Prophet of Hate

Sam Manekshaw
Sam Manekshaw

By A S Kalkat

1914: Born in Amritsar.
1933: Joins the Indian Military Academy.
1934: Commissioned into the army. 1947: Pakistan invades Kashmir. Is colonel in charge of operations. 1962: Sent to NEFA to check further Chinese intrusion.
Commander, Eastern Command during the Indo-Pak war. 1969: Appointed chief of the army staff.
1971: Indo-Pak war. Steers India to victory. and Bangladesh is created. 1973: Given the rank of Field Marshal.

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.

His 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.

In 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.

In 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.

The 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.

This 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.

When 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.

Manekshaw's 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.

As 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.

In 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.

On 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.



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