The third day of April marks the 104th birth anniversary of our all-time military hero, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. It is hoped that a nation eternally grateful to him for having led us to the historic and decisive victory over Pakistan in 1971 and for giving birth to Bangladesh, will remember him today.
A pattern is emerging over the past few years wherein the nation is recalling our freedom fighters and politicians with a deep sense of gratitude, but sadly military heroes are not remembered with the same gusto and fondness. Their roles in history appear to be acknowledged more in passing than with any genuine recognition of their sacrifices and contributions. Manekshaw remains etched in our memory not only for securing victory for us, but also for his boldness and courage in standing up to politicians and for providing first class military leadership to an Indian Army that stood crestfallen after the 1962 Chinese debacle. Stirring and energising the forces, and motivating them to fight and triumph over an arch-rival was possible only under the sound professional leadership of Sam.
Coming back to his courage in standing up to the polity, who can forget his 'audacity' in looking straight into the eyes of an all-powerful prime minister (Indira Gandhi) and disagreeing with her orders of going to war against Pakistan that Sam thought was premature and inopportune? He also told her in no uncertain terms that if she did not agree, she could appoint a different general. Such a forthright response is perhaps unthinkable today.
Widely known for his sense of humour and popularity among the forces, Sam was always cracking jokes spiked with a high sense of wit. At a gather, his wife Siloo was said to have jokingly remarked that Sam snored aloud disturbing her tranquility and sleep. Sam quickly retorted "No woman has ever complained; you are the first one!"
Another joke, still popular when discussing Sam, is when he was grievously wounded while in action on the Burma front during the Second World War. When taken to the makeshift army hospital, precariously holding on to his hanging intestines, the British surgeon asked, "What happened?" Sam lost no time in saying, "Nothing happened, I was kicked in the stomach by a donkey!" Such was his presence of mind even when hit by a burst of fire and engaged in a battle for his life. There are numerous anecdotes like this one.
The legend lives on.
In London's busy thoroughfare starting from Trafalgar Square to Westminster, we notice several life-size statues of British war heroes lined up reminding the present generation about its military heroes, giving immense inspiration and a sense of pride. In India, streets named after Manekshaw are sadly confined to cantonments. Why can't his name (as also those of other war heroes) find place in civilian-inhabited areas? Why don't we see his bust and statue beyond the precincts of military areas? After all, he belonged to the entire nation. He deserves to be remembered on his birth anniversary with reverence and gratitude by all, especially by the politicians across the country — both within and outside the Parliament.
There are so many changes constantly being effected in our educational curriculum. One wonders if a chapter is devoted to Sam in our history books to ensure that the present generation knows who this great man was and how priceless was his contribution. How can we remain a proud and great nation unless we remember a hero like Sam, at least on his birthday?
The author is a retired IPS officer and a freelancer. Views expressed are personal
Updated Date: Apr 03, 2017 10:46 AM