A Profile of Sam Manekshaw
On June 27, 2008 Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw passed away in a hospital in India. He was called Sam by his colleagues, Sam Bahadur by soldiers and Lord Mountbatten called him Manekji. He was the last of the breed of an officer corps which joined the British Indian army in 1930s. Sam was the most popular soldier in India and was admired even in Pakistan. Sam was born in Amritsar and educated at Sherwood College in Nainital and Hindu Sabha College in Amritsar. He passed out from Indian Military Academy at Dehra Dun in 1934 getting his military identity of IC-0014. He followed the routine of spending one year of probationary period with the British regiment; 2nd Batallion of Royal Scots after commission. He then joined the elite 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment (FFR). This battalion evolved through its one hundred and fifty year history going through various reorganizations which changed its name. It started as 4th Sikh Local Infantry after First Sikh War in 1846. In 1901, it became 4th Sikh Infantry and in 1903 became 54th Sikhs. 1922 reorganization changed it into 4th Battalion of 12 Frontier Force Regiment. 1957 reorganization gave it its present designation of 6 Frontier Force (FF). The original designation of force deployed on the frontier of newly acquired territories in 1849 was Punjab Irregular Frontier Force (PIFFER). Till today those who join Frontier Force Regiment are known as PIFFERS. Young impressionable cadets at academy see their instructors as role models and the caliber of an instructor may be a factor when a cadet chooses his battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Jimmy Carter of 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment was a first rate officer and then instructor at Dehra Dun (he later commanded the battalion in 1942 when it was being reorganized into a reconnaissance battalion at Ranchi). He may have been responsible for two cadets of the batch joining the 4/12 FFR; Sam and Atiq-ur-Rahman nick named Turk.
In Second World War, Sam then a captain was leading Sikhs of Charlie company of 4/12 FFR in Burma. A small group of Japanese soldiers surprised the troops and sneaked into the perimeter of the battalion at night. This caused a panic and a number of soldiers bolted from the scene. Sam’s Sikhs firmly stayed in their positions. Sam had threatened them that he will personally distribute ‘bangles’ if any of them moved from their position. Later, in one of the attacks on a Japanese position, Sam was severely wounded when seven bullets of a Japanese machine gun hit him in his stomach. His orderly Sher Singh put Sam on his back and evacuated him to Regimental Aid Post where Regimental Medical Officer (RMO) Captain G. M. Diwan tended to him. Sam was in a serious condition and all who saw him were convinced that he will not survive from his serious wounds. Major General D. T. Cowan pinned his own Military Cross (MC) on Sam’s chest stating that ‘a dead person can not be awarded a MC’. Death was closely lurking around Sam. When Sam was being treated at a hospital at Pegu, Japanese planes bombed the hospital and Sam’s bed was moved to the lawn. Severely wounded Sam was moved to Mandalay and then to Rangoon. Sam was on the last ship which left Rangoon before Japanese overran it. The ship was also bombed by Japanese planes but Sam made it to Madras. He survived this ordeal to live up to the ripe age of 94. After partition in 1947 when Sam’s battalion was allotted to Pakistan, 8th Gorkha (Shiny Eight) became Sam’s home.
During 1947-48 Kashmir Operations, Sam then Colonel was a staff officer at Directorate of Military Operations. In Baramula, Pakistani tribesmen killed Colonel Thomas Dyke and his wife who were on holidays. Dyke had done his first year attachment with 2nd Royal Scots along with Sam before joining Sikh Regiment. Sam commanded an infantry brigade, served as Commandant of Infantry School, commanded an infantry division and then went on to become Commandant of Defence Services College at Wellington. He commanded 4th Corps and then became Western Army Commander followed by commanding Eastern Army Command. In June 1969, he succeeded General Kumaramangalam to become eighth army chief of Indian army.
