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Nehru, General Thimayya and Tumultuous Events of 1959

An senior air warrior and political observer who has the pulse of the region and can sense a change when it comes.



Many writers of military history in India paint a rosy picture of General KS Thimayya who became the army chief after general Shrinigesh retired. He was the fourth Indian to be promoted to the army chief. It must be mentioned here the general KS Thimayya was third in the order of seniority and under normal circumstances, he would have retired. There were two other Lieutenant Generals namely Sant Singh and Kulwant Singh who were senior to him but Nehru and Krishna Menon(Defense minister) in their wisdom decided to supersede them

A point to be noted is that both these Lieutenant Generals were Sikhs, who had for long been the most loyal supporters of the British Raj. The Sikhs had taken part in all wars in support of the British Raj for close to 100 years right from the Opium Wars, The Boxer Rebellion, and the two World Wars.

The Sikhs were greatly preferred by the British because of their loyalty and martial ethos. Jawaharlal Nehru had an apathy to the army and all along felt that the army was an unnecessary appendage and maybe he also harbored resentment against the Sikhs who served in the army.

The two generals senior to Thimayya were bypassed. Both of them were 1925 batch officers from Sandhurst. They had impeccable credentials but Nehru because of a reason I do not like to state here decided to supersede them, probably he thought that Timmy would be a more compliant General.

Another point that readers may well ponder on, is why no Sikh was ever made the chief of the army for close to six decades after independence, though the officer cadre at one point was almost 30% Sikh. There is a lurking doubt among many that the simple reason is the community faced subtle discrimination after 1947.

The long and short of this is that both the Sikh General's was superseded and Thimayya became the army chief more by default than anything else.


Thimaiyya as chief

Thimayya became the Army chief at a time of great tension for India. Nehru had emasculated the army and it is on record that in 1948 when the chief of the army went to Nehru with a proposal for some reforms in the army, he is reported to have lost his shirt and said that he was not concerned with the army at all and as far as he was concerned, the army could be disbanded as the same job could be done by the police.

The atmosphere in the border countries like Pakistan and Burma was also hot and in both cases, the army had taken control of the government. Nehru had a nagging fear that something similar may happen in India and he set about defanging the army and creating a command and control structure that violated army discipline. General Thimmaya had no plan as to how to deal with Nehru and Menon. He had no vision regarding the northern border with China or how to pressurize the government to give importance to the army. He was particularly annoyed when Nehru announced in parliament that the Northeast Frontier Agency(NEFA) would be handed over to the army without any extra resource.

There were so many other small points, including the promotion of Major General BM Kaul, a cousin of Nehru to Lieutenant General. He, therefore, decided to do something very silly. On 31 August 1959, in a meeting with the defense minister Krishna Menon, he brought out his anger and promptly sent in his resignation.

This was a thoughtless decision taken on the spur of the moment and the same afternoon Nehru called Thimayya for a meeting. After a talk, the general took back his resignation. If you look at the incident dispassionately will show that Thimayya chickened out at the crunch. There was no point in resigning if he was going to withdraw the resignation, within hours of submitting it. Nehru rose up in parliament and stated that the general was wrong and all his objections were very trivial. This was a slap in the face of the general.

He continued to serve his full-term and retired and went away but he did incalculable harm to the army by his antics. Nehru probably felt that he had been ungrateful to him that he had made him chief after superseding two generals. In parliament, he berated the general and reiterated the supremacy of the civil over the military. We must remember when you resign you don't backtrack and then like a cat who has been thrown water at, go and sit back on the chair.


Last word

The incident in 1959, is actually a storm in a teacup. Nothing happened because it was unplanned and Thimayya had just acted on the spur of the moment. It would have been better if he had thought over and consulted some other army commanders and opted for a more serious course of action but probably he did not have that sort of courage.

This is not to say that the other two generals would've been better but the fact is resigning and then withdrawing the resignation shows that he was an impetuous man and it would have been better if he had spent time and resources in preparing service papers and presenting to the government for the improvement in the army equipment and deployment. It is possible Nehru would have rejected all this but at least it would have gone to record. As things stand no record exists that General Timmy had ever questioned the government in writing about the threat from the northern border.


