“Anyone who says he is not afraid is either a Gurkha or a liar”
—FM SHFJ Manekshaw, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Military Cross.
If Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan and Military Cross – nicknamed by the Gorkhas as ‘Sam Bahadur’- became an icon, it is only because he undoubtedly was one. In the true mould of ‘an officer and a gentleman’, a shrewd tactician, a man with great moral courage and one with a delightful and sharp sense of humour, his best known image was the one of his side-cap tilted to his right, trimmed handlebar moustache and a mischievous smile — a man of arms and yet most disarming.
His hundredth birthday on April 3, 2014, was marked by then Army Chief General Bikram Singh unveiling his statue at the majestic Manekshaw Centre, Delhi Cantonment, followed by the release of an excellent compilation of visuals, accounts and anecdotes themed on ‘The Man and his Times’ by Brig (retd) Behram and Zenobia Panthaki (Niyogi Books).
Born on April 3, 1914 at Amritsar, after completing his schooling in Amritsar and Sherwood College, Nainital, he joined the first batch of 40 cadets at Indian Military Academy, Dehradun on 01 October 1932. He passed out of the IMA in December 1934 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Indian Army under British Rule with the commissioned officer number IC-0014. He was first attached to the Royal Scouts and later to the 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment.
During World War II’s Burma Campaign, he was fatally hit in his stomach by machine gun fire. Spotting the wounded Sam and recognising his courage in the line of fire, Major General David Tennent ‘Punch’ Cowan, took off his Military Cross ribbon and pinned it on his chest saying ‘A dead person cannot be awarded a Military Cross.’ Fortunately, he survived, after quipping to the surgeon that he had been kicked by an ass! Having recovered from those near-fatal wounds, Manekshaw went for a course at Staff College, Quetta and later also served there as an instructor before being sent to join 12 Frontier Force Rifles in Burma under General (later Field Marshal) Slim’s 14th Army. He was once again involved in a fierce battle with the Japanese and was wounded for a second time.
Towards the close of World War II, Manekshaw was sent as Staff Officer to General Daisy in Indo-China, where after the Japanese surrender, he helped rehabilitate over 10,000 prisoners of war (PsOW). He, then, went on a six-month lecture tour to Australia in 1946 and after his return served as a First Grade Staff Officer in the Directorate of Military Operations (DMO).
According to late Brigadier SS Malik, one of his contemporaries whom I interacted with, recounted that during pre Independence period in DMO his colleague with whom he was working out details of partitioning the undivided Indian Army was Yahya Khan, who was not in favour of the division and of going to Pakistan. It is ironic indeed that during the third India Pakistan war of December 1971, when Manekshaw was the Indian Army Chief, the same Yahya Khan was his blundering Pakistani counterpart.
In December 1971, Manekshaw made India stand tall by directing a well-coordinated tri-service operation, in which erstwhile East Pakistan was effectively surrounded in barely two weeks and 93,000 Pakistani armed forces personnel taken as prisoners of war- a record in military history- and the new nation Bangladesh was created.
Demoralised and in disarray, the Pakistani troops were urged by Manekshaw in repeated radio broadcasts “Should you not heed my advice to surrender to my army and endeavour to escape, I assure you certain death awaits you.” He also assured the Pakistanis that if they surrendered they would be treated as prisoners of war according to the Geneva convention.
Sam’s famous quotes during that war placarded on the borders were “You are entering Pakistan, no passports required, Bash on regardless” and with special reference to dealing with civilians at a time when Pakistan Army was known to have been indulging in mass-raping thousands of East Pakistani women, was “Hands in your pockets and think of Sam”. Late Granville G ‘Bob’ Watts, my old friend who covered the 1971 war in the Eastern sector for Reuters, was one of a number of foreign journalists who commented that conduct of Indian Army in East Pakistan/Bangladesh was exemplary – with not a single case of any kind of misbehaviour against women.
