Friday, June 27, 2008

Manekshaw: India's War Hero Passes On

Sam Hormusji Framji "Sam Bahadur" Jamshedji Manekshaw MC (April 3, 1914 – June 27, 2008) passed away today in Tamil Nadu, India. He was an Indian Army officer, with his distinct handlebar mustache, and only one of two generals to reach the rank of the Field Marshal in the Indian Army. He was the last of the top commanders involved in Bangladesh war of 1971.

In his long career spanning nearly four decades, Manekshaw rose to be the 8th Chief of Staff of the Indian Army in 1969 and under his command, Indian forces concluded a victorious campaign during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971.

While Lt. General Jagjit Singh Arora ( Feb 13, 1916-May 3, 2005) was the face of the Indian victory and received highly publicized surrender documents from Lt. General A.K. Niazi(1915 - February 2, 2004) of Pakistan, Manekshaw was the real architect of the historic win over India's arch foe. It represented redemption for Sam Bahadur who also participated in the 1962 campaign against China which saw the Indian military thoroughly defeated and demoralized.

Explaining the defeat, General Niazi, the commander of the vanquished Pakistani military, had always insisted that he had acted according to the orders of the High Command. Following the war, Niazi was made the scapegoat and blamed for much of Pakistan's human rights abuses in Bangladesh (he was personally blamed for smuggling and rape of Bengali civilians in the Hamoodur-Rehman commission report) as well as the military and strategic losses during the war. He was subsequently dishonorably discharged by Pakistan Army. For the rest of his life, Niazi had sought Court-Martial to prove his innocence, but was never charged.

Manekshaw was born in Amritsar, Punjab to Parsi parents who immigrated to the Punjab from the small town of Valsad on the Gujarat coast. After completing his schooling in Amritsar and Sherwood College (Nainital), he joined the first batch of 40 cadets at the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun on 1 October 1932. He graduated from the IMA in December 1934 and was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Indian Army. He held several regimental assignments and was first attached to the Royal Scots and later to the 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment. The fact that Sam Manekshaw was of Parsi descent made him rather unique as a military man in predominantly Hindu India. He represented the secular face of India's democracy, along with Lt. General Arora, his Sikh lieutenant in 1971, and Maj. General Amin Naik, a Muslim, who currently heads the Indian military in Kashmir .

After the Bangladesh war, when Sam Bahadur retired, the Indian government was not particularly generous with him, according to Lt. Gen JFR Jacob who headed the Eastern Command under Maneckshaw during the war. Manekshaw retired on a paltry pension of Rs. 1300 a month with no perks, not even a car. Eventually, the Government gave him a check for Rs. 16 million in lieu of the salary he should have received as Field Marshal but didn’t get over 36 years.

A humble hero, Sam Manekshaw will go down in history as one of the most significant Indians who changed the course of history in South Asia by inflicting a traumatic defeat on Pakistan. The fact that the great military hero then faded away from the public eye to continue to serve quietly in the military and then retire honorably is a testament to India's enduring democracy, where military men are constitutionally and practically subservient to the civilian leadership. In his death, Manekshaw is being honored with a state funeral, an appropriate farewell for the great soldier who served his nation well.

Sources: News Reports

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