Seeking the spirit of Sam
Field Martial Sam Manekshaw’s iconic commandership is a legacy for Indian leadership across professions to emulate and to aspire for.
In a country where soldiers are normally glorified after they have fallen and serving ones struggle for more than survival, India has come quite a distance in terms of its military. Given the pace of development, the defence sector, unfortunately, has had less than its due. This reality has evolved owing primarily to the political factors that have shaped India's growth and development trajectory. Since the inception of a sovereign India, the country has had tremendous military potential which established itself on several occasions in the formative years of Independent India. One of the most celebrated soldiers in recent history is Sam 'Bahadur', who went on to be accorded the rank of Field Martial for the first time in India. A part of the nation quietly acknowledged his 104th birth anniversary on April 3.
Field Martial Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw's illustrious career began with service in the British Indian Army and is marked by over four decades of active service and five wars. The most distinguishing event that also established him as one of the greatest commanders of Independent India was the '71 war against Pakistan that led to the liberation of Bangladesh. His iconic commandership at this time is a legacy for Indian leadership across professions to emulate and to aspire for. In a historical display of resistance to authority, he contested the Prime Minister's proposal to go to war in the April of 1971. Stating geographical and practical reasons for deferring the war (the harvested fields, approaching monsoon and possible floods, insufficient troops and fewer battle-ready tanks at that time), he famously offered to resign on grounds of mental unsoundness. It is also to Indira Gandhi's credit that upon the General's advice, she had him strategise and handle the conflict on his own terms. And the result was "hundred per cent victory", as he had promised.
Manekshaw's role in 1971 war and the liberation of Bangladesh has been immensely crucial episode in modern Indian history. It may be understood better in contrast with another critical military operation that was executed by the same Prime Minister's orders in 1984. Operation Blue Star was ordered to flush out Sikh extremist leaders and the Golden Temple at Amritsar was stormed because some terrorists had holed up there. This not only hurt the religious sentiments of the Sikh community but scarred the collective psyche of the people to the extent that Indira Gandhi paid for it with her life. The riots that broke out thereafter and the overwhelming amount of casualty are a testimony to the degree of disaster that decision wreaked. What is noteworthy is that this was a military operation which was decided by a non-military leader. General VK Singh in an interview once stated in the context of leading operation Blue Star that "an order is an order". General Vaidya who had led the operation followed the order when he was in a position to make a decision himself.
These instances bring us to the point of admission that the military is not and must never be an institution subservient to the political lords. The military and politics must essentially function independently and the military ought to be given preference over domestic politics. This also indicates how the politicos ought to be and understand that the military is an indispensably necessary institution to safeguard and maintain India's territorial integrity. Making a political show of routine defence drill like surgical strike was farce of a very low kind; something like presenting a puppet show to glorify an idea with a defence theme.
Sam Manekshaw's legacy is replete with acts and instances that instill pride and faith in our military. Besides integrating the armed forces and developing the Army into an efficient instrument of war, a remarkable system established by him as the Chief of Army Staff is to disallow reserving positions for Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes so as to not compromise with the ethos of the forces. With such a grand heritage behind us, it is almost a disregard to allow political chaos compounded by military actions to prevail for decades together. Kashmir, AFSPA, and most recently, Doklam are predicaments which can potentially fail the military because of political ineptness. Military leadership ought to be firm and fearless in its stand. When Mrs. Gandhi gave back the strategically crucial Haji Pir (the pass from where infiltration into Kashmir takes place) to Pakistan, Manekshaw commented that "Bhutto has made a monkey out of you". May we expect our competent leaders of contemporary times to be so blatantly truthful in the face of a faltering leadership?
(The author is Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. The views expressed are strictly personal)