Soldier extraordinaire: Book Review

A riveting account of the life and times of the first Field Marshal of India.

Review By PURNIMA S. TRIPATHI | Frontline

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IN April 1971, General Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, the Chief of the Army Staff (COAS), reportedly overruled Prime Minister Indira Gandhi when she wanted the Indian Army to attack what was then East Pakistan as all diplomatic avenues had failed to move Pakistan into controlling the flow of refugees to India. Manekshaw, who was summoned to a Union Cabinet meeting, stated in unequivocal terms that the Army was not ready to enter into a war with Pakistan.

He is reported to have told Indira Gandhi: “Madam Prime Minister, you may not mind being in the same position as your father was in 1962, but I certainly don’t want to be in the same position that he [the then Army chief] was.” He explained to her why the Army was not prepared for a war: only 11 out of the 189 tanks of the armoured division were operational (for lack of funds), troops needed time to be moved to forward areas, roads had to be built, railway wagons had to be requisitioned, and uninterrupted logistical supplies had to be ensured, and all this was a huge challenge in view of the impending monsoon when the entire eastern India would be inundated. He told the Prime Minister that plunging into a war without adequate preparation would be suicidal.

Indira Gandhi dismissed the Cabinet meeting, and as the Ministers began to leave she asked Manekshaw, who was the last one to leave, to stay back. Sensing her angry mood, he is reported to have asked her: “Would you like me to send in my resignation on grounds of health, mental or physical?” She told him: “Sit down, Sam, is everything you told me true?” He answered: “Madam Prime Minister, it is my job to tell you the truth. It is my job to fight and it is my job to win.” He explained to her that East Pakistan would capitulate within a month if he was given a free hand, if the timing [of the war] was of his choice, and if he had only one political master to report to, the Prime Minister. Indira Gandhi agreed to his terms and the rest is history.

But there are facts about Manekshaw that are not so well known. While the war was raging, the Indian Army was marching to victory, and Bangladesh was being created, where was the Army chief? He was reportedly seen once at Tabela, a popular dance joint at the Oberoi hotel in New Delhi. “Something which may or may not have been true, but was definitely in keeping with the persona that he had,” say the authors of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw.

  • Author: Brigadier Behram M. Panthaki (Retd) and Zenobia Panthaki
  • Publisher: Niyogi Books, 2014
  • Pages: 214
  • Price: Rs.1,495