‘Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw: The Man and His Times’

The army headquarters had recommended that the Republic Day parade in 1972 be cancelled but the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted the pageant to take place to celebrate the Indian Army’s stupendous victory in the 1971 War against Pakistan.

Article Published on OutlookIndia.com

This and several other anecdotes find mention in a new book Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw: The Man and His Times on the charismatic military leader, fondly called Sam, written by his long-serving aide Brigadier (Retd) Behram Panthaki and his wife Zenobia.

After the victory in the 1971 war, the country was euphoric.

"The Indian Army had vindicated itself and the demons of the 1962 Chinese debacle had been exorcised. With units still in forward location, Army headquarters recommended that the Republic Day parade be cancelled, but Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted the pageant. There was a victory to celebrate there were tributes to pay," the book says.

The Amar Jawan Jyoti was erected at short notice by the CPWD under the canopy of the India Gate.

"On January 26, 1972, before the commencement of the parade, Gandhi drove down Rajpath in an open jeep, followed by the three service chiefs, to pay homage to the fallen. A scaled-down version of the parade followed. Contingents marched down Rajpath in battle fatigues rather than ceremonial uniforms," the Panthakis write.

The authors also say that Gandhi was seriously considering appointing Manekshaw Chief of Defence Staff on Republic Day in 1972 but the move was opposed by Congress politicians led by Defence Minister Jagjivam Ram and by Air Chief Marshall P C Lal.

"The proposal was dropped and still eludes the services today, 42 years later," they say.

The book, published by Niyogi, is an anecdotal account of Manekshaw who changed the map of the subcontinent. Replete with photographs, citations, notes and personal correspondence, it highlights his character, sense of humour, moral and professional courage, honesty, humility and respect for men in uniform.

The book also says that Jawaharlal Nehru wanted to consult the UN before sending the army to Kashmir when Pakistani raiders were approaching the valley in 1947 and was coaxed by Sardar Patel to order the movement of troops.

"The Defence Committee of the Cabinet looked to Prime Minister Nehru for a decision. Nehru hesitated. He was concerned about world opinion and talked about consulting the United Nations until an impatient Sardar Patel wrested the initiative from him."

"’Jawahar, do you want Kashmir or do you want to give it away?’ ‘Of course, I want Kashmir,’ was Nehru’s indignant response. The Sardar turned to Sam and said, ‘You have your marching orders’."

At 11 AM on October 26, the airlift commenced from Delhi’s Safdarjung airport with six IAF and 50 Dakotas that had been requisitioned a few days earlier from private airlines.

"A total of 800 sorties were flown for a fortnight. By November 16, the raiders had been repulsed from the valley and Srinagar and the airport were secured although engagement with infiltrators in the rest of Kashmir and along the border continued for another 14 months," the book says.

Interestingly, this reported reluctance of Nehru was mentioned by BJP leader L K Advani in his blog last year.

Quoting from an interview of Manekshaw by senior journalist Prem Shankar Jha, Advani said that as the tribesmen, supported by Pakistani forces, moved closer to Srinagar, a decision had to be taken on moving Indian forces there. However, Nehru appeared reluctant and felt the issue should be taken to the UN.

However, Jha later clarified that the "real disagreement" between Nehru and Patel was not over sending the army but when and under what circumstances.