Remembering Sam Manekshaw, India's greatest general, on his birth centenary

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File photo of Sam Manekshaw

New Delhi:  Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, one of India's greatest generals, would have turned hundred today. "Sam Bahadur" to most, he passed away in Wellington near Ooty in 2008.

Like a good officer, he was blunt and gentleman to the core.

In April 1971, as India's Army Chief, he refused to be rushed into a war with Pakistan since the time wasn't right. Despite pressure from the cabinet, he stuck to his guns. The Indian Army launched the assault in December that year and won the war that led to the birth of Bangladesh.

Sam Manekshaw, already a famous man, became an icon. He was first honoured with the Padma Vibhushan, the nation's second highest civilian award. Then in 1973, he became the first Indian army officer to be promoted to the highest military rank of Field Marshal.

A quintessential soldier, he once told the cadets at the Indian Military Academy, "You will not have wealth, you will not be rich but you will have respect, you will be the soldier of this great Army."

Field Marshal Manekshaw travelled the world, led the Indian Army, witnessed and participated in five different wars but in the end he settled down in serene town of Coonoor, in the Nilgiri Hills, and built a house with his wife Seelu. It is here that he spent the last three decades of his life.

His personal staff, notably Manbahadur and his family, adored Sam. Manbhadur, who served in the Army for 15 years before coming to live with the Field Marshal, became family.

The military victory in East Pakistan and the creation of Bangladesh were seen as Sam Manekshaw's triumph as much as then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's. He was at the apogee of his fame.

But Sam's larger-than-life image also earned him some enemies. For long, he was denied the benefits and status due to a Field Marshal. It was not until 2006-07 that President Abdul Kalam took the initiative and made sure the general got his full dues. But perhaps, it was too late by then. Sam was already in hospital. His wife's loss had left him weaker.

Shockingly, Sam Manekshaw was treated shabbily in his death too. Defence Minister AK Antony did not go for his funeral and neither did any of the military chiefs.

As Lt Gen SK Sinha, who worked with Sam for over 40 years after Independence, said: "The Army chief at that time was in Moscow so he had some reason, but the Navy and the Air Force were represented by officers of two-star rank and of course no one from government. The minister didn't go either."

Family members, however, have kept a dignified silence. His daughter, Maja Daruwala, says, "It is not for us to say."

The government may have forgotten the man who led India to its greatest military victory but for lakhs of soldiers and military enthusiasts, Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw will continue to remain an inspiration.

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