In 1942 at the height of the World War II a fierce battle
was raging in Myanmar, then Burma, at the Sittang Bridge.
A company of the Indian Army was engaged in hand-to-hand
combat with the invading Japanese forces for the capture
of a position, which was critical for the control of the
bridge. The young company commander was exhorting his
troops when his stomach was riddled by a machine gun burst.
Afraid that his company would be left leaderless if he
were evacuated, he continued fighting till he collapsed.
company won the day and the general commanding the Indian
forces arrived at the scene to congratulate the soldiers.
On seeing the critically wounded commander, he announced
the immediate award of the Military Cross -- the young
officer was not expected to survive much longer and the
Military Cross is not awarded posthumously. Thus began
a historic military career that spanned the Indo-Pak wars
and the Sino-Indian conflict, the wounded captain surviving
to become India's first field marshal.
1947 when Pakistan invaded Kashmir, Sam Manekshaw was
the colonel in charge of operations at the Army Headquarters.
His incisive grasp of the situation and his acumen for
planning instantly drew the attention of his superiors
and Manekshaw's rise was spectacular, though not without
controversy. He was outspoken and stood by his convictions.
This, coupled with his sense of humour, often got him
into trouble with politicians.
1961, for instance, he refused to toe the line of the
then defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon and was sidelined.
He was vindicated soon after when the Indian army suffered
a humiliating defeat in nefa the next year, at the hands
of the Chinese, resulting in Menon's resignation. Prime
minister Jawaharlal Nehru rushed Manekshaw to nefa to
command the retreating Indian forces. This had an electrifying
effect on the demoralised officers. In no time, Manekshaw
convinced the troops that the Chinese soldier was not
"10 ft tall". His first order of the day characteristically
said, "There will be no withdrawal without written orders
and these orders shall never be issued." The soldiers
showed faith in their new commander and successfully checked
further ingress by the Chinese.
Indo-Pak war of 1965 saw Manekshaw as army commander,
Eastern Command. When India was forced to launch operations
in the west, Manekshaw was against attacking in the east
since the main sufferers would be the people of East Pakistan.
The wisdom of his advice dawned when the Indian forces
fought the Pakistan army in East Pakistan in 1971.
was Manekshaw's finest hour. As army chief and chairman,
Chiefs of Staff Committee, he planned the operation meticulously
refusing to be coerced by politicians to act prematurely.
His strategic and operational finesse was evident when
Indian pincers cut through Pakistani forces like knife
through butter, quickly checkmating them.
the prime minister asked him to go to Dhaka and accept
the surrender of the Pakistani forces, he declined, magnanimously
saying the honour should go to his army commander in the
east. He would only go if it were to accept the surrender
of the entire Pakistan Army.
competence, professional standing and public stature was
such that the politician and the bureaucrat alike crossed
his path only at their peril. On one occasion, he found
that the defence secretary had penned his own observations
on a note he had written to the prime minister and defence
minister. Infuriated, Manekshaw took the file and walked
straight into Mrs Gandhi's office. He told her that if
she found the defence secretary more competent than him
to advise her on military matters she did not have a need
for him. The defence secretary was found a new job.
a commander, he was a hard taskmaster. He encouraged his
officers in the face of adversity but did not tolerate
incompetence. That is perhaps Manekshaw's greatest contribution,
to instil a sense of duty, efficiency, professionalism
in a modern Indian army and to stand up to political masters
and bureaucratic interference.
a way, he was following the path of other army chiefs,
K.S. Thimayya K.M. Cariappa. A holy terror, there are
many tales of the power of his whiplash. Following Pakistan's
surrender in the east, Manekshaw flew into Calcutta to
compliment his officers. The ceremonial reception over
at Dum Dum airport, he was escorted to a car -- a Mercedes
captured from the enemy. Manekshaw refused to sit in it,
leaving the officers red-faced.
another occasion, a general accused of misusing funds
was marched up to him. "Sir, do you know what you are
saying?" asked the general. "You are accusing a general
of being dishonest." Replied Manekshaw: "Your chief is
not only accusing you of being dishonest but also calling
you a thief. If I were you I would go home and either
shoot myself or resign. I am waiting to see what you will
do." The general submitted his resignation that evening.
Lt-General A.K. Kalkat
is a former army commander and belongs to Manekshaw's
regiment, 8 Gorkha Rifles.