Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, also called Sam Manekshaw and Sam Bahadur was the Chief of the military staff of the Indian Army during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. The weight of his name is akin to the importance of his responsibility. He was the primary Indian military officer to be promoted to the rank of a marshal. Sam Manekshaw was born on April 3, 1914 in Amritsar to a doctor and a teacher. During his childhood, he was known to be quite a mischievous kid and intelligent too. Sam was the fifth child and third son out of the six children. Sam’s father, Hormusji Manekshaw, served in the British Indian Army as a captain in the Indian Medical Service. Sam Mankeshaw’s early ambition in life was to study medicine and become a doctor like his father, but destiny had other plans for him. Sam pleaded to his father to send him to London to further study medicine. His plea was declined due to certain reasons, and Sam had to continue staying in India. Meanwhile, the Indian Military College committee was formed in 1931 and chaired by marshal Sir Philip Chetwode. He suggested establishing a military academy in India to train Indians for officer commissions in the Army. A three-year course was proposed, and the entry age was set between 18-20 years. Little do people know that Sam Manekshaw actually enrolled himself in this course as an act of rebellion, which ultimately would prove to be very fruitful. He was among the fifteen cadets to be selected through an open competition. Manekshaw finished sixth in the order of merit. Sam Manekshaw was selected as a member of the primary batch of cadets called “The Pioneers. Sam Manekshaw was known to be really witty during his stay at Indian Military Academy and achieved a lot of firsts; the first graduate to join the Gorkha regiments, first to serve as the Chief of the Army Staff of India, and the first to attend the rank of field marshal.
Sam Manekshaw’s military career consisted of 4 decades and five wars, beginning with service within the British Indian Army in war 2. Under Sam Manekshaw’s command, Indian forces undertook victorious campaigns against Pakistan within the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971, which ultimately led to the formation of Bangladesh in December 1971. He is an honorable recipient of the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan, India’s second and third highest civilian awards. He provided his significant services during the crucial times of World War 2, Post-independence, as Chief of Army Staff, during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971, and after the promotion to field marshal. He harbored extreme respect for all fellow human beings regardless of whether they were from India or Pakistan. Another interesting thing about Sam Maneskshaw is that he was outspoken and avoided political correctness. Although Maneskshaw was conferred the rank of marshal in 1973, it was reported that he wasn’t given the entire allowances to which he was entitled. In 2007, President Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam met Manekshaw in Wellington and presented him with a cheque for Rs. 1.3 crore (equivalent to Rs. 3.2 crores in 2019)-his pay arrears for over 30 years. Sam Manekshaw married Siloo Bode on 22 April 1939 in Bombay and had two daughters. Unfortunately, he left on a heavenly abode on 27 June 2008 because of the complication of pneumonia at the Military Hospital in Wellington, Tamil Nadu, at the age of 94. Reportedly, his last words were, “I’m okay!”.
Sam Manekshaw was extremely loyal and had a unique style of commanding his men. His personality was strong and kind at the same time. Sam Manekshaw did not ever differentiate amongst his fellow colleagues based on ranks and treated everyone with utmost respect and kindness. His leadership skills knew no bounds and never failed to leave a mark on every life he came across. He phenomenally motivated his troops and led them in his unique commanding way. In short, he made everyone around him feel like they were home. Sam Manekshaw had so much warmth and honesty. It was impossible to miss the light his presence fore-spread. He felt happiest in the presence of his men. He welcomed criticism and supported men to take a stand for themselves whenever they thought they were right, there was not a single ounce of fear surrounding Sam Manekshaw, and he made sure nobody around him was stuck in the claws of fear. All the principles of Sam eventually boiled down to one essential element that is love. Every action, thought, decision, work, and word always had the quality of love. He gave freedom to his men to take decisions on his behalf and placed utmost trust in them. His faith in his men never disappointed him, and all the plans undertaken were highly effective. Sam Manekshaw was outstanding not only in the work he did but also in articulating his thoughts and communicating them beautifully. Strategy and organization meant everything to him other than fear and violence. In fact, he even treated his enemies with respect and always avoided collateral damages and violence.
