Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw: The Man and His Times
By Brig Behram M Panthaki (Retd) and Zenobia Panthaki
As a 2-star general he had a run-in with Defence Minister Krishna Menon when he refused to comment on the Army Chief and told Menon to mend his ways. This almost brought his career to a grinding halt. A court of inquiry was ordered against him with trumped up charges, including one that accused him of being an anglophile! Fortunately, he came out unscathed. As a 3-star general he stopped Prime Minister Nehru’s daughter from entering the Ops Room of his Corps HQ as she lacked security clearance. As an Army Commander, he carried the latest music LPs and playboy magazines and calendars for officers deployed at high altitudes, facing enemy lines, paying for the gifts on his personal tab. In April 1971, as Chief of Army Staff, he stood up to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and offered to put in his papers rather than compromise the safety and security of his men through an untimely, unplanned war. In December that year, under his command, in 14 days the Indian army liberated East Pakistan and the birth of the new nation of Bangladesh forever changed the geo-politics of the subcontinent. Sam was promoted to Field Marshal, a first for the Indian Army. At the height of the war, Delhi was afloat with rumours that the Chief had been spied at The Tabela, a popular discotheque. True or false, we’ll never know, for that was the enigma that surrounded Sam Manekshaw.
As much as men in uniform loved Sam, the bureaucrats dreaded him. When MOD proposed discontinuation of free rum to troops in high altitude areas, he returned the file with a terse comment, “Over my dead body.” Chapter closed. The welfare of his soldiers, his officers and their families came first, always and every time. Intolerant of sycophancy and indiscipline, Sam ruled with an iron rod but tempered his decisions with compassion and humour. Dressing down a young officer whose dalliance with a tribal girl had resulted in a military standoff, Sam admonished, “Boy, you had my entire Eastern Army at ‘stand-to’. I hope she was worth it!” On a visit to a formation, explaining the absence of his wife he said she never traveled on Saturdays as she considered them inauspicious days, “you see, that was the day on which she married me!”
Many such anecdotes about Sam Manekshaw can be found in a coffee table book that Zenobia and I have written on the Field Marshal. I served on his staff from 1965-73 and was a witness to events that altered the landscape of the Indian sub-continent. My wife and I shared closeness to Sam that gave us an insight into his ideals, his military acumen, his mannerisms and his sometimes wicked sense of humour. With 200 photographs, citations, letters from eminent personalities like Lord Louis Mountbatten, Field Marshal Sir Claude Auchinleck, the British High Commissioner in India and Heads of State, the book has a lot to offer.
To celebrate Sam’s centenary the book was launched on April 3, 2014 by General Bikram Singh, Chief of the Army Staff. Two more formal releases were held in Delhi and Mumbai where the former Chief Justice of India, the Honorable Sam Bharucha, said the book was a ‘must read’, for Manekshaw’s life symbolized the highest principals of public life in service to the nation.
The book has received excellent reviews. A few excerpts follow:
Fali Nariman, President Bar Association of India, Former Additional Solicitor Gen of India: “From beginning to end this delightful narrative simply races along, providing an intimate, witty and scintillating story of a superhero. Sam’s humanism, his notations on official files, his colourful language and his doodles, which occasionally set off tidal waves of mirth through Army Headquarters, make this book simply ‘un-put-down-able’!
Lt Gen Vijay Oberoi (Retd), (Maratha Light Infantry), Former Vice Chief of Army Staff: “A delightful tale woven with great dexterity that brings out the well-rounded personality of a proud soldier, a military leader par excellence and a great human being. This gem of a book is a must for your coffee table.”
Lalit Mansingh, Former Foreign Secretary and Ambassador to the United States: “While chronicling his career, (the authors) present (Sam) as a family man, a comrade-in-arms, a strategist and a charismatic leader of the troops. It is a story narrated with affection and admiration but never with hyperbole. A(n) eminently readable narrative.”
Lt Gen Rostum K Nanavatty (Retd), former Colonel of the 8th Gorkha Rifles and former Northern Army Commander: “In the Indian Army stories about Sam Manekshaw are legion. This book serves as a reference point. It authenticates conversations and incidents; and destroys myths. Importantly, the book offers the discerning reader fascinating insights into the Field Marshal’s personal and professional conduct.”
Maj Gen Ian Cardozo (Retd.), (5th Gorkha Rifles), “The story of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw has been brilliantly brought to centre-stage. The anecdotes bring out Sam’s love for country, for the Army, its officers and its soldiers. His sense of humour, his friendly approach, his professional competence, his forthrightness and his moral courage gave a new meaning to the word ‘integrity.’ His … behaviour was the same whether he was dealing with his prime minister or his beloved Gorkha soldiers who called him ‘Sam Bahadur.’ The nickname stuck and Sam loved it.”