Remembering Sam Manekshaw

The first Indian to become a Field Marshal, Sam “Bahadur” Manekshaw died in the early hours of Friday at the Military Hospital in Wellington, Tamil Nadu. Till now, only two have been conferred that distinction. Here are the achievements of the man credited to have scripted Bangladesh’s freedom during the 1971 Indo-Pak War.

Manekshaw graduated as a part of the first batch of cadets from the Indian Military Academy in 1934. During the Second World War, Manekshaw was commissioned to Burma, where the Indian Army was fighting the surging Japanese troops. During a counter offensive move, Manekshaw was hit by a series of bullets on his stomach. Major General DT Cowan saw Manekshaw clutching his stomach in agony, and fearing the worst, pinned his own Military Cross on Manekshaw, saying “A dead person cannot be awarded a Military Cross.”

Manekshaw miraculously survived the wounds, and underwent a course at the Staff College, Quetta, followed by a period as an Instructor. Soon after, he was listed to join the 12 Frontier Force Rifles in Burma, and was wounded again fighting the Japanese. As the Second World War came to a close, Manekshaw was sent as a Staff Officer to Indo-China where he helped rehabilitate nearly 10,000 Prisoners of War.

Manekshaw showed acumen while planning and administrating the Partition of 1947. Soon after, he had to put his battle skills to the test during the Operations in Jammu and Kashmir in 1947-1948, when the Pakistan violated the Stand-Still treaty and invaded Kashmir.

Manekshaw became the Chief of Army Staff in 1969, and his years of military experience came in handy during the 1971 War. Thousands of East Pakistani’s had crossed the border to India prior to the War due to the Oppression they faced from the Pakistani Government. Indira Gandhi supported the Bangladeshi Freedom Movement, and after months of volatility, the situation escalated into a full fledged war. Just before the war, Indira Gandhi asked Manekshaw “Are you ready (for the war)?” To this, Manekshaw replied “I’m always ready, sweetie.”

In merely 14 days, the Pakistani troops were defeated and the country of Bangladesh was formed. When Indira Gandhi requested Manekshaw to travel to Dhaka to oversee the surrender of Pakistan, Maneshaw refused to do so, stating his Army Commander in the East, Lt General Jagjit Singh Aurora, should have the honour.

On January 1, 1973, Manekshaw was conferred the rank of Field Marshal for his efforts during nearly four decades of Military Service during which he fought in five wars. Manekshaw retired two weeks later, although he retained the rank of Field Marshall, which is conferred for life.

Sam Maneckshaw proved to be one of the most loyal servants to the Indian Military. He was respected widely for being a master strategist. Despite having had all the credentials to take up politics later on, he accepted it as not being his area of expertise. Indira Gandhi once asked him if he was planning to take over the country. His reply: pointing to his long nose, he said, “I don’t use it to poke into others business.” It speaks volumes of Manekshaw, the person, as well as Manekshaw, the Army Chief to whom nothing matter more than the good of the nation. Sam Bahadur deserves all the accolades and the honours he received as the Army gave him his last rites in the Nilgiri Hills in grand style.

Here is a toast, to a great soldier, and a great Indian.

Raveesh Bhalla

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