Soon after India was independent in 1947, Pt. Jawahar Lal Nehru earlier decided to make a British officer as the chief of the Indian Army without consulting anyone. Nehru chose Major Lockhart to be the first chief of independent India. Most of the people were shocked to hear that our first chief will be British. Major General Ajit Anil Jik Rudra of the Indian army was angry and upset on hearing this. No one fought against the British for 200 years to have a British Army chief.
It was also believed that Nehru told Major Lockhart that India does not need a defense plan because we believe in Ahimsa. Major Lockhart stormed out of the room on hearing this.
Nearly six months after this incident, India’s defense strategy was not even clear and the Kashmir crisis was rapidly growing. This was the time when Nehru called an urgent meeting of all army officers. The meeting was also attended by various senior officers of the Indian army, including Major General KM Cariappa who later became the Indian army chief in 1949. The meeting was also chaired by then Defence Minister Baldev Singh. Everyone knew that Major General Cariappa was the most experienced and deserving to be the army chief.
In the meeting, Nehru stated that we have to appoint a new chief as General Lockhart has resigned. I consider it better to appoint a British man as the army chief since we do not have a capable and experienced army man in our country
All the Indian army sitting in the meeting felt very humiliated and insulted. Defence Minister Baldev agreed with Nehru’s point instantly and said that we don’t have a capable Indian army man to run the army.
One Indian army officer asked to speak. Nehru was taken aback by a sudden repulse of the soldier and asked him to go forward.
The Indian army officer said, “You see, sir, we don’t have enough experience to lead a nation too, so shouldn’t we appoint a British person as the first Prime Minister of India?”
It was a pin drop silence for a long time and then Nehru got back his composure and asked, “Are you ready to be the first army chief of the Indian army”? This soldier was Lt. Gen Nathu Singh Rathore.
Rathore declined the offer saying, “Sir, we have a very talented army officer, my senior, Gen. Cariappa, who is the most deserving among us. Do we need a better person to guard our country than Gen KM Cariappa? How could you say our country has no capable leaders?”
Later, everyone applauded Nathu Singh Rathore for speaking when it was much needed. Lt Gen Nathu Singh Rathore was again offered to be the Indian army chief as Defence Minister Baldev Singh did not want General KM Cariappa to be the chief of India. But he again politely declined the offer saying that Gen Cariappa was more deserving and experienced.