Remembering Field Marshal Manekshaw

A couple of days ago we remembered a true hero, Sam Bahadur on his death anniversary. On June 27, 2008 , Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw passed away, aged 94 in Coonoor in the beautiful Nilgiri Hills. He had settled there on retirement from the Indian Army, close to the military cantonment of Wellington.

Sadly, when India’s first Field Marshal and perhaps greatest soldier passed away, neither the President of India, the Prime Minister or even the Defence Minister A K Antony  attended his funeral . Every one had some excuse or the other.

That wouldn’t have surprised Sam Bahadur (as he was affectionately called by his Gorkha troops) very much. He had scant respect for most politicians in any case. Only a few won his respect. 

Manekshaw was in the first batch to pass out of the Indian Military Academy in Dehra Dun, which he joined in 1932. He was commissioned in the then British Indian Army in 1934-35, in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Scots. Indian officers had to first serve in British  Regiments those days. He was later was posted to the 12th Frontier Force Regiment. The Second World War broke out in 1939. Manekshaw saw active service on the Burma Front where he won a coveted Military Cross in 1942 for personal bravery when his regiment was part of the 17th Infantry Division.  In the Partition of India, he was posted to the 8th Gorkha Rifles as the Frontier Force went to Pakistan. 

Shortly after Independence, India went to war with Pakistan when that country tried to grab the kingdom of Jammu and Kashmir. Manekshaw was present in a crucial meeting where India’s Prime Minister Nehru,  as usual,  was hesitant to take decisive action. It was Sardar Patel, the Dy Prime Minister who told Manekshaw, “You have your orders.”    Manekshaw  himself recounted this incident to famous journalist Prem Shankar Jha . 

The rest is history, with India saving Srinagar in the nick of time. It would have fallen to Pakistan had there been any more delay. Our troops, flown in bravely retrieved the situation. Sadly, one- third of the erstwhile State of Jammu & Kashmir was occupied by Pakistan when a cease fire took place in December 1948.

Manekshaw was disliked by the then ruling coterie headed by Defence Minister Krishna Menon and Nehru’s blue eyed boy,  Lt Gen B K Kaul. He was blunt when the Defence Minister asked him his opinion about his boss, General Thimayya, the Chief of Army Staff. He said Thimayya was his superior and he would not express any opinion of him. He told the Defence Minister that if asks his subordinates (brigadiers and colonels ) about him it would be bad for Army discipline. Later, on frivolous charges a case was foisted against Manekshaw. He came clean after a Court of Inquiry but lost a timely promotion which was rightfully his. 

Then came the Indo- China War in 1962.  In NEFA by and large the Chinese attack could not be stopped by the ill prepared and poorly equipped Indian Army. General Kaul was a poor leader. Manekshaw became Corps Commander of 4 Corps when the situation was precarious. He turned the tide mainly with his personal leadership. He famously ordered, “ Now on there will be no withdrawals except on my personal orders – which will not be given. Remember we are all expendable. The reputation of the Army is not, nor is the honour of the country.”

Sam Bahadur’s greatest days, of course, came when he became the 8th Chief of Army Staff in 1969. Then came the 1971 War against Pakistan. This led to the liberation of East Pakistan, which became a new country called Bangladesh. It is well-known that Manekshaw initially advised Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to show restraint and not rush into a war until he was full ready. On December 13, 1971, Manekshaw told the Pakistanis: “You surrender or we wipe you out.” Only three days later, 93,000 Pakistanis surrendered.

Manekshaw ensured the Pakistani Prisoners of War (POWs)  were well treated as per the  Geneva Convention. Sadly, Pakistan had no qualms in ill treating Indian POWs. I cannot understand how Prime Minster Indira Gandhi and then General Manekshaw did not first get back 54 Indian POWs before returning 93,000 POWs in batches to Pakistan. Our 54 men never returned! But Pakistan had been well and truly vanquished.

A grateful nation bestowed the highest honor of Field Marshal on “Sam Bahadur” Manekshaw in 1973.  In the years to come, of course, there will be great generals in the Indian Army  but I cannot imagine any who can match the personality and stature of Sam Bahadur. He was one of a kind.  A true hero.

Let us salute his memory!  


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