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Kamal Nath Said Nehru & Indira Built Army- We Checked How They Did!

While addressing a public rally in Madhya Pradesh’s Ratlam, Chief Minister Kamal Nath on May 13 has said, “He (PM Modi) talks about nation’s security, Modi ji when you didn’t learn how to wear ‘pant-pajama’ then Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi ji made army of the nation.”

While it may be argued that every PM since Independence might have contributed to the nation and the armed forces in her or his own way, is it right on the part of anyone to attribute that Nehru and Indira ‘built’ the army? Let’s examine the relationship Nehru and Indira had with the Indian army.

Jawaharlal Nehru and Indian Army

India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru’s relationship with the army had not been much to write home about. This has been chronicled by the army veterans on various occasions. Here we sum-up a few.

  • After India got Independence, the first commander-in-chief of the Indian armed forces Robert Lockhart presented a paper to Nehru which had a plan for the Indian Army. Nehru’s reply was shocking. He said, “We don’t need defense plan. Our policy is non-violence. You can scrap the army. The police are good enough to meet our security needs.”

  • In September 1947 he directed to reduce the strength of army from 2,80,000 to 1,50,000. In the fiscal year of 1950-51, 50,000 army personnel were sent home.
  • As the retired military veteran wrote in this article, “Nehru disliked Field Marshal KM Cariappa despite his excellent leadership during the 1947-48 war that saved Kashmir. But his attempts to supersede him and make General Rajendrasinhji the first commander-in-chief of India failed when Gen Rajendrasinhji declined.”
  • Nehru made V K Menon who was involved in the infamous ‘Jeep Scandal’, the defense minister. The scandal was about the purchase of Jeeps for the use of the army, which the army rejected on account of their poor condition, but was forced to accept since the Jeeps were already paid for.
  • V K Menon insulted decorated army Chief General Thimmayya which led to his resignation in 1959. Though Nehru did not accept his resignation, he never acted on his recommendations that were aimed at the betterment of the army either.

  • Cariappa cautioned Nehru of the likely attack by China in 1951 when Chinese troops were caught with maps showing parts of the North-East Frontier Agency as part of China. Nehru ridiculed him: “It is not for the Army to decide who the nation’s enemies would be.” Later in 1959, Gen. K.S. Thimmayya also warned of the threat from China. All these were ignored by Nehru that resulted in a shameful defeat in the hands of China in 1962.

  • Brigadier John P Dalvi who participated in the 1962 war wrote a book ‘Himalayan Blunder’ and explained how the Indian Army was forced to fight in the high mountains without the minimum requirements like warm clothing, snow boots, and goggles.
Indira’s Fear about the Army
  • Indira Gandhi was also suspicious about army. She wanted to go for war against Pakistan in 1971 hurriedly without preparation. But Gen. Sam Manekshaw prevailed and chose his dates at that time since he said he would resign otherwise; which Indira couldn’t handle at that time.

  • Indira was afraid that using his popularity, Sam Manekshaw may take over the government. But Manekshaw himself assured her that he had no such designs. Some accounts present the conversation between them as follow: Indira Gandhi asked him: “So when are you going to take over the country, Sam? He reportedly had replied: “You run the country, I run the army.”


Many takeaways emerge after reading all these accounts.

  • Did the army never exist before India’s Independence and did it take India’s first Prime Minister to build an army from the scratch? The answer has been made obvious from the account above.
  • When Nehru was inheriting the army for the nation from the British control, what was his approach and attitude towards the army? This perhaps should be a point of discussion.
  • When Kamalnath asserts that Indira Gandhi ‘built’ the army, what is it that is making him not acknowledge the Prime Minister before Indira Gandhi who gave the ‘Jai Jawan’ slogan to India and under whose political leadership India had defeated Pakistani Force? It is Lal Bahadhur Shastri who fondly remembered for raising the morale of Indian army which was crushed from the defeat of 1962, with the 1965 victory against Pakistan.
  • While Indira Gandhi did have her share of military victory under her political leadership, what some documents said about her relationship with the army should also be a point of discussion.

Thus, Madhya Pradesh CM Kamal Nath’s statement has provided an opportunity for those who were not born in Nehru and Indira era and also for those who were “learning to wear pant-pajama” as the CM wants to put it, to revisit the history and evaluate the claim that “Nehru and Indira built the Indian army”.

While you may be thinking about thanking Kamal Nath for such an opportunity, here are other articles you may want to read.

The False Alarm of Attempted Coup: Seven Instances That Define Congress’ Relationship with Army

Seven Glaring Instances Where Congress Proved Detrimental to the National Security

National War Memorial: The Nation Waited for Decades and Modi Government Delivered