Now back in 1942, the handsome and somewhat reclusive Maj SHFJ Manekshaw had led his Company of Sikh soldiers on a mission against the Japanese in Burma. They carried the assault to victory, Manekshaw leading from the front despite taking a bullet in his stomach. His soldiers instantly christened him Sam Bahadur! Usually, when Gurkha lads come of age and don the uniform of the Indian Army, each of them is affectionately called by the generic name Bahadur; and woe betide the evil eye which may dare India hence-after! As this battle field christening had intonations of Gurkha heritage, fate would ultimately endear Sam to the Gurkha soldiery of the Indian Army, for lifetime. The award of Military Cross for gallantry in Burma, followed by a most distinguished military career, elevation to the rank of a General, conferment of the Padma Vibhushan award and the Field Marshal’s Baton for life, were accepted by the soldiery with aplomb. For, where they were concerned, Sam Bahadur was born to this legacy. Of course it was altogether a different matter when on his elevation to Chief, an adoring Army especially composed a martial music score of a Quick March they called “Sam Bahadur”. Every soldier pulls up his five foot something frame to six plus as they strut to the strains of this tune, down the Raj Path to admiring, thunderous applause every January 26.
Sam Bahadur’s stellar leadership in the run up to and during the 1971 Indo-Pak War is part of India’s history. What is perhaps not known to most is his brilliant strategy to contain and vanquish insurgency in Mizoram for ever in the incipient stage itself. In the 1960s, there was just one North-South road in this ill developed NE State. So all Mizos were persuaded and induced to resettle in permanent “village clusters”, on either flank of this single road. Security forces successfully threw a protective cordon and administrators created socioeconomic modules for a resurgent, new lifestyle. Insurgency was stamped out from Mizoram as no where else in India before or since. And this was the brainchild of the Eastern Army Commander, Lieutenant General SHFJ Manekshaw, MC!
Soon after the 1971 War, a Western correspondent remarked in the course of the Press conference that much as the world was impressed by the Indian Army’s multi-pronged thrusts leading to the encirclement of Dacca and victory but the upper-most question on every one’s lips is whether the Chief had had a conceptual strategy in place? General Manekshaw’s instant response was, “Yes of course, the Strategy of the Expanding Torrent”. For sure, there were more expressions of bewilderment among the gathered correspondents than comprehension and so Sam Bahadur made a brief exposition of what he had brilliantly pulled out of his hat, ex tempore! His reply went something like this: “as a stream commences its course and its flow is checked by a boulder, there is well-nigh no momentum at that stage to dislodge the obstruction. So it maintains contact with the obstruction while the follow up water rushes past the sides of the boulder. By the next hindrance, the gathering velocity ensures that the stream cuts into the sides of the obstruction, engulfs it and flows past enlarging both its course and velocity and on and on, becoming an unstoppable torrent!” Now I doubt if in the lexicon of warfare there indeed exists a Strategy of the Expanding Torrent just as equally I am convinced that Sam Bahadur’s on-the-spot conceptualization of a new strategy was also the measure of a military genius! Let alone place a copyright on it, sad to say the thought is not even recounted in the institutions of military learning, in India.
Sam Bahadur is also noted for his sense of mischievous humor. I had read an anecdote relating to the annual “At Home” at the residence of the COAS on the occasion of the Army Day, January 26, 1973. The President of India as the Supreme Commander of the armed forces headed the list of invitees followed by the Prime Minister of India. When Mrs Indira Gandhi arrived, General Manekshaw walked up to receive her. No one can deny that Mrs Indira Gandhi was among the most elegantly dressed, petite and charming ladies of her times. General Manekshaw would rate equally as one of the trim and handsome Chiefs in uniform. Now on this occasion, his right foot was heavily bandaged and leaning on a walking stick, he limped up to receive Mrs Gandhi. The sight of him at once evoked Mrs Gandhi’s sympathy and she enquired with genuine concern: “Oh! What happened Sam?” At his mischievous best and with a twinkle in his eyes Sam Bahadur replied: “To tell you the truth Madame Prime Minister, this is just a ruse to garner affections of beautiful ladies!” Mrs Gandhi blushed and could not repress a chuckle. That too is Sam Bahadur.
Lt Gen Baljit Singh AVSM VSM ( Retd),
an Artillery Officer served with
distinction in the Indian army between