to clarify next day.

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One of the issues Thimayya had raised was out of turn promotion of Gen BM Kaul. Nehru defended his prodigy and dismissed this fact. He went on to mislead the parliament about the conversation he had with Thimayya.

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Building on the narrative, he went on to assure the parliament about the state of defence preparedness and progress of the ‘defence factories’ in meeting the needs of the forces. He also praised Menon who was the actual root cause of all the problems.

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Nehru went on to obliquely blame Thimayya for leaking the resignation episode to the press by implying that it was between the two of them, and he had not told anyone about it.

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Not everyone was taken in. Prof Ranga, Congress’s own MP, said Nehru defended Menon but not Thimayya (amounting to blaming him for the problem) “We want to be assured that the Prime Minster will be as keen to maintain the prestige of the Chiefs of Staff as …. his colleague”.

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Cornered by his own MP, Nehru went on to give a reluctant, left handed compliment to Thimayya, while in the same breath criticising him for putting in his resignation.

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When probed again about the reason behind the resignation, Nehru again tried to make light of it, passing it off as “Temperamental Differences” between Thimayya and Menon. Other matters of defence criticalities raised by Thimayya were dismissed as “trivial”.

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Still not convinced, another Congress MP Chettiar argued that people of such calibre and position don’t resign on temperamental issues, it was insinuated that Thimayya probably resigned out of embarrassment for ‘going over Menon’s head’ to Nehru.

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Finding members still not convinced, the speaker came to Nehru’s rescue, telling the members if they disagreed with the government they could “muster the necessary strength and dislodge the Government”.

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Nehru, thus turned the tables on a possible political disaster. Resignation of the COAS would have exposed his false assurances about national security and put his pet Menon in a difficult position. Instead, he made Thimayya out to be petulant resigning for ‘temperamental reasons’.

In November 1959 Nehru made a statement in Lok Sabha: “at no time since independence have our forces been in better condition .. backed by greater industrial production than today.. I am quite confident that our defence forces are well capable of looking after our security.”

Nehru continued to perpetuate this myth, probably believing that China would never actually attack Bharat and expose his lies. Thimayya retired in 1961, and the pliable duo of Kaul and Thapar never told Nehru or Menon anything they didn’t want to hear.

(This article has been compiled from the tweet thread of @ragarwal – an Army veteran, author & consultant)

Addendum

The article How Nehru, Menon conspired against army chief Thimayya which appeared in Hindustan Times on 13 Feb 2016, is an excerpt from Shiv Kunal Verma’s thoroughly researched book ‘1962 – The war that wasn’t’ which shows how Nehru and Krishna Menon conspired to discredit General Thimayya, setting in motion a chain of events that contributed to India’s rout in the Himalayas. Here’s a quote from the book –

…when the first Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, General Sir Rob Lockhart, went to Nehru with a formal defence paper that needed a policy directive from the prime minister, Nehru had exclaimed: ‘Rubbish! Total rubbish! We don’t need a defence policy. Our policy is ahimsa (non-violence). We foresee no military threats. As far as I am concerned you can scrap the army—the police are good enough to meet our security needs.’ It’s a different matter that Nehru had to eat his words by the end of October 1947 itself when the tribal hordes invaded Kashmir.


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