Sam’s presence was influential enough for the fellow soldiers to be charged up with the blood of patriotism flowing in each one of them. He was transparent in his intentions, and all his decisions were rooted in selflessness. He possessed an amazing sense of humor, and one could listen to his words repeatedly. On 16 December, Victory Day is celebrated to commemorate the victory over Pakistan in the 1971 war. Sam Manekshaw is the mastermind of this victory. When a huge number of refugees started coming to India from Bangladesh, he was asked by Indira Gandhi to attack East Pakistan, to which Manekshaw clearly refused and told her that the Army was not prepared for the war ahead and asked for time to prepare. In this way, Mrs. Gandhi was persuaded not to attack immediately and made a thoughtful and tactical strategy for the war.
It was the product of his tactics and effective leadership that Pakistan had to surrender even though they were more in numbers, and India took 93000 of its soldiers as prisoners of war. Once in a conversation, when Manekshaw was asked about his biggest achievement in life, he said that he did not punish any soldier from the post of the second lieutenant to field marshal. He called it the biggest achievement of his career. This answer defines his strength and influential personality. As great as he was, Sam Manekshaw often got into trouble with the authorities.
Manekshaw’s first radio message to the Pakistani troops on 9 December 1971:
“Indian forces have surrounded you. Your Air Force is destroyed. You have no hope of any help from them. Chittagong, Chalna, and Mangla ports are blocked. Nobody can reach you from the sea. Your fate is sealed. The Mukti Bahini and the people are all prepared to take revenge for the atrocities and cruelties you have committed…Why waste lives? Don’t you want to go home and be with your children? Do not lose time; there is no disgrace in laying down your arms to a soldier. We will give you the treatment befitting a soldier”. (Singh 2005, p. 209)
Sam Manekshaw also personifies the strength in diversity of India. In the 1971 BD war, our Army Chief was Parsi-Manekshaw, our Air Marshal was a Muslim- Idris Latif, our commander on the ground in East Pakistan was a Sikh- JS Aurora, our man who captured Dhaka, was Jew-JFR Jacob. Sam Manekshaw single-handedly won India the war of 1971 with the most significant number of surrenders ever. He was a brilliant tactical and a sharp field marshal. The way he outplayed enemies during the 1971 war is simply beautiful. Sam Manekshaw, in an interview about the beginning of the Bangladesh War, said, “Pakistan really cracked down in a big way. Poor old Bengalis, what could they do against the Pathans and Punjabi Muslims? So, they started pouring into India. And Mrs. Gandhi…awful temper…looked at me. Read messages from the Chief Minister of West Bengal that thousands of refugees are pouring. From the Chief Minister of Assam. Chief Minister of Tripura. And she looked at me, “What are you doing about it?”. ‘Nothing. What’s it got to do with me?’. ‘I want you to do something.’ ‘What do you want me to do’? ‘I want you to march into East Pakistan.’ I said, ‘That means war’. So, she said, ‘I don’t mind if it’s war.’ I said, ‘Oh! Have you read the Bible? God said let there be light, and there was light. And you said let there be war, and there is war? Are you ready? I certainly am not.’ And I said…this was about 23 April. I said, ‘You know the Himalayan passes are opening, and if the Chinese give us an ultimatum? ‘And I said ‘The monsoon will be breaking in a few days’ time and when it rains in that part of the world, it pours…rivers become like oceans. If you stand on one bank, you can’t see the other. My movement will be confined to roads. Because of climatic conditions, the Air Force will not be able to support me. And if I were to go in, I guarantee you a 100% defeat.’ I said to Mrs. Gandhi, ‘Will you now give me your orders?’ Then she said, ‘All right, the Cabinet will meet again at 4 o’clock.’ Everybody started walking out. I being the junior one, the smile on my face as I am going out, she said, ‘Chief, stay behind.’, ‘I said, Prime Minister, before you open your mouth, should I send my resignation on the grounds of health, mental or physical?’ ‘Oh, sit down, Sam, tell me. Everything you told me is the truth?’ I said, ‘Yes, everything I’ve told you is the truth. My job is to fight, fight to win. What to do?’ She smiled at me, ‘All right, Sam. You let me know when you’re ready.” This glimpse from the interview is enough to throw light upon his witty personality, and how knowledgeable and vastly honest he was. Sam Manekshaw is the epitome of genuine leadership and an extremely skilled officer, fearlessly composed, who was made up of wit and stunning smartness.