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 06, 2021:

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Devika, Sweet of you to comment and say good things about my article.Thank you.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 06, 2021:

emge Thank you for sharing about the events in 1959. I enjoyed reading about the great history and you share interesting topics. History tells us a lot we missed of in the past and you know exactly how to enlighten us. Informative and thorough research on your topics invites readers to read more of your work.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 03, 2021:

Chitra, a big thank you.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 03, 2021:

Chitra, nice of you to spare time and comment. So welcome.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 03, 2021:

An interesting and informative article about the events of 1959. Good of you to share it with the readers. You write on a wide range of topics and I enjoy reading your articles.

Thank you for sharing this.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 03, 2021:

Pamela, sweet of you to comment.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 03, 2021:

This is an interesting part of India history, and Thimayya sure sounds awful. I can't imagine why he was promoted. Thanks for this information, MG.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 03, 2021:

Peggy, sweet of you to spare time and comment.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 03, 2021:

Thanks for filling in some more history of that era. I was a youngster when all of that was happening in the world. I remembered the name Nehru, but not much more.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 03, 2021:

Thank you Vanita for spending time commenting though girls invariably don't like these military topics.

Vanita Thakkar on April 03, 2021:

Informative and interesting. Thanks.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 03, 2021:

Thanks, Tom, wheels between wheels.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 03, 2021:

Tom. a pleasure to read your comments. Thapar batchmate of Thimayya, but total failure. Accepted orders from Jt Sec, MOD, and lower status of the chief. Yet government rewards him by making him an ambassador to Afghanistan.Gen Chowdhury does not come out with flying colors also, after the Pakistan thrust he advised Harbaksh to withdraw beyond the Beas river but Harbaksh refused and the rest is history.I shudder in case Harbaksh had withdrawn beyond Beas entire Punjab would've been lost. Supersession of Sinha was a blunder and Vaidya paid dearly for his yes sir attitude. Present CDS pro BJP man.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 03, 2021:

Tom, Thank you for your opinion and comment. Kulwant was in the Northwest frontier not by his choice but by GHQ at the same time Sant got his chance in Burma. After Timmy took back his resignation he lost his clout in the MOD; Krishna Menon became everything.There are so many points which I will write in subsequent articles and will also be the subject of my book which I am writing the Military History of India from 46 to 66.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 03, 2021:

Ravi, Thank you I am glad you are enjoying this military debate.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 03, 2021:

Tom, Thank you for commenting. Bear in mind that Maneckshaw made the army chief though he never took part in the 62 and 65 war, just on the basis of seniority though Sardar Swaran Singh wanted Harbakshh to be made the army chief after the sterling performance as -cinc Western command. In the evening Harbaksh was told by the defense minister that he would be chief and gave a small party in the Chelmsford club Delhi which my dad attended. The next morning Maneckshaw chief; was because of a midnight visit by JRD to Indira Gandhi.

Sant had a good battle record in Burma, Kulwant was the only general who in a letter to the government raise the issue of the northern border. But as I have written the reason behind superseding both these was not professionalism but something else.The fact remains that Timmy did a big blunder by his thoughtless action; when you resign you don't take your resignation back within two hours.All this is history now and things began to change in the army only once Vajpayee became Prime Minister and army positions began to be given to Sikhs. We have to call a spade a spade. The downslide of the army commenced with Carriapa When he accepted the downgrade of the CinC position to chief of the army COAS

Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on April 02, 2021:

Very interesting political game that maybe even compromised the security of the country at a crucial time when both China and Pakistan were breathing down our necks. There are no doubts our leaders had committed a lot of blundars in the pursuit to cling on to power.THanks, MG for this eye-opening article.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 02, 2021:

Parduman, Thank you very much for the comment.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on April 02, 2021:

Leslie, Thank you for your comment; You have raised a pertinent point.

Major Leslie on April 02, 2021:

The somersault by general Thimayya on giving the resignation and then withdrawing in a matter of hours is extremely silly.

Lt Col Parduman Singh on April 02, 2021:

It is a matter of regret that this incident took place. There is also no doubt that Lt general Sant Singh had an impeccable record and had fought in the British Indian army in Burma. He was the senior-most general and once he was superseded he immediately resigned but Nehru had no explanation as to why he superseded Sant Singh.Some officers are now talking as a cover-up that general Timmy had a better war record; this is a lot of BS as general Sant Singh having an equally illustrious record. You have rightly raised the point that no Sikh made the chief of the army for six decades and I'm sure there were other reasons then merit for this to happen.

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