Sam Bahadur: A soldier remembers
It was a crisp golden morning. And I had a problem. I walked to the office of my boss: Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. He was just preparing to leave for a meeting with the Defence Secretary for a routine briefing. Sensing that I looked troubled, he paused, looked straight into my eyes, as usual, and asked. “What’s bothering you General?” I poured out the reason for my despair. I had been appointed by Sam Bahadur as the Army representative on the Fourth Pay Commission panel. There were two others as well, one each from the Air Force and the Navy. And then, there were the bureaucrats. Whatever we defence personnel recommended, the bureaucrats would shoot down. If we’d prepare one note, they’d prepare two to counter it. I was frustrated. I felt there was no point on being on a panel that didn’t take cognizance of our views. Sam Bahadur put his arm around me and asked me to accompany him to the Defence Secretary. As we walked in to the meeting, he announced, “My nominee has something to say.” He indicated to me that I speak with candor. Soon after, all civilian members of the Pay Panel were dropped. This is just one of the many incidents. Much earlier, I had encountered his sense of fair play. He valued honesty and hard work above all else. If he felt there was genuine case, he would not even be too much of a stickler for rules. I was working under him as an S&T appointment. Ordinarily, people in this department are not shifted to Infantry. However, precedence did not stop him from recommending me twice for the promotion to the Defence Ministry. An incident that stands out was one that followed the 1961 War with China. During the War, our Corp Commander Lieutenant General B N Kaul ordered a large amount of supplies and arms to be dropped in the hills for the soldiers. The War ended in a drubbing and Lt Gen Kaul was sacked. But the auditors were at our door. They wanted me to account for all the equipment and supplies. I had few answers. I told them frankly, that I was only carrying out the boss’ order. Unsatisfied, they recommended action. In the meantime, Sam Bahadur took over as our Corp Commander. I narrated to him the entire episode. He just said two words, “Don’t Worry.” And before I knew it, Manekshaw had used his special privilege as a Corp Commander to write off that humungous amount as war losses. And the story ended. He had saved my skin, but he did not even subtly mention the huge favour that he had done. Sam Maneskshaw was bone honest. Supplies to the Mess would come from Calcutta. Officers would often complain and clamour for a more lavish fare. I told him that this was possible, only that he would get a bad name. He minced no words when he told me, “Don’t listen to them. Do only what is right.” Sam Bahadur was a very sympathetic man. Yet he was extremely strict and a complete disciplinarian. It was wartime 1971. Our secrets were being leaked. And we knew of this. Sam Manekshaw summoned me and two others to his office and told us that the enemy was getting hold of our intelligence information. Something had to be done. And he had a plan. So far, most information would go out as written instructions, coded or otherwise. Which meant it could be officers, or clerks who typed it. He had decided to do away with the system. While routine information would be typed and sent out, all information related with strategy and intelligence would be sent through us. We would work as liaison officers between him and the field commanders. Manekshaw would give us oral information and we would pass it on word by word. It was a clever move and it worked. Pakistan was foxed. Then came triumph. Bangladesh had been liberated. Indira Gandhi asked Manekshaw to take the surrender. It was that glorious occasion that would go down in the annals of history. It was his moment under the Sun. Yet, he refused. Manekshaw told the PM, “My Field Commander will do the honours.” It was an example of his epic generosity. And forever in time, the image of Lt Gen Jagjit Aurora getting the surrender papers signed by Niazi will hang over our mantle pieces. When Sam Bahadur visited Dacca, LT Gen Aurora sent him a luxurious car to come. But he refused point blank. “I don’t want to ride in a stolen car, I will travel in our military Jeep,” he quipped. It was a message he wanted to send out loud and clear. He would not tolerate looting. It speaks volumes of his eminent character that he wanted to ensure dignity in our victory. Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was indeed a remarkable officer and a thorough gentleman! (The author of the piece is a Retired Army officer, who worked for many years under Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, but wishes to remain anonymous)
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