Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, regarded as one of the greatest military commanders in India, was the first Indian Army officer to be promoted to the rank of field marshal. He served as the Chief of the Army Staff during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971 and fought five wars during his four-decade-long military career.
Born on 3 April 1914, Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Mankeshaw was among the first ones to be inducted into the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in 1932. He was among the first batch of officers who were commissioned from the IMA in 1934.
He began his service in the British Indian Army. In the World War II, he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry. He was appointed the eighth chief of the army staff in 1969 and served on the post till 1973. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1968 after he fought the insurgency in Nagaland. He was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1972 for his service to the nation.
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Known for his extraordinary leadership, the Field Marshal stuck to his guns despite pressure from the government to rush into a war with Pakistan. Recalling what had transpired in a Cabinet meeting chaired by former prime minister Indira Gandhi, he said that he had read out Bible to her to explain the position of the Indian Army in case a war takes place.
"I, in my usual stupid way said, “Prime Minister, have you read the Bible?”And the Foreign Minister, Sardar Swaran Singh (a Punjabi Sikh), in his Punjabi accent said, “What has Bible got to do with this?”, and I said, “the first book, the first chapter, the first paragraph, the first sentence, God said, ‘let there be light’’ and there was light. You turn this round and say ‘let there be war’ and there will be war. What do you think? Are you ready for a war?," he was quoted by Indian Defence Review at an event at Defence Services College in Wellington in 1998.
After the 1971 war, former prime minister wanted to promote Manekshaw to the rank of field marshal and appoint him as the Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS). However, she faced objection from several quarters. He was to retire in June 1972, but was given an extension for six months. On 3 January 1973, he was given the rank of field marshal, thereby becoming the first Indian army officer to be promoted to the rank.
He died at the age of 94 at the Military Hospital in Wellington in Tamil Nadu on 27 June 2008 after developing acute bronchopneumonia.