The United States of America’s ‘Uncle Sam’ with is top hat adorned with stars and stripes is rather famous across the globe. But little is known of India’s own Uncle Sam, who came from a Parsi family and was once the most powerful man in our country. Popularly known as Sam Bahadur, he had made India proud on many fronts. This article is about Padma Vibhushan Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, once the Commander-In-Chief of the storied Indian Army. Read on …
Born the 3rd of April 1914, to Captain Dr. Hormusji Manekshaw and Hilla in Amritsar, Sam was 5th of 6 siblings. He was educated at Amritsar and Nainital, after which he joined the Sherwood College. Sam was keen on becoming a gynaecologist and wanted his father to send him to London, but his father will hear nothing of it. Unhappy with this refusal, he was in a bit of a rebellious mood – when coincidentally, Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode was at work, setting up the Indian Military Academy at Doon. More as an act of rebellion than to spite his father who had other plans for him, Sam chose to become a part of the IMA’s first intake of cadets, nuch to his father’s chagrin.
During his IMA days, he proved to be the most witty and notorious cadet. He had many firsts credited to his name like the first Gentleman Cadet (GC) to be awarded an extra drill and the first GC to ask for ‘weekend leave.’ And so it happened that he was one of the first 22 cadets to graduate from the IMA and was commissioned into the Army as a Second Lieutenant on the 1st of February 1935. Two notables also graduated along with him – Muhammed Musa and Smith Dun – they later went on to become the Army Chiefs of Pakistan and Burma respectively, while Sam Bahadur took over as 8th Army Chief of India. General Manekshaw also became the first Indian Field Marshal.
Sam Manekshaw has always been the most outspoken and witty officer. Here is a sampling of some of his statements that have entered the annals of history:
On June 8, 1969, at the centenary of celebrations of Sherwood College, speaking of his days at college, Sam said: “College had prepared me for war in World War II as I learnt here to live alone and independently, to fight without relent, tolerate hunger for long periods and to hate my enemy.”
Speaking of the Indian Army’s Gurkha Regiment (which he joined after passing out from the IMA), Sam said: “If anyone tells you he is never afraid, he is a liar or he is a Gurkha”.
When Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked about readiness of the Indian Army for the 1971 war, he said “I am always ready sweetie”
One of his most apt comments was on politicians, when he said “I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defence of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor; a gun from a howitzer; a guerrilla from a gorilla, although a great many resemble the latter.”
During the 1962 Indo-China war, Indian soldiers were retreating and Sam Bahadur was sent to command this army. He reached there and said: “Gentlemen, I have arrived and there will be no withdrawal without written orders and these orders shall never be issued.”
During Indira Gandhi’s tenure, there was a rumour that the Army has grown so big that they will soon takeover. The Prime Minister called Manekshaw and asked him about these rumours. Sam looked her straight into her eyes and said: “You mind your own business and I mind mine. Your kiss your own sweetheart and I’ll kiss mine. I don’t interfere politically, as long as nobody interferes with me in the army.”
Manekshaw was hit by 7 bullets during a battle, and when he was taken to hospital the doctor tried to engage him in a conversation. He asked Sam what happened, to which he replied in his own witty style: “I was kicked by a donkey.”
When a reporter asked him what if he had joined Pakistan along with the regiment he was serving in 1947, he said: “Pakistan would have won the 1971 war.”
In Mizoram, there was an armed conflict and the commanding officer was avoiding it. General Manekshaw sent him a pack of bangles with a note that read: “If you are avoiding contact with the hostile, give these to your men to wear.” The commanding officer then decided to get into battle with his unit and returned victorious. He was then presented with another note from the General that read “Send the bangles back.”
Indira Gandhi once wanted to go on war with Pakistan immediately, but Manekshaw asked for a few months of preparation. When the ministers sitting in meeting pressurised him to get into action immediately, he protested verbally. Mrs. Gandhi then requested everyone to step out of room and had a dialogue with Sam Manekshaw in private. As everyone left, Sam said: “Prime Minster, before you open your mouth, would you like me to send in my resignation on grounds of health, mental or physical?”
Prior to partition, Yahya Khan used to be in the same unit as Manekshaw. He had purchased Sam’s motorcycle for Rs. 1000, which was never paid. During 1971 war, Yahya Khan was the president of Pakistan. After India stood victorious and Bangladesh was born, Manekshaw said: “Yahya never paid me the Rs. 1000 for my motorbike, but now he has paid with half his country.”
General Sam wanted to ensure that the Indian Army never indulges in the brutal trends of victorious armies to spoil and dishonour the women of the defeated land. So he instructed his men during the 1971 war that: “When you see a begum, keep your hands in your pockets and think of Sam.” As a result, there was not even a single case of robbing/dishonouring by Indian Army.
When some ministers in a meeting objected that Sam always addressed Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister and not as ‘madam’, he reminded them that the title ‘madam’ is reserved for the head lady of a brothel.
Although Sam Manekshaw was one of the most powerful, brave and jolly generals we ever had, his style of speaking to politicians made some of our leaders squirm uncomfortably. As a result, he was denied all post-retirement privileges and was not even given his due salary. It was only after President APJ Abdul Kalam met him and ensured that his arrears of 30 years were cleared was he presented a cheque of Rs. 1.3 crore. On June 27, 2008, at the age of 94, Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw passed away in the Military Hospital in Wellington (Tamil Nadu) due to complications from Pneumonia. He was put to rest in the Parsi cemetery in Ooty, but his funeral was not attended by any politician or even our military top brass.