Gen Thimayya’s Resignation – Statement by Pt Nehru in Parliament and debate – 02 Sep 1959

Blogitorial Civil Military Relations Military Politics Uncategorized

Prime Minister’s Statement

Sir, I wish to apologize for my absence from the house yesterday. I was anxious to be here because of a number of adjournment motions on a subject which had naturally aroused much interest, but as the house knows, I had to go to Palam just at that time to meet the President of Pakistan. (Gen Ayub Khan had a brief halt at Palam Airport on his way to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) and PM Nehru had gone to the airport to meet him) I sent a request to you to be good enough to take up these adjournment motions a day later, that is, today. I wished particularly to deal with these matters myself and so I requested the Defence Minister not to deal with them. I am grateful to you and to the house for postponing consideration yesterday and for giving me this opportunity today.

I can well understand the concern of this house as well as of others about the news that was published yesterday concerning the resignation of the Chief of Army Staff of the Army. That was, particularly in the circumstances existing today, a serious matter. But an element of sensationalism has been given in the newspapers and much has been said there that is not true. I shall endeavour to give an account of the facts as they came to my knowledge. 

I have been interested in the Defence Ministry throughout my period of office. For brief periods I have held the defence portfolio. Even otherwise, I have kept myself in touch with its activities not only through the Defence Committee of the Cabinet but also on the personal level. From time to time, I have met the Chiefs of Staff and whenever possible I have taken the opportunity to visit some defence establishments.

About a week ago, I sent for Gen Thimayya in the normal course in order to have a talk with him. When he came to see me I said to him that I had heard that there was some discontent about recent promotions in the army. He gave me an account of what had been done. I shall refer to this later. I was satisfied that these promotions had been made in the regular course through selection boards and there was no element of partisanship or favouritism in them I say this because I find that some reference was made yesterday in the house to political considerations influencing promotions. I think that there is no truth in that charge.

Gen Thimayya then said to me that he was not feeling very happy about various matters connected with the defence ministry. When I enquired further from him he said that it was quite true that during the last two years more work had been done in the defence ministry than in the previous ten years. Many amenities had been given to our men in the army and these had been greatly appreciated. Production work in the ordnance factories had progressed greatly and generally they had had to work much harder than before. He assured me that the army was in fine fettle and the morale of the officers and men was excellent. 

Nevertheless, he said he was not happy at the manner some of the work in the ministry was being carried on. He gave me some instances but they were to my thinking rather trivial and of no consequence. I realised that the difficulties that had arisen might be called temperamental. I said I would look into the matter. I spoke later to the defence minister and mentioned rather briefly what Gen Thimayya had told me. I suggested that he might have a talk with the Chief of Army Staff. I gathered later that the defence minister had some talks with Gen Thimayya. 

On the 31st August, that is, the day before yesterday, about mid-day I received a letter from Gen Thimayya offering his resignation as Chief of Staff, Army. I was much surprised to receive this as our previous talk had not led me to think that this might happen. Also, it seemed to me peculiarly unwise for this action to be taken in the conditions that prevail in India today. 

That evening, that is, on 31st, I sent for him and pointed out to him that his sending me his resignation in the way he did seemed to me not a right thing at all. I advised him to withdraw it and he accepted my advice. 

Yesterday morning – 1st September – I saw the announcement in the newspapers. I did not know how this reached the press. I had not mentioned the resignation letter to anyone at all, nor did I mention the subsequent withdrawal of the resignation. I was naturally distressed at the rather sensational publicity given to this because I knew that this would be a matter of great concern to the house. 

As I was unable to come here yesterday, I utilised the rest of the day in trying to get some further information and met many of my colleagues as well as officers from the Defence Ministry. I have had further talks with the defence minister and Gen Thimayya. Gen Thimayya subsequently sent me a letter formally withdrawing his previous offer of resignation.

