By I.Ramamohan Rao, Recollections of a Communicator ANI | 4 months ago


New Delhi, Apr.3 : The country is observing the birth centenary of Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, popularly known in the army as Sam Bahadur, today with a simple function at the Manekshaw Centre in Delhi Cantonment, where his statue would be unveiled, and a book on him, would be released by the Chief of Army Staff, General Bikram Singh.

Sam Manekshaw, who passed away on June 27, 2008, will live long in the memory of the people of India and inspire generations of army officers in the country.

One of the most satisfying periods of my forty-odd years of career as a communicator, was my tenure as Public Relations Officer of the Army in South Block between 1969 and 1973, when the Chief of Army Staff was General Sam Manekshaw

Sam Manekshaw, who had an infectious sense of humour, exuded warmth, and there have been endless anecdotes about him, which have been recounted by his classmates from Sherwood College in Nainital, the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun, the officers and soldiers who fought along with him in Burma and saw him being decorated with the Military Cross in the battlefield by his commander for gallantry who felt that he would not survive the seven gunshot wounds in his stomach, and decided to decorate him on the spot.

There will be stories of his performance as a staff officer at the Military Operations Directorate at the Army Headquarters during the Jammu and Kashmir operations in 1947-48.

Many still recall how he was sidelined following the remarks made by him at the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington on the role of the then Defence Minister Krishna Menon. He was overlooked for promotion.

A Court of Inquiry cleared him, and he moved on to head the IV Corps in NEFA after the Indian Army debacle in 1962.

During those years, the country went through a period of turmoil. Manekshaw took over as army chief after his successful tenure as Eastern Army Commander, where he had restored the morale of troops deployed in NEFA, now Arunachal Pradesh, brought underground movement in Nagaland and Mizoram under control, besides helping the administration in West Bengal control the Naxalite movement there.

Soon after taking over as army chief, Sam Manekshaw visited troops in the forward areas of Jammu and Kashmir. I was a member of his party, when he visited a battalion of the 8th Gorkha Rifles, based near Pahalgam.

As was the practice, he inspected the battalion at the parade ground. He stopped occasionally, held a jawan by the shoulder, or by his belt, and asked his name. On getting a reply, he asked a soldier, what is my name? When the jawan looked perplexed, he said my name is Sam, Sam. The Gorkha soldier replied 'Yes, Sam Bahadur'

On our return to Delhi that afternoon, I released a handout about the army chief's visit to Kashmir and also put out a small item of his interaction with the Gorkha soldier.

It said the army chief had a new name - Sam Bahadur-and narrated the incident.

As expected, the item was published as a box item in the Delhi papers next day.

Sam Manekshaw was pleased no end, as it identified him with the Gorkha soldiers. From then onwards, he was called 'Sam Bahadur'.

The incident also established my credentials with him as the public relations officer.

On March 26, 1971, Sam Manekshaw was visiting the Southern Command at Pune and, one of the items in his programme was to open the swimming pool at the Armed Forces Medical College. The function remained inconclusive as he was called to Delhi.

As we were traveling to Delhi in the Air Force TU-124 aircraft, we came to know that the Pakistan Army had cracked down in East Pakistan, and Government of India was seriously considering options open to it. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted the army chief's views on the subject.

Indira Gandhi wanted the army to be ready for any eventuality. She had spoken in support of the Awami League chief Sheikh Mujibur Rehman, who had scored a overwhelming victory in the elections that had just concluded and was expected to take over as the Prime Minister of Pakistan.

Yahya Khan, who ruled Pakistan, was not willing to hand over the office of Prime Minister of Pakistan to Sheikh Mujibur Rehman. He decided to have a surgical operation that would put an end to the movement in the eastern Wing, and sent General Tikka Khan, the butcher of Baluchistan, to 'sort out' the situation. Mujibur Rehman was arrested and thousands of Bengali intellectuals were liquidated in March 1971.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted India to go to the aid of people of East Pakistan, even risk a war, but General Manekshaw advised against it, as India may have had to fight on three fronts, in the west,east and north. The northern passes were clear during summer. In addition, there would be rains in a couple of months, making West Bengal and eastern India difficult for any military movement. The advice of Sam Maneshshaw was to defer operations till the onset of winter when the northern passes would be closed due to the heavy snow.

The government accepted Manekshaw's advice. From then on, he went on frequent tours of different formations to ensure their preparedness. I accompanied him during almost all the tours. In every formation, he would address the soldiers and tell them: "The country has looked after us well. We have been fed well, paid well, and our families have been well looked after. Why? To defend the country., fight a war and defeat the enemy. You now have an opportunity. We have to be true to our salt. We will not let down our country." Sam Manekshaw would get a thunderous response.

Following the outbreak of violence in East Pakistan, over ten million refugees from East Pakistan trekked to India, and there was outrage the world over.A war with Pakistan seemed inevitable and the Indian Army prepared for any eventuality. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi travelled around the world to seek international support for India, which had been subjected to "demogrphic aggression".

The war broke out on December 3 when the Pakistani Air Force bombed airfields from Pathankot to Jullundur and Agra. In the days that followed, the armed forces of India worked in a coordinated manner and demoralized the Pakistan Armed Forces. While the army converged on East Pakistan, crossing all obstacles, the navy and air force ensured that the Pakistan Army could not hope for any reinforcements. The para-drop in East Pakistan surprised the enemy.

India also used psychological warfare operations during the conflict. Surrender documents were dropped at major locations in East Paksitan. The broadcast message by Sam Manekshaw had a good impact.

The substance of broadcast -- in Urdu -- directed at Pakistani soldiers, was: "You are living in hostile territory among a population who hate you. You are surrounded by the Indian Army. Your ports are sealed by the Indian Navy. Your Air Force in the East has been destroyed. 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 arms to a soldier. I assure you that we will give you the treatment befitting a soldier."

The broadcast and the accompanying surrender leaflets played a major role in securing the surrender of the Pakistani forces.

On December 16, 1971, Lt.Gen.A.A.K.Niazi handed over the document of surrender to Lt. Gen. Jagjit Singh Arora who accepted the surrender of 93,000 prisoners of war to the Allied Command which included the Mukti Bahini.

When the surrender was announced by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in Parliament a crowd gathered opposite South Block and carried Sam Manekshaw on their shoulders. Every Indian stood taller that day.

All of us expected that Sam Manekshaw would be made a Field Marshal soon after. But he had to wait for over a year to be given the rank. . He was granted the rank fifteen days before his retirement. Many were envious of him. Though a Field Marshal is never supposed to retire, and be in service throughout his life - Sam Manekshaw had to wait for thirty-odd years to get the salary of his rank!

I remember the warmth that he showed me whenever I met him . During the tense days, one morning he called me to his office and asked me to draft a note. A heavy smoker those days, I was fumbling with my pen. He asked me what is wrong? I told him that to activate my faculties, I had to have a cigarette.

He told me: "Son, there is a cigarette box on my table. They contain good cigarettes. The President of India pays for them. In future, when you come to my room help yourself, and you do not have to seek my permission."

I did have a smoke. The story was that only three officers smoked in the Army Chief's room. One was the Vice Chief of Army Staff, Lt.Gen. Har Prasad, the second was Lt.Gen. Reggi (R.S).Noronha, the Deputy Chief who smoked his cigar, and the third was me.

My stock went up.

Personally, I cherish the Khukri, which Sam Bahadur presented me before his departure from Army Headquarters.

I. Ramamohan Rao former Principal Information Officer,Government of India. E.mail:raoramamohan @hotmail.com

(Posted on 03-04-2014)