Mahatma Gandhi and General Cariappa: Sage and the soldier

Gandhi Ji signaled to General Cariappa to return the slip of paper on which he had scribbled earlier, and wrote again on it, “When we meet again I would like to further discuss this subject with you.”

And meet again they did; after just two days in fact. The General recalled, “He was looking very cheerful. I was in uniform. I stood in front of him and saluted him.”

Gandhi Ji smiled and said, “I see you have again removed your shoes outside. You had done it when you came two days ago also.”

The soldier replied, “It is but proper that I should do so when coming to see a godly man like you.”

And then he continued from where he had left off, “I have come to tell you that we soldiers practice every bit of the ideologies that you practice, that is, love and loyalty to mankind, discipline, selflessness in the service of our country, dignity of labour and non-violence… If we have to have an army at all it must be a good army. I would like to remind them in my own way of the need for and the value of non-violence. (But) I cannot do my duty well by the country if I concentrate only on telling the troops of non-violence all the time, subordinating their main task of preparing themselves efficiently to be good soldiers. So, I ask you, please give me the ‘Child’s Guide to Knowledge’. Tell me please how I can put this over, that is, the spirit of non-violence, to the troops, without endangering their sense of duty to train professionally as soldiers. I am a child in this matter. I want your guidance.”

Gandhiji was still spinning his charkha and the General’s question seemed to amuse him, writes his Secretary. He said, “Yes, you are all children; I am a child too, but I happen to be a bigger child than you because I have given more thought to the question than you all have. You have asked me to tell you in a concrete form how you can put over to the troops you command the need for non-violence.”

Then, half-closing his eyes, he added with a distinct emphasis, “I am still groping in the dark for the answer. I will find it and I will give it to you one day.”

But he did add that Lords Wavell and Mountbatten, both eminent professional soldiers, had endorsed his faith in non-violence. “Lord Wavell was very impressed with the non-violent way in which the communal troubles have been tackled by us. They both hope that our ideologies of non-violence and pacifism would be understood by the peoples of the world and practised to solve international disputes.

As they were parting, Gandhi Ji said again, “I would like to see you more often so that we may further discuss this important subject. I have always had the greatest admiration for the discipline in the Army.”

The two met for the last time on January 18, 1948. Cariappa had come to Delhi to take charge of the Western Command, then known as the Delhi and East Punjab Command, which had the responsibility of conducting operations in Jammu and Kashmir. “I hope you will succeed in solving the Kashmir problem non-violently. Come and see me after you return,” said Gandhi Ji.

Future meetings between them could have opened new vistas of what Pyare Lal describes as, “The General of India’s non-violent struggle for freedom initiating the General of the Indian army in the non-violent techniques, and the two working together to discover and experiment with an effective substitute for war, which they agreed settled nothing.”

A fruitful exchange of views was in the offing. But providence decreed otherwise, writes the Mahatma’s biographer. “The General returned from Kashmir on the afternoon of January 30, 1948, to see the remains of him at Rajghat the next day.”

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