One of the complaints made in this house as well as outside has been about promotions. I went rather fully into this question. There are strict rules governing promotions in the defence services, more especially to the selection posts. I wisht that some method approaching that could be introduced in our civil services also. Selection posts are filled on the basis of merit and not of seniority alone. There ware various selection boards dealing with promotions from Majors to Lieut-Cols. Large numbers of people are dealt with here. Many of these are officers who came in during the last great war and a fairly strict screening is adopted in dealing with them by these boards. Inevitably many are superseded. The method adopted was that 120 of the best men from each year’s commission were selected from Majors to be Lieut-Cols.

Recently, the Defence Committee of the Cabinet made a rule ensuring that every officer in the army could end up as a Lieut Col and obtain a Lieut-Col’s pension. This gave great satisfaction. These recommendations of the selection boards are considered by the Chief of Staff and later by the ministry. Normally, no change is made and the recommendations are adopted as a whole.

I may add this. When I say, “adopted as a whole”, that does not take away the right of the government to make a change in them because ultimately it is the right of the government to make any change in any such recommendation, but as a matter of fact, this right is very seldom exercised in these large numbers of selections.

Different and higher selection boards are set up for promotions to the higher grades of the army like Brigadiers and Major Generals. The selection boards for Major Generals consists of the three Army Commanders (there were only three commands in 1959) and the PSOs. The Chief of Army Staff is the chairman of it. Inevitably many officers are superseded here as the selection is made on the basis of merit and quality of work done. The recommendations of this selection board are placed before the ministry. It is seldom that any change is made by the ministry or the minister in these recommendations. Again, I would repeat that it is not because we have no right to do so. So far as I know, on this occasion no change was made.

Thus, in all these large scale promotions from Majors and Lieut Cols to Major Generals, all the promotions recently made were through highly qualified selection boards who went deeply into each case. These recommendations were accepted.

In the case of promotion from Major Generals to Lieut Generals the procedure is somewhat different. These are supposed to be done ultimately by the government itself, on the recommendations of the Chief of Staff. The Chief of Staff may, and usually does, consult the three Army Commanders. In the present case, a panel of three names was put up by the Chief of Staff. These three were considered by him to be fit to be Lieut Generals and, therefore, worthy of being promoted. There were two tests laid down. One was that the person should be capable of functioning in a staff appointment as Major General, I think. No 1 in the list of three was fully qualified. But there was one difficulty and that was that he had not acutally commanded an infantry division. This, of course, was not his fault; he had had no chance. There was a further difficulty: that the fact that he had not commanded an infantry division may come up later in case the question of further promotion arose. The Chief of Staff, nevertheless, on the whole, favoured No 1 in this connection, though he had recommended Nos 2 and 3 also as fit for promotion as Lieut Generals now and to give immediately a chance to No 1 to command an infantry division, so that he might have that experience and further that as soon as a vacancy occurred he should be appointed Lieut General and given the requisite seniority from now. Thus, he would not lose his seniority by this delay in appointing him as Lieut General. There was no supersession of No 1. If he did not have experience of command of a division now, a difficulty might arise, later when the question of his commanding an army corps arises. The defence minister consulted me as Prime Minister about this matter, and I agreed with him, more especially as No 1 did not ultimately lose anything by this procedure and is ensured of his future.

In all these promotions right up to the top, there was no interference by government, or the ministry, in the recommendations made by the selection boards of the Chief of Staff. The only slight variation made was the one referred above. Thus, the idea that any consideration other than merit came in is completely untrue. Naturally, large number of officers were not promoted, but the decision was of the selection boards. Those who were not chosen naturally felt disappointed. In any system of merit promotion this is bound to happen.

I have stated above that General Thimayya has withdrawn his resignation. No other resignation has been received by me. The facts, as stated above, would indicate that many of the criticisms made are not justified. Nevertheless, the tension that arose lading to certain unfortunate developments was a matter of concern to me. Such things should not happen in the defence services at any time, and more especially when we have to face a serious situation. Temperamental and like differences cannot be allowed to interfere in the vital work which our defence ministry and the defence services do.