In early 1950s, two PIFFERS on Pakistan side and one old PIFFER from Indian side were commanding the brigades close to border. Brigadier Bakhtiar Rana was commanding a brigade in Lahore, Brigadier Atiqur Rahman (nick named Turk) was commanding 101 Brigade (based in Sialkot but sent to Lahore due to anti-Ahmadiya riots) while Sam was commanding a brigade in Ferozpur. Rana and Turk went to see Sam and old PIFFERS buddies enjoyed Sam’s hospitality. After 1971 war when Sam came to Pakistan as Indian army chief for negotiations, Turk was his host. Sam had life long attachment to his parent battalion. When he was army chief, there was a standing order to all the staff, guards and sentries that whenever an ex-serviceman of 4/12 FFR came to the army headquarters, he should be brought to the chief no matter what chief was doing. In 1971 war when he was Indian army chief, he kept an eye on performance of 4/12 FFR (now 6FF) which was fighting from Pakistan’s side. His staff would notice a certain pride in his eyes when the briefing officer would give some account of 4/12 FFR. He commented to his military assistant ‘I should like to see one of my 8th Gorkha battalions fighting the 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment’. When Major Shabbir Sharif of 6 FF got the highest gallantry award of Nishan-e-Haider fighting from Pakistan side, Sam wrote to one of his old British Commanding Officer (CO) of 4/12 FFR in England that he was so proud that an officer of ‘his battalion’ got the honor although Sam’s forces were fighting against Pakistan. In 1973, when he came to Pakistan for post-war negotiations, he requested that dinner be served in the silverware of his parent battalion. 4/12 FFR (6 FF) was then stationed in Okara and cutlery of the battalion was carefully packed and sent to Lahore where Sam was entertained. During his 1973 visit to Pakistan, Sam was given a lunch at Station Artillery Mess in Lahore. Sam went around looking at the impressive array of trophies in the mess. He stopped by a trophy and asked what a trophy of 54th Sikh (4/12 FFR) was doing in the artillery mess. One Pakistani officer confided that the trophy was brought to the mess for the special occasion. In March 1973, when Sam visited England, he hosted a dinner where all serving and retired officers who had association with 54th Sikhs and 8th Gorkha Rifles were in attendance.
In his professional career, Sam was famous for his brief and to the point orders. In 1962 Indo-China war, Sam was urgently dispatched to take over 4th Corps from Lieutenant General B. M. Kaul (nick named Bijji). On his arrival Sam assembled all staff officers and gave his one sentence address stating ‘Gentlemen I have arrived. There will be no more withdrawals in 4th Corps, thank you’ and walked out. He issued a brief order to all in the Corps which read, ‘there will be no more withdrawals without written orders and these orders shall never be issued’. These statements elevated Sam’s reputation but the fact was that Sam took over the Corps after the unilateral ceasefire announced by China. Sam himself summed up his philosophy of work by stating that ‘I am a simple infanteer and a Gorkha at that and I want everything cut and dried. Complicated stuff is for the intellectuals’. He was known for his straight talk even with heavy weights of Indian political scene. In 1971, when a large number of refugees started to pour from then East Pakistan into neighboring states, the Chief Ministers of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura started to flood Delhi with urgent telegrams. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi summoned Sam to a cabinet meeting. She was very angry and after a long diatribe about the situation turned towards Sam and asked him ‘What are you doing about it?’ The response which Sam gave was typical. On question of what he was going to do, he said ‘Nothing, it’s got nothing to do with me. You didn’t consult me when you allowed BSF [Border Security Force], the CRP [Central Reserve Police] and RAW [Research and Analysis Wing] to encourage the Pakistanis to revolt. Now that creates trouble, you come to me. I have a long nose. I know what’s happening’.
Sam’s working method was based on simplicity and he avoided lofty statements. He was well aware of the ground realities and talked frankly about tricky issues even with his soldiers. In the run up to 1971 war, when he visited a garrison he would bluntly tell soldiers that when war breaks out there will be no scavenging. He told them that he was commanding soldiers and not thieves. He also warned them against womanizing. He reminded his soldiers that the war was against the Pakistan army and not against their women. In professional matters, he kept high standards. A general was accused of misusing funds. When Sam summoned him to his office and narrated the charge, the general blurted ‘Sir, do you know what you are saying?’ Sam snapped at him, ‘Your Chief is not only accusing you of being dishonest but also calling you a thief. If I were you I would go home and either shoot myself or resign. I am waiting to see what you will do’. The same evening the general resigned.
Sam had a sense of humor and there are many stories of his witty responses. When he lay critically wounded in Burma, the Australian surgeon tending to wounded asked him what happened, Sam replied ‘I was kicked by a mule’. In 1971 conflict, when then prime Minister Indira Ghandi asked him if he was ready for the impending conflict, Sam replied with a twinkle in his eyes ‘I am always ready, sweetie’. In the run up to 1971 war, when he visited different garrisons, he warned soldiers against womanizing. He would tell them that ‘when you feel tempted, put your hands in your pockets and think of Sam Manekshaw’.
