FORGOTTEN HEROES: Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, India’s greatest war hero
Sam Manekshaw was born on 3rd April 1914 to a Parsi Family in Amritsar. His father Hormusji Manekshaw was a renowned physician.
Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, a charismatic leader, a true patriot, a legend, and a forgotten hero. Manekshaw is one of those unfortunate figures, who in spite of being a legend in his own right remains forgotten in people’s minds. Such a shame isn’t it?
Sam Manekshaw was born on 3rd April 1914 to a Parsi Family in Amritsar. His father Hormusji Manekshaw was a renowned physician. Let me narrate an interesting story on how Manekshaw’s family settled in India and we didn’t lose out on a great hero. The story goes like this, Manekshaw’s parents were leaving Mumbai to settle in Lahore. But as luck would have it, their train stopped at Amritsar and Manekshaw’s Mother Hilla, refused to travel further. This is how Manekshaw family settled in Amritsar. Lucky for us!
Sam did his primary schooling in Amritsar and later joined Sherwood College in Nainital. He was a bright student and wanted to become a doctor. But how did a doctor’s son, who also wanted to be a doctor joined the army? Well, he has another story for that. Manekshaw wanted to study medicine in England and cleared all the required tests for it. But his father didn’t let him go there as we have just 15 years old. This didn’t go down well with him, and an angry rebellious Sam joined Indian Army in 1932. Thank god for that! He was the first intake in the Indian Military Academy. And his four-decade-old glorious military career began.
Manekshaw showed glimpses of his greatness in World War II, where he fought for the Britishers. Due to the shortage of qualified officers on the outbreak of war, in the first two years of the conflict, Manekshaw was appointed to the acting or temporary ranks of captain and major before promotion to substantive captain on 4 February 1942. He fought the invading Japanese Army in Burma. Manekshaw was hit by a number of bullets in the stomach after fighting bravely on the battlefield, injuring him severly. Maj. Gen.David Cowan, commander of the 17th infantry division, spotted Manekshaw clinging to life and, having witnessed his valour in the face of stiff resistance, rushed over to him. Fearing that Manekshaw would die, the general pinned his own Military Cross ribbon on him saying, “A dead person cannot be awarded a military cross”. This award was made official with the publication of the notification in a supplement to the London Gazette on 21 April 1942 (dated 23 April 1942).
Manekshaw was rushed to a hospital where an Australian surgeon agreed to treat him after much deliberation. In a funny exchange of words, when the surgeon asked Manekshaw what happened to him, he said he was “kicked by a mule”. Can you believe it? A man fighting for his life cracking jokes on the hospital bed! Such was the personality of Sam Manekshaw.
He played a pivotal role in the 1947 war with Pakistan. Due to his efforts, India was able to protect Kashmir from being taken by Pakistan. Manekshaw was very outspoken in nature. That created trouble for him. In 1961 when he was appointed as commandant of the defense services staff college, Wellington he was caught up in a controversy that almost ended his career. When Brij Mohan Kaul was promoted to lieutenant general and appointed the Quarter Master General, he became very close to Nehru and Defence Minister Krishna Menon. Which led to the government’s interference in Army. This irked many senior army officials including Manekshaw. He made derogatory comments about the interference of the political leadership in the administration of the army. This led him to be marked as anti-national. Kaul sent informers to spy on Manekshaw who, as a result of the information gathered, was charged with sedition, and subjected to a court of inquiry.
Due to the court proceeding, he could not take part in the Indo-Sino war. Later he was cleared of all the charges. But imagine the result of the war if Manekshaw was a part of it.
Now lets talk about 1971 war which divided Pakistan into two halves. Let’s not go into the details of the war and come to the point. When Mrs. Indira Gandhi asked him to fight the war, he denied it. He said directly on her face, “if we go to war now, we will lose”. Despite insistence from Mrs. Gandhi he denied it straight away and asked for time. In December when India declared war against Pakistan, we not only defeated them to create Bangladesh, but we humiliated them by making them surrender in public. More than 93,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered and taken as Prisoners of War (POW). By the way, this remains the only public surrender in the history of the world.
After the war, Sam Manekshaw was promoted to the rank of Field Marshall and he is the last person to get the rank. He was awarded Padma Vibhusan in 1972. He retired from the services in 1973. After his retirement, he served as an independent director on the board of several companies and, in a few cases, as the chairman. As I mentioned earlier his outspoken nature has landed him trouble, in one such incident, in an interview when he was asked what would have happened if he fought the ’71 war for Pakistan’? To which he replied in a light-hearted manner “Pakistan would have won.” This created a stir in the country and he was deprived of all the benefits and allowances from the government. Can you believe it? A war hero who served his country with everything he had, being treated like this. It wasn’t till 2007 when Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam met Manekshaw in Wellington and presented him with a cheque for ₹1.3 crores his arrears of pay for over 30 years.
Manekshaw died of complications from pneumonia at the Military Hospital in Wellington, Tamil Nadu at 12:30 a.m. on 27 June 2008 at the age of 94. Reportedly, his last words were “I’m okay!”. His funeral lacked VIP representation even national mourning was not declared.
Now let’s ask this question to ourselves, does a national hero deserve this? Did he deserve to die a lonely death? No, he doesn’t. But that’s the reality, as Indians don’t value our heroes. We forget their contribution with time. Maybe tomorrow somebody will make a biographical on him and people will talk about him for a bit. But is that enough? It’s high time that we learn to remember our heroes and let’s make sure no one is treated ever again like Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.