There is one other aspect that must always be borne in mind. Under our constitution and our practice, the civil authority is, and must remain supreme. But that civil authority should pay due heed to the expert advice that it receives. During the last two years or so, our defence services and our defence factories have made great progress. The production has gone up greatly and our ordnance factories now dealing with major projects and thus utilising their spare capacity. Certain well deserved amenities have been given to our officers and men in the defence services. And I am happy to say that their discipline and morale are excellent.

The unfortunate incident that has happened recently should not make us forget these basic facts. I should like to pay a tribute to the defence minister for his great energy and enthusiasm which he has put in his work and which has resulted in so much progress. Also, I would like to express my appreciation of the good work done by our officers and men in the new production activities. I intend to maintain my personal contacts with the defence services and help in removing any difficulties that might arise.

The Debate

Acharya Kripalani – The statement of the Prime Minister is good so far as it goes. But, I am afraid, that it will not put at rest the rumours that have been afloat in the public, as well as in the press. There have been charges and counter charges and there are rumours afloat, and the problems involved are of a serious nature. The Prime Minister referred to the healthy and efficient functioning of our armed forces and the public confidence in their capacity to defend the nation in any event of foreign aggression. It is, therefore, necessary that the matters that have become the subject of public controversy be thoroughly discussed in the house. I concede the inconvenience of public discussion, but surely there can be no objection to a secret session of the house where there can be free and uninhibited discussion of the whole matter, in which all sections of the house, including the members of the ruling party, can participate freely. This is the only way in which the clouded atmosphere of uncertainty can be cleared and public confidence in the defence forces which has always existed in the country can again be restored.

Shri Ranga – I am glad to have this assurance from the Prime Minister that the threatened resignation of General Thimayya has been withdrawn. It is rather strange that the Prime Minister, strangely enough, failed to pay the same kind of tribute to General Thimayya and other Chiefs of Staff, as he has paid to his colleague Shri Krishna Menon. I sincerely hope he will take an early occasion to make good this very important omission. I do not claim to know much about the defence services. But I do know that many people who are in the know of things have come to form a very high opinion indeed of the competence, sense of patriotism and sense of duty of General Thimayya. He has rendered great services to our nation. Other nations have paid tribute to his services when he was working on our behalf on the Korean front, to mention only one fact. It is most essential that we try our best to maintain the morale of the defence forces.

I agree with the Prime Minister that the civil authority must be supreme. We have had that great example of the relations between President Truman and General MacArthur. I give it all importance that is due to it. We want to maintain similar relations in this country also. But, at the same time, we want to be assured that the Prime Minister would be as keen about maintaining the prestige of the Chiefs of Staff as he seems to be anxious to maintain the prestige of his colleague in this house.

Mr Speaker – I do not propose to allow a long discussion on this subject, in view of this statement. Yesterday when Acharya Kripalani and other hon. Members gave notice of some adjournment motions I gave opportunity to each hon member who tabled the motion to say a few words. We waited for the hon Prime Minister to come and make a statement. It is now for me to decide whether I should just disallow the adjournment motion to be discussed in the house or whether I should give my consent to the adjournment motions being raised here. I have heard sufficiently….

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(There proceeds a discussion on a point of order about whether the motion can be disallowed. Procedural discussion not of relevance to the issue at hand has been omitted)

Shri Ashok Mehta – The fact remains that the Chief of Army Staff had tendered this resignation. He may have withdrawn it, that is another matter. So, here is a matter which is of urgent public importance. That fact has not disappeared. As Acharya Kripalani pointed out, we might discuss it in camera… We are quite prepared for it if that is the view of the hon Prime Minister. But merely because the hon Prime Minister has stated what he considers to be the version of the facts as he sees them, surely the rest of the house is not automatically satisfied. The adjournment motion must be permitted or we must be allowed to say whatever we have to say now or a special opportunity must be given to us. This is not a matter on which the hon Prime Minister has the last word having said what he has said.