In early 1971, when the problem of the great influx of East Pakistani refugees entering India was being discussed in a Cabinet meeting, Indira Gandhi had asked for Sam, then Army Chief to be present. When asked by her as to what he had done about this influx he had replied that was doing nothing about it as doing anything would amount to an act of war. At the end of the meeting, when she asked him to stay on, he admitted during some interviews with media that he had prepared himself to tender his resignation. However, when she resumed the discussion with him in private, he gave her all the reasons why he felt India should not go to war at that point of time. She then asked him to suggest the date and in sign language conveyed that he should pen it down on a piece of paper. He wrote 4 December 1971. If the war began on 3 December, it was because of Pakistan attacking Indian airfields.
Thanks to the rare politico-military synergy between then Prime Minister Gandhi and Army Chief plus Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee Manekshaw, she heeded his recommendations and gave him the go. Sam directed a wellcoordinated tri-service operation, in which for the first time since 1947, the Navy was used and with very telling effect on the Western seaboard and erstwhile East Pakistan was effectively surrounded in barely two weeks. Manekshaw urged the demoralised and disarrayed Pakistani troops in repeated radio broadcasts: “Should you not heed my advice to surrender to my army and endeavour to escape, I assure you certain death awaits you.” He also assured the Pakistanis that if they surrendered they would be treated as PsOW according to the Geneva Convention.” 93,000 Pakistani armed forces personnel surrendered to Indian Army -a record in military history- and the brutally suppressed people were liberated to form the new nation, Bangladesh. Yahya Khan who had purchased Sam’s motor-cycle before partition had never paid the due amount. After the war, Sam could not but help commenting that Yahya paid with half of his country.
Manekshaw’s professionalism and values earned him deep regard not only from India but even from Pakistan. Twice after the 1971 war, he visited Pakistan for the Delineation Talks. In one of them, at Lahore, as he was departing after being hosted by the Governor of Punjab province, one of the employees at the Governor’s House placed his turban at Manekshaw’s feet. In chaste Punjabi when Sam told him ‘this turban should be on your head, not at my feet’, the man emotionally replied that it was there to thank him for the well being of five of his sons serving in Pakistan Army and all being held as prisoners of war in India, in humane conditions with prisoners pay, beds to sleep on, even when Indian Army personnel were facing a shortage of the same and provision to write letters home, which he was receiving from all of them. His parting words, much to the embarrassment of the Governor and Pakistani officials were ‘…we will never again say that Indians are bad’.
When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked him to go to Dhaka and accept the surrender of Pakistani forces, Sam correctly declined saying that that honour should go to Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora, GOC-in-C, Eastern Command. His going would be appropriate only if the entire Pakistani army were to surrender.
The Nathu La skirmish of 1967 merits mention. Chinese troops in Nathu La, Sikkim, had upped the ante considerably by adding heavy mortars to small arms fire and killed a number of Indian Army personnel over a few incidents. The brigade commander’s request for a response with artillery needed defence minister’s sanction. Then Army Chief, Gen PP Kumaramangalam was in France. Sam, then Eastern Army Commander came to Delhi to officiate as the Chief. Invited for dinner by Mrs. Gandhi, during discussions including this matter, she admitted to Him: “You know, Sam, nobody tells me the truth.” When the request came to her, she sanctioned the use of artillery without any delay and the ensuing retaliation cost the Chinese about 400 fatal casualties apart from destruction of a number of their vehicles and bunkers. And the message effectively went across to the Chinese that 1962 could not be repeated. In one fell stroke Mrs Gandhi had overturned her father’s flawed policy on China.
Late Maj. Gen. Shubhi Sood and Brig. Behram Panthaki, both from 8 Gorkha Rifles, were ADCs to Manekshaw when he was the Chief. Sood authored Leadership: Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw (SDS Publishers) in which he mentioned about Indira Gandhi telling Sam that she had reports of his planning a coup. Sam responded:” Madame Prime Minister, you have nothing to fear; from me or the Army. You do your job and let me do mine.” During the very first trunk-call conversation between Sam and Panthaki, before his becoming ADC, thanks to the poor connection, Sam heard “Behram” as “ Beroze” and Beroze he remained for Sam forever. If Behram was Beroze for Sam, for then Defence Minister Babu Jagjivan Ram, Sam was “Shyam”. “Next time the Defence Minister calls, please tell him there is no bloody ‘Shyam’ here,” he said.