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Monday, June 30, 2008

An Icon Who Gave the First Decisive Victory Over Foreign Forces Dead At Age 94

Imagine when was the last time Bharatiya forces decisively defeated an aggressive foreign force - not a neutral stalemate and surely not a bumbling defeat that was salvaged, partly, only by retreating enemy forces. One has to go a long way. If one thinks about it carefully about the ultimate outcome, may be never. Therein lies the significance of what Sam "Bahadur" Manekshaw did in his brief stint of being in charge of Indian Army. So if the current defense minister and the current chiefs of the three services - who? - did not want to honour this hero in death, it shows how tiny these men are. But, protocol or not, most people know who the hero, that genuine real life hero, is. The snub does not diminish the Field Marshall who died on June 27, 2008, at a ripe age of 94.

A Childish Nation's Not So Grand Send-off to a Hero - Rediff

Is there another military man's name that most people recognize - other then the other Field Marshall, K.M.Cariappa? Because Field Marshall Cariappa was not bemused by Nehru's pseudo-secularism, a whisper campaign was waged to try and tarnish his image. Field Marshall Manekshaw came close to the same, but official, fate when he had something to say about the incompetency of the civilian and military men in charge during the 1962 debacle. Luckily sane minds prevailed after the incompetency was purged.

While most people know of Sam Manekshaw's brilliant execution of the 1971 war for Bangladesh another episode shows the personality of Manekshaw. I watched a documentary on Indira Gandhi some years ago and in it the Bahadur himself narrates an incident sometime after he became the chief of Army in 1967. In one of those early paranoid periods of Indira, when rumours of Army exercises and secret plans for taking over the country to impose a military dictatorship were floating around, because of the on-going political uncertainty due to the tussle between the two splintered Congress parties, she called Manekshaw into her office and asked him, if the rumours were true. Surely Manekshaw heard the rumours too replied, "What do you think?" Unlike most generals in countries in the neighbourhood during that period, Sam Manekshaw didn't even contemplate that he was the salvation to the country's problems. That put Indira's mind to rest and probably contributed to her listening to his advise, few years later, as to why he shouldn't attack East Pakistan in August, although refuges were pouring in, when monsoon was at its peak in the Bengal region and the northeast mountain passes from China were eminently passable.

Two Great Men Chatting in late 2005 - Rediff

Beyond the famous war of 1971 - he retired soon after in 1973 when he became the second of the two Field Marshalls the country has had, Sam Manekshaw was involved in the first war that the newly independent country fought against the newly formed enemy nation. In the story he narrates to Prem Shankar Jha, he, as a part of Directorate of Military Operations, accompanied V.P. Menon, a babu extraordinary, to the Kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir, during the early uncertain days of Pakistan-backed Islamic tribal attack on the kingdom, to make Maharaja Hari Singh sign the kingdom's accession into the republic. After returning from Srinagar, Sam Bahadur goes to the high-level meeting headed by Mountbatten to consider the next steps.
At the morning meeting he (V.P. Menon) handed over the (Accession) thing. Mountbatten turned around and said, ' come on Manekji (He called me Manekji instead of Manekshaw), what is the military situation?' I gave him the military situation, and told him that unless we flew in troops immediately, we would have lost Srinagar, because going by road would take days, and once the tribesmen got to the airport and Srinagar, we couldn't fly troops in. Everything was ready at the airport.

As usual Nehru talked about the United Nations, Russia, Africa, God almighty, everybody, until Sardar Patel lost his temper. He said, 'Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir, or do you want to give it away'. He (Nehru) said,' Of course, I want Kashmir (emphasis in original). Then he (Patel) said 'Please give your orders'. And before he could say anything Sardar Patel turned to me and said, 'You have got your orders'.

I walked out, and we started flying in troops at about 11 o'clock or 12 o'clock. [bold added]
There are two kinds of great men - those who are genuinely loved by everyone and those who are not. Sam Bahadur was the former. There are numerous stories of his genuine concern for people around him - from an elderly peon to a newly minted officer. And he was a great story teller.
Manekshaw was at his evocative best when he recalled his acquaintance with President Yahya Khan (Yahya Khan was the president of Pakistan in 1971) when the latter had worked under him in the military operations directorate of the British Indian Army just before partition.

Yahya Khan, then a colonel, was impressed by Manekshaw's James motorcycle which he had bought for Rs 1400. ''I told him that he could have the vehicle for as much. He said he would give only Rs 1000. I said okay,'' Manekshaw recalled.

''But I don't have a thousand rupees now, I will send it to you later,'' Yahya Khan said. It was August 13, 1947. Twenty-one years later Yahya Khan became the president of Pakistan. ''I never received the Rs 1000, but he gave me the whole of East Pakistan,'' Manekshaw said amid thunderous applause.
Here is an extract from Lieutenant General Depinder Singh's memoir of this extraordinary man - Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Soldering with Dignity.