Raja Mahendra Pratap – I beg to say this is very serious. Once glass is broken, even if it si joined again it remains broken. When the resignation has come from the Commander-in-Chief it is a very serious question. I beg to suggest that Shri Menon may be given the Foreign Office portfolio.

Shri Frank Anthony – One point that I wish to underline is this. As my hon friend, Shri Ashok Mehta has said, the hon Prime Minister has accepted the fact that General Thimayya had submitted his resignation. Now I do not know whether you will be pleased to call for the letter of resignation. I submit with great respect that until the phraseology of that letter of resignation is before us neither you nor the house can decide whether the issues involved were of a serious, critical or a trivial character. I personally find it impossible to believe that a person of the status and character of General Thimayya would have submitted his resignation on trivial personal reasons. Therefore I feel that is letter of resignation must come before us. I agree with Acharya Kripalani and feel that something very serious has happened in the defence ministry. I am not pointing my finger at anyone. I feel that in the interest of the house and of the country, we should have a discussion. If necessary, it may be an in camera discussion.

Shri HN Mukherjee – Mr Speaker, sir, I am rather disturbed to note the trend of the discussion which has followed the statement given by the hon Prime Minister… The hon Prime Minister has told us that the Chief of Army Staff, after having put in his resignation, has been persuaded to withdraw it. The hon Prime Minister has told us very rightly that the civil power is the supreme authority in this country under any kind of acceptable democratic form of administration. Free India has developed a tradition of coordination and cooperation between the civil power and the military arm. The hon Prime Minister has told us that for temperamental and other reasons , some resignations were sent to him in a kind of huff and those resignations have been withdrawn. It stands to reason, particularly at a time when we all appear to be concerned about the defence of our country, that we should not be speculative over questions regarding the possible reasons behind the back of the mind of the Chief of Army Staff, when at a particular point of time he was persuaded to offer his resignation even though he has later on been persuaded on much better grounds to withdraw it. On the contrary, I feel that if there is any tenable subject for discussion, it is this subject, namely that it is very perturbing to the state of this country that the news of the Chief of Army Staff’s resignation percolates to the press and is exploited by certain elements in our country for publicising that there is a kind of a particular partisanship in the administration which militates against the proper cooperation between the civil arm and the military arm. It is that particular aspect of the matter which requires, if anything, to be discussed in this house in a secret or open session; I do not care what. … I want to get from the hon Prime Minister another reassurance in regard to the position which we are going to uphold in this country, that is, that there is supremacy of the civil power and that there is continuing coordination between the civil arm and the military arm and that there should be steps properly taken to prevent the kind of leakage which has led to this sort of sensation mongering and which even finicky hon friends of mine have taken recourse to.  

Acharya Kripalani – Yesterday one of our communist hon friends, very vocal, said: “We only want to say that when the hon Minister replies, we should like him to say whether there is any significance in the fact that General Ayub is coming today, this gentleman, Thimayya, offers his resignation today and there is a whole scouting of the affair by Cariappa. We should like to have an answer.”

This is what our communist friend says, these are the allegations made that this action was taken at a time when General Ayub Khan was coming here and that General Cariappa is involved in the matter. All these allegations and counter-allegations are being made, and we must know what truth there is in all this. If there is any truth in this contention, I think there must be a court-martial of our General. It is not a matter which can be blurred over simply like this… when such charges are being made against General Cariappa. 

Shri Jawaharlal Nehru – May I say something, to begin with, in answer to Prof Ranga? He said that I ought to have referred in terms of appreciation to General Thimayya in this note. As a matter of fact, I have referred to army officers and men, and I think General Thimayya is a very gallant and experienced officer who has done very good service to this country. But I do not congratulate him for his letter of resignation. That is perfectly clear. 

Shri Ranga – You have congratulated the wrong man then. Why have you asked him to withdraw his resignation?

Shri Vajpayee – Ask General Thimayya to resign, that is all.

Shri Braj Raj Singh – It is a very serious matter. If he thinks that he ought not to have resigned, then the resignation should not have been withdrawn. 

