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Manekshaw: A man who always thought ahead
Lieutenant General Dipendar Singh
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An interview with Manekshaw

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June 30, 2008

Field Marshal Sam Mankshaw was a man of outstanding talent. Tall in every sense of the word. His passing leaves a huge void not only in the defence services, but also the country in general.

I hope the very high standards he set will be emulated by the coming generations so that we may have more like him.

I had the privilege of working with him for four years as his military assistant when he was the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS). It was also a period of great crisis. It was a tremendous learning experience to see the great character traits he displayed as he stood up to the prime minister and her Cabinet in refusing to be hustled into a war. Though he was sure of victory even then, it would have been nowhere as spectacular as it was in the end had we rushed into it.

He was absolutely calm and unruffled. That is the great advantage of working to his own schedule. Eventually too, there were a couple of minor hiccups and he took them in his stride, knowing well how big a victory it would end in.

The two minor hiccups I mentioned, one was Longewala, where a Pakistani column had made inroads. The other was near Shikaripura, where our men had crossed a bridge, but were faced with resistance. '

The commanding officer ordered a retreat and got the bridge destroyed. As soon as word reached the general, the commanding officer got a rocket of a communication, the gist of which was that one must never believe fully in the first reports. They are almost always wrong, he said and just as he had said, the casualty in that battalion ended up being minimal, much less than what was initially expected.

Barring these two incidents, everything went according to schedule culminating in a rousing victory.

During those days, he would keep a very easy schedule. Since he had planned the entire thing according his ideas, it was easy for him to be calm and collected as he knew how things would unfold. If anything, there was only a bit of extra happiness whenever something went ahead of his schedule.

He would come to the office at 9 am, by which time I would have gone through the reports from the previous night and had them written in a piece of paper. He would take that piece of paper and go to the PM's house for a briefing. After that, the defence minister would walk in to his office to discuss the day's affairs. This was a far cry from how things are these days, when the general goes to the defence secretary's office to brief him. But then such are the times we live in.

He would then go home for lunch and be back in the office to finish the day's proceedings. He would leave office at 5 pm and then go to a party! That was his mindset. The victory and the manner in which it would be achieved was always clear to him.

He was a man of tremendous ego, but at the same time he was very humble. Though he never suffered fools and would cut them short brutally every time they went, 'this happened, that happened, he said, she said�' He was also the kind who wouldn't hesitate to walk up to an officer and ask him if he did not understand anything in a note.

He never sent for any officer. He would always walk up to an usually overawed officer and say, 'Look sweetie, I do not understand this thing. Can you please explain?' or 'Sweetie, Can we do it this way?'

He was a man of giving nature and expected nothing but hard work from us, which was not asking for much, since working hard was what we were paid for.

His sense of humour was also legendary.

Once when he was visiting a battalion of Garhwalis, he asked the officer, "Heard one of your boys has contracted VD. What have you done about it?" The officer said: "We have shaved off his head, sir." The general turned to him and roared: "He did not do it with his head, dammit!"

On a later occasion, a note had come from the prime minister's office, forwarding an anonymous complaint that there was a lot of favouritism and nepotism in the army, and the complaint cited the appointment of one Major General Das as the director, weapons and equipment. This post was seen as a very lucrative one since the director was the one who interacted with the arms dealers and a lot of people had gotten into trouble when in that post.

The general replied: 'The anonymous complaint accuses me of playing favourites and nepotism. The dictionary says nepotism is giving away undue favours to relatives.

Major General Das is a high-caste Hindu and I am a high-caste Parsi and I don't see any connection by way of religion.

'Major General Das is 46 and I am 55, which clearly shows that I could not have possibly sired him. So there is no paternal link as well.

This should prove that there is no nepotism in Major General Das's appointment.'

He sent this directly to the PM!

In all, he was a remarkable man and it was a great learning experience being under him for four years. A Lot of life's lessons were learnt in that time. It is unfortunate the nation erred in not using him after his term in the military. I assume the Congress culture just couldn't tolerate his popularity.

It was also sad to see that the defence minister and other dignitaries did not attend his funeral.

Some of these people go flying around to find the stations where they get cheap chicken and liquor. They should have had at least the minimum decency of honouring a great man for what he was. I think we as a nation are not as big-hearted as the great man was.

When Indira asked him to go take the surrender in Bangladesh, he told her JS Arora was the man who fought on the ground and it is he who must accept the surrender and receive all the limelight. It is unfortunate that our politicians should behave in such a manner.

I hope they at least give him Bharat Ratna, though even that would not right the grave wrong.

Lieutenant General Dipendar Singh was Sam Manekshaw's Military Assistant for four years, including the time of the 1971 war; Krishnakumar P spoke to Dipendar Singh.

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