In 1973, after becoming Field Marshal when Sam was visiting England, he hosted a dinner. One of his former Commanding Officer was also present who asked him ‘May, I call you Sam’. Sam replied, ‘Please do, Sir. You used to call me bloody fool before. I thought that was my Christian name’. After retirement, Sam was a director with Escorts. A hostile bid for the organization was thwarted by changing of the whole board. Mr. Naik was one of the new directors. Sam remarked that ‘This is the first time in history when a Naik has displaced a Field Marshal’.
He was sometimes brash but always had enough humility. In 1971, when Prime Minister asked him to go to Dacca to accept surrender of Pakistani forces he said that the honor should go to Eastern Army Commander Lieutenant General Jagjit Singh Arora. After surrender, Sam flew to Calcutta to congratulate officers of eastern command. When he landed at Dum Dum airport, he was escorted to a Mercedes car captured from Pakistanis but he refused to sit in Mercedes. When wearing casual dress, he always preferred Peshawari chaplis.
Sam was lucky during his whole career. In 1947-48 Kashmir war, he was a staff officer at General Head Quarters (GHQ). In 1962 debacle, he was serving as Commandant of Defence Services Staff College far away from the conflict. He was asked by his mentor and new army Chief J. N. Chaudhri (nick named Mucchu) to take over 4th Corps from Lieutenant General B. M. Kaul. Sam took over after the unilateral ceasefire by China and therefore never put his skills into any battle. In 1965 war, Sam was Eastern Army Commander while all the action was on the western front. India was in a much better strategic position in 1971 and the outcome of the war was a forgone conclusion. Sam became a popular soldier after India’s victory on 1971.
Sam’s life was not without controversy. Sam’s frank comments got him into trouble with his superiors. In 1962, then Defence Minister V. K. Krishna Menon and Chief of General Staff Lieutenant General B. M. Kaul initiated an inquiry against Sam for alleged ‘anti-national attitude’. Sam was accused of being more loyal to Queen of England than President of India. He was also accused of stating that as commandant of Staff College, he will not allow any officer as instructor whose wife looked like ‘ayah’. Sam’s promotion was held for eighteen months during this time. A Court of Inquiry headed by then Western Army commander Lieutenant General Daulat Singh exonerated Sam. The principle witness against Sam was Brigadier H. S. Yadav (he was commissioned in Grenadiers and nick named Kim). Brigadier Inder Vohra was another witness against Sam. In 1963, when Sam took over as Western Army Commander, Yadav served under him as a brigade commander. Some officers trying to curry favor with Sam, made adverse remarks about Yadav. Sam quickly replied ‘Look chaps, professionally, Kim Yadav is head and shoulders above most of you’. Yadav himself had enough sense of humor that after conclusion of 1971 war, he sent a telegram to Sam which read, ‘you have won the war: all by yourself, without me – a remarkable achievement. My congratulations’. In January 1973, Sam again stirred a controversy and was accused of having disdain for everything Indian. In an interview he had stated that his favorite city was London where he felt at home. More explosive comment was his statement that in 1947 Jinnah asked him to join Pakistan army. Sam added that ‘if I had, you would have had a defeated India’.
In this author’s dictionary, the pinnacle of any officer’s career is not in attaining general rank but the honor to command the battalion he is commissioned in. Unfortunately, in Sam’s illustrious career, he never had the chance to command a battalion. However, this fact does not diminish his position in Indian army history. Sam’s first annual confidential report by his superior read, ‘this officer, I beg his pardon, this man, may one day become an officer’. He not only became an officer and a gentleman but became the most popular officer of Indian army. In his passing, an era has come to an end. Knowing Sam, it is most likely that even up there, he will be hanging out with old warriors of PIFFERS and Gorkha regiments. Good by, Sam. Rest in peace.
1- Author is thankful to many PIFFER officers for their valuable input.
2- Lieutenant General Depinder Singh. Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw: Soldiering with Dignity (Dehra Dun: Natraj Publishers, 2003, Second Edition)
3- Lieutenant General M. Attiqur Rahman. Back to the Pavilion (Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2005)
4- Hamid Hussain. Stranger Than Fiction, Defence Journal, December 2007
5- The Independent, June 28, 2008
6- The Indian Express, June 27, 2008
7- Lieutenant General A. S. Kalkat. Sam Manekshaw. 100 People Who Shaped India. India Today.
Dr. Hamid Hussain is an independent analyst based in New York. For corrections, comments and critique email@example.com