New Delhi: India and Bangladesh celebrated the 50th Victory Day (Vijay Diwas or Bijoy Dibosh) Thursday to mark the day Bangladesh was liberated from Pakistan. Amid the celebrations, the one name that echoed all across was that of Sam Manekshaw.
Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, widely known as Sam Bahadur, led the Indian Army in the 1971 war, when the Pakistan Army was brought to its knees in a matter of just 13 days, with nearly 93,000 soldiers and government officials surrendering.
Manekshaw’s words “my job is to fight, fight to win”, spoken to then-prime minister Indira Gandhi, best described his attitude that eventually led to the independence of a new nation — the last time this happened due to war since World War II.
ThePrint spoke to the late Field Marshal’s daughter Maja Daruwala, who described her father as a “key architect” of the 1971 victory, even as she instantly noted the contributions of PM Gandhi and other officials.
“Yes, it is true that my father was definitely a key architect of that victory… (But) it is not a victory for any one person. Instead, Indira Gandhi, the MPs and bureaucrats of that time and the courage and martyrdom of scores of Army personnel are also equal partners in this,” she said in an extensive conversation.
“Bringing 93,000 enemy soldiers on their knees was the result of one of his masterstrokes, but it was not his personal success. Nor was it a success of our armed forces alone. Instead it was a combined result of political understanding of that time and the tactical brilliance of all the three armed forces,” she said.
Speaking about the strategy for the war, Daruwala noted how her father sought six months’ time from PM Gandhi to prepare for war and didn’t rush into it. But once ready, there was no looking back.
Daruwala proudly spoke about how her father ensured there were no human rights violations from the Indian side despite the scale of the military victory, and how well he treated even the Pakistani soldiers who had surrendered.
She also noted how her mother, Silloo Bode, was the real hero of the household, as Sam Bahadur took on the role of ‘second-in-command’.
On the 1971 war prep
In a conversation with his grandson Jehan Manekshaw in 2002, Field Marshal Manekshaw had recalled that PM Indira Gandhi first asked him to go to war in April 1971, since refugees had started to pour into India from then-East Pakistan amid the violence the Pakistan Army unleashed.
However, the then-General flatly refused, as climatic conditions would have been unfavourable for his force. Moreover, there was also the Chinese threat.
“You know, the Himalayan passes are opening… and if the Chinese give us an ultimatum? 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 per cent defeat,” Sam Manekshaw recalled as having told the PM.
He even offered to resign on the grounds of “health, mental or physical”. PM Gandhi then told him, “You let me know when you’re ready.”
The war eventually started on 3 December 1971.
According to Maja Daruwala, in these few months, Manekshaw not only deftly prepared for the battlefield operations of the Army, but also instilled the idea of victory in the minds of every soldier who was set to take the battlefield.
“He used to say that if a sense of victory is imbibed beforehand in one’s mind, then he never fails in the battlefield. The humongous victory of 1971 was a result of that mantra,” Daruwala said. “It is the same brain power from which the Indian Army gained its pride and it is shining brilliantly even today.”
Daruwala added that her father understood his own responsibility. He was fully aware about the power of the chair he held, but he never liked any interference in his work, nor did he interfere in anyone else’s area.
How the general led his force, and treated 93,000 captive soldiers
Maja Daruwala was 26 when the war was fought, but she recollects how Sam Bahadur kept the morale of his troops high through those trying days.
“Generals do not enter the battlefield in personal capacity, but it is their job to keep the level of enthusiasm high so that no blemish comes to the pride of our Tiranga (tricolour),” she said.
“Whenever my father addressed the personnel, he always used to say one thing to boost the level of enthusiasm among the soldiers. That as and when we get organised and do things with a singular aim, our victory is fully ensured,” Daruwala said.
In the search for victory, Manekshaw didn’t sacrifice the military values that he was meant to uphold. And no one ever raised a finger on how India achieved the win.
“Individually, he was a noble person. When our Army was engaged in a tough fight with Pakistan, he had warned the recruits (jawans) that you are fighting in the field, there will be women and children… you must refrain from cruelty… always treat them well,” she said.
“If you turn the pages of history, then you will find that no one can point a single finger against our Army even after such a big war. The Army completed its task and came back to the barracks peacefully. There were no complaints about either plundering or any kind of atrocities and cruelty,” she noted.
Daruwala noted that the Army is remembered not only for getting the Pakistanis to surrender, but also to protect those 93,000 soldiers from agitated Bangladeshis for two-three days. The force also took care of their meals and upkeep for several months.
In his conversation with Jehan Manekshaw, the Field Marshal had said politicians and civil servants complained about him at the time for treating the captive soldiers as his “sons-in-law”. When Indira Gandhi brought up the issue at a cabinet meeting, he told her that those captive were also soldiers and they fought well.
How was Sam Manekshaw as a family man?
“The real hero of our household was our mother. Everyone in the family had equal rights. He used to take everyone along. Whenever he was at home, there was a lot of discussion about the Army but never on the issue of war,” Daruwala recalled.
“The Army chief was the second-in-command inside the household. Often men sit in the head chair of the dining table in common households, but in my house, my mother used to sit in that chair and father used to sit in the side chair,” she said.
“There was always an atmosphere of laughter and happiness in the house… We are very lucky that we were born in this family. Even today the people of the country give utmost respect to our family,” she added.
Who was Sam Manekshaw?
Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was born on 3 April 1914 in Amritsar. His father, Hormusji Manekshaw, was a physician. He joined the Indian Military Academy in July 1932 in an act of rebellion against his father.
Two years later, he was commissioned in the 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment. He fought in the Second World War. After a tumultuous few years in the 1960s, including a court of inquiry, Manekshaw was appointed the Army chief in 1969.
After the 1971 win, General Manekshaw was awarded the five-star rank of Field Marshal, at the age of 59. He was the first Indian general to receive this ceremonial rank; later on, the first Indian Commander-in-Chief of the Army, K.M. Cariappa, was awarded the rank in 1986, while Arjan Singh was awarded the IAF equivalent, Marshal of the Indian Air Force, in 2002.
In 1972, Sam Bahadur was awarded India’s second-highest civilian honour, Padma Vibhushan. A year later, he retired from the post of Chief of Army Staff. After retirement, he found a home in Tamil Nadu and spent his last days in Wellington. He drew his last breath in 2008.
Next year, actor Vicky Kaushal is set to star in a biopic on the Army veteran titled Sam Bahadur, which will be directed by filmmaker Meghna Gulzar.
(Edited by Amit Upadhyaya)