Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw or Sam Bahadur to the Gorkhas was one of India’s greatest generals. Today is his hundredth Birthday. Bangladesh had honoured him as one of the Liberators of the Country but the Government of his own country simply ignored him after his retirement . Though he was a true BHARAT RATNA,equal to nearly all and much taller than quite a few bestowed with this honour, till date he has not been honoured with it.
His famous words at HQ 4 Corps on taking over the command in 1962 were ” GENTLEMEN HENCEFORTH NO MORE WITHDRAWLS.” He was always blunt but gentleman to the core.In March 1971, as Army Chief, he refused point blank to be rushed into a war with Pakistan by the PM and the Cabinet. Since the Army was just not equipped and prepared together with the coming MONSOON .so despite pressure from the cabinet, he stuck to his guns. He when alone with Indira, even offered resignation on health grounds , if PM was so inclined. The Indian Army launched the assault in December that year and won the war that led to the birth of Bangladesh.
A soldier to the core right from his days from IMA and the Second World War, he had told the Gentlemen Cadets at the Indian Military Academy, “You will not have wealth, you will not be rich but you will have respect, you will be the soldier of this great Army.” He finally decided to live in salubrious town of Wellington near Otacamund. He had a liking for the place since the days when he was the Commandant of the prestigious Defence Services Staff College.
In the Nilgiri Hills he built a house and lived with his wife Seelu and spent the last three decades of his life. Many a times Officers attending Staff College found that the Lady standing in que at the military fuel station was none other than Mrs Manekshaw. No amount of request would make her break the que, she would always wait for her turn. Most of the officers would surely go and call on them .His personal staff, notably Manbahadur and his family, adored Sam. Manbhadur after retiring from Army came to live with the Field Marshal and became part of the family.
The military victory in East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh as Sam Manekshaw’s triumph as much as that of Indira Gandhi’s. He was at the apogee of his fame. But Sam’s image and fame also earned him many enemies. For long, he was denied the monetary benefits and status due to a Field Marshal.A Field Marshal never retires. It was not until 2006-07 that President Abdul Kalam backed the initiative of then Defence Secretary Shekhar Dutt [he had fought as a Captain in 1971 war] and made sure the Field Marshal got his full monetary dues. But perhaps, it was too late by then. Sam was already in hospital.Shockingly, Sam Manekshaw was treated shabbily in his death too. Forget that Prime Minister even Defence Minister AK Antony did not go for his funeral and neither did any of the military chiefs. As Lt Gen SK Sinha, who worked with Sam for over 40 years after Independence, said: “The Army chief at that time was in Moscow so he had some reason, but the Navy and the Air Force were represented by officers of two-star rank and of course no one from government. The minister didn’t go either.”
Family members, however, have kept a dignified silence. His daughter, Maja Daruwala, says, “It is not for us to say.” The government may have forgotten the man who led India to its greatest military victory but for lakhs of soldiers and military enthusiasts, Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw will continue to remain an inspiration. It’s time the Government of should bestow the BHARAT RATNA on him and make amends.