Thimayya, DSO, had emerged shoulders above his contemporaries, post the 1947- 48 Indo-Pak war in the J&K theatre. This measure of Timmy (as he was popularly called) was further bolstered when the international community unequivocally applauded his deft handling of the acrimonious POW repatriation on the Korean peninsula. Prime Minister Nehru was so impressed by the calibre of the General that in personal interaction, the PM addressed him as Timmy, always.
So the day Gen. KS Thimayya was elevated to the post of Chief of Army Staff, Mr Nehru broke with convention and unannounced, walked into the COAS’s office to congratulate his friend. So taken aback was the Army Chief that he remained transfixed to his chair even as the Prime Minister walked right up to him. Without ado, Mr Nehru shook hands and taking the visitor’s chair launched into a convivial conversation with the utterance “won’t you offer me a cigarette, Timmy?”
We learnt of this episode some twenty years later at a mutual friend’s home from Ammie, including a few indiscreet words uttered in innocent banter by Timmy. Now Ammie was the lively, petite and charming younger sister of the Chief. She had been married to a bureaucrat from the Indian Civil Service and was widowed during a cloudburst when holidaying with their two children, up in the Kullu valley in the 1950s. Mr Nehru was quick to redress the tragedy and asked Timmy whether Ammie would accept the role of a personal assistant in the PMs household. In the event, she was assigned responsibility of the PM’s wardrobe, provided suitable quarters on the premises and would become a permanent fixture on the PM’s staff during foreign visits also. Ammie was in a sense adopted by the Nehru-Gandhis, ultimately becoming a mentor and companion of Priyanka and Rahul during their days of cloistered childhood. Mrs Indira Gandhi would often seek out Ammie for a relaxed drink in the evening and even decades later, a car would pick her on most Sundays to lunch with the children.
However, Ammie was sad to recall that Panditji (as she referred to Mr Nehru, always) had taken to heart Timmy’s indiscreet banter during Mr Nehru’s unprecedented call on the Chief’s office. She elaborated that by the side of Timmy’s office table was a steel chest of drawers and Mr Nehru, in the mood of bonhomie inquired, “Is that a treasure chest, Timmy”?
The Chief stated that in the upper drawer were operational plans pertaining to the Western and Northern borders. To the PMs next interjection, ‘And the second drawer’, the Chief stated that it contained dossiers of a few Generals which the PM would need, to pick his successor. Persisting with childlike curiosity, Mr Nehru shot back: ‘And the last drawer’?
Not one to be put down in a repartee and with a mischievous smile, the Chief said: Well sir, all it contains is the only copy of the plan for a military coup, which I keep strictly under my personal care.
As may be imagined, the seeds of suspicion were sown unwittingly and its ghost would visit the PMs and Timmy’s successors forever, even though Mr Nehru had chuckled and kept up tete-atete, to finish his cigarette.
Commissioned in the Regiment of Artillery in July 1956, Lt Gen. Baljit Singh, AVSM, VSM, retired on 31 July 1992 after 36 years of distinguished service. A keen sportsman, accomplished writer and noted environmentalist, he is an active promoter of Conservation of Nature, more so within and by the Armed Forces.