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Manekshaw: A soldier who created a nation

Last updated on: June 27, 2008 02:49 IST

A soldier's General, Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw crafted India's greatest military victory in the 1971 Indo-Pak war that created just not history, but also a new nation.

Affectionately called "Sam Bahadur", Manekshaw, 94, was the architect of many a military triumph, but his finest hour came when Pakistani forces were vanquished in 14 days flat. And Bangladesh was born.

Handsome, witty and sporting his trademark handlebar moustache, Manekshaw had the rare distinction of being honoured for his bravery - Military Cross - right on the battle front itself during the Second World War. He was also the first Indian officer to command the Gorkhas after India got Independence.

Manekshaw, who got a second life after the young Captain survived near fatal wounds during the Second World War in Burma, is the first of only two Indian military officers to hold the highest rank of Field Marshal of the Indian Army (The other being Field Marshal K M Cariappa).

His distinguished military career spanned four decades from the British era and through five wars, including the Second World War.

Flamboyant by nature, Manekshaw always had his way with people, including his seniors and even the country's Head of Government.

Just before the Bangladesh operations in December 1971, the then prime minister Indira Gandhi asked Manekshaw ,who was the Army Chief then, "General are you ready" (for the war). Pat came the reply from the dapper officer, "I am always ready sweetie." Indira was not unpleased, nor offended.

On another occasion, Indira asked him whether he was planning to take over the country. Pointing to his long nose, the General replied: "I don't use it to poke into other's affairs."

When Indira asked him to go to Dhaka and accept the surrender of Pakistani forces, Manekshaw declined, magnanimously saying that honour should go to his Army commander in the East (Lt Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora).

Manekshaw said he would only go if it were to accept the surrender of the entire Pakistani army.

A shrewd tactician, Manekshaw meticulously planned the Indian attack on Pakistan on both fronts -- East and West. While the Indian forces captured the then East Pakistan in the eastern sector, the army made heavy inroads in the western sector going up to Lahore.

Adopting a mature war strategy, he masterminded the rout of the Pakistan Army in one of the quickest victories in the recent military history to liberate Bangladesh.

Born on April 3, 1914 in Amritsar to Parsi parents who migrated to Punjab from the small town of Valsad on the Gujarat coast, Manekshaw rose to be the Eighth Chief of Staff of the Indian Army in 1969. The year of the General's birth was around the time when the First World War broke.

During World War II, Manekshaw saw action in the Burma campaign on Sittang River as a Captain with the 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment.

Manekshaw was leading a counter-offensive against the invading Japanese Army in Burma. During the course of the offensive he was hit by a burst of LMG bullets and was severely wounded in the stomach.

Major General D T Cowan spotted Manekshaw holding on to life and was aware of his valour in face of stiff resistance from the Japanese.

Fearing the worst, Major General Cowan quickly pinned his own Military Cross ribbon on to Manekshaw saying, "A dead person cannot be awarded a Military Cross." But luck was on the young Captain's side and he survived to be one of India's most popular Army Chiefs.

Manekshaw became the 8th Chief of Army Staff when he succeeded General Kumaramangalam on June 7, 1969. His years of military experience were soon put to the test as thousands of refugees from the erstwhile East Pakistan started crossing over to India as a result of oppression from West Pakistan. The volatile situation erupted into a full-scale war in December 1971 and the rest is history.

During the 1971 war, Manekshaw showed uncanny ability to motivate the forces, coupling it with a mature war strategy.

The war ended with Pakistan's unconditional surrender, and the formation of Bangladesh. More than 45,000 Pakistani soldiers and 45,000 civilian personnel were taken as POWs.

This led to the Shimla Agreement which opened the door to the creation of the nation of Bangladesh as separate from Pakistan.

The Field Marshal's wit was legendary. Once on a visit to his unit as Commanding Officer he asked what action was taken against a man who contracted veneral disease and when he was told the man's head was shaved off, he roared. "Shaved off?

Dammit. he didn't do it with his head."

After completing his schooling in Amritsar and Sherwood College (Nainital), he joined the first batch of 40 cadets at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun on October 1, 1932. He passed out of the IMA in December 1934 and was commissioned as

a Second Lieutenant in the Indian Army. He held several regimental assignments and was first attached to the Royal Scots and later to the 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment.

Having recovered from those near-fatal wounds in Burma, 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.

In 1937, at a social gathering in Lahore Manekshaw met Silloo Bode. They fell in love and were married on April 22, 1939. Silloo, a graduate of Bombay's Elphinstone College made an admirable wife.

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 POWs.

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 Military Operations Directorate.

Manekshaw showed acumen for planning and administration while handling the issues related to Partition in 1947, and later put to use his battle skills during the 1947-48 Jammu and Kashmir Operations.

After command of an Infantry Brigade, he was posted as the Commandant of the Infantry School and also became the Colonel of 8 Gorkha Rifles (which became his new regimental home, since his original parent regiment The 12th Frontier

Force Regiment went on to join the new Pakistan Army at partition) and 61 Cavalry.

He commanded a Division in Jammu and Kashmir and a Corps in the North East, with a tenure as Commandant of Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) in between. As GOC-in-C, Eastern Command, he handled the tricky problem of insurgency in

Nagaland and the grateful nation honoured him with a Padma Bhushan in 1968.

For his distinguished service to the country, the President of India awarded him a Padma Vibhushan in 1972.

The President conferred upon him the rank of Field Marshal, a prestigious honorary rank, on January one, 1973.

Manekshaw retired a fortnight later (although technically Field Marshals of the Indian Army never retire because the rank is conferred for life), on January 15, 1973, after completing nearly four decades of military service.

In 1961, his outspoken frankness got him into trouble with Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon and his protege of the time Lt Gen B M Kaul. He refused to toe Menon's line and was sidelined.

Manekshaw was vindicated soon after when the Indian Army suffered a humiliating defeat in North East Frontier Agency (NEFA), now Arunachal Pradesh, the next year, at the hands of the Chinese that led to 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 feet tall". His first order of the day 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.

After retirement, Manekshaw settled down in Coonoor in the Nilgiris in Tamil Nadu.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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