Shri Ashok Mehta – It is a very anomalous position.

Shri Ranga – It creates a new position. He has asked for the resignation to be withdrawn and he is not prepared to pay the same tribute to him that he has paid to his minister. Either his tribute to the minister is wrong or the other one is wrong.

Shri Jawaharlal Nehru – Mr Speaker, I do not know why some hon members on the opposite side are somewhat excited about this matter. I said, and I repeat that General Thimayya and our senior officers, especially Chiefs of Staff, are people who have done good service, whose experience, whose gallantry we have appreciated, and we appreciate. And that is why we have got them there. Otherwise we won’t have them there. It is because we appreciate their services that we have put them there. That is why I went out of my way to get him to withdraw that letter. But that has nothing to do with my remark that I do not congratulate him, or anybody, for sending a letter of resignation. Let that be quite clear. It is and it was a most extraordinary thing to do. I have said only mildly what I have said.

I say, whatever the circumstances, it was an extraordinary thing to do. The house should realise this. This kind of thing is not often done, normally speaking, or abnormally speaking. Therefore I said, having given my due need of praise to General Thimayya, as I said in my statement presently, that resigning at this stage, at this moment, was not a right thing to do.

Shri Ashoka Mehta asks, why is it condoned? I do not condone it. Who said I condoned it? I have said that I think it was a wrong thing. But many wrong things are done, whether in the flush of the moment or whatever it is, have been pointed out that it is a wrong thing, and one does not pursue a man for that when he has many virtues, when he has served the state in many ways and is still serving. 

Acharya Kripalani referred to some remarks made by some other members opposite on the last occasion. If I may say so with all respect, they were not at all proper remarks, about General Ayub Khan and all that. Many things were said yesterday which, I submit, were not proper, this way or that way. For instance, Acharya Kripalani himself talked about political considerations in regard to promotions. I invite Acharya Kripalani to come and see the fiels of every man promoted, himself. I invite him to come and see them.

Acharya Kripalani – May I say that while I was speaking, and you corrected me I said that this was what was being said, though I do not know the real truth. I have no reason to disbelieve the Prime Minister. But it is not my charge. It is the charge that is made in the press and that is made by the public. And you remember sir, I have said in a democracy we have to give some consideration to public opinion, however misguided it may be, and also to the press and you said ‘yes’. 

Shri Jawaharlal Nehru – Acharya Kripalani is a respected leader of a respected party. He is not either the public press or a public meeting in Ramlila Grounds. He is not the mirror, I hope, of every rumour that is thrown about in the city of Delhi or elsewhere.

It is quite right for him to draw attention. But I invite him here and now, and any one else in this house to come and examine every file on promotions because….

Acharya Kripalani – May we have the letter – if it is so plain – the letter of resignation? Let there be a secret discussion if necessary. I don not want any public discussion of this matter. I make this suggestion very humbly so that every member of this house, even a congressman, may be able to speak, freely, which he cannot do here.

Shri Jawaharlal Nehru – I am dealing, sir, with the points, separately, and I am venturing to suggest – because this was Acharya Kripalani’s point, whatever the basis of his information was, that promotions have been made for political considerations – I invite Acharya Kripalani, or any committee of the house appointed by you to go and look at every file dealing with promotions. Here is an open invitation, sir, so that this matter may be dealt with thoroughly and fully, which is far better than any discussion elsewhere. Go to the source, form your own opinions; I will not be there, see the files. 

Now Acharya Kripalani has suggested an in camera debate. It is rather unusual in such matters to have debates, in camera or other. But I accept his invitation, but no in camera debate, but a public debate. Talking about an in camera debate with five hundred members present here is rather stretching the term. But if there is going to be a debate about these matters, army matters, if people want it, it is unsusual. I would not suggest it, but I do not wisht to come in the way if hon members feel like that. But I will not have an in camera debate but have a public debate. 

(The discussion went back and forth for some more time with each repeating their own points made earlier, and speaker disallowing any further discussion).

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