Sam Manekshaw

October 22, 1947

Muzaffarbad was attacked and burnt by the  Pakistni raiders. Uri was captured in no quick time, and power station at Mahura was taken over. The whole city of Srinagar was plunged into darkness.

Sardar Patel’s trusted aide, V.P.Menon rushed to get signature of  the Kashmir ruler Hari Singh on the Instrument of Accession,  and rushed back to Delhi to attend the meeting. A very young Army officer was attending that meeting and this is what he had to say

As usual Nehru talked about the United Nations, Russia, Africa, God Almighty, everybody, until Sardar Patel lost his temper. He said, ‘Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir, or do you want to give it away?’ He [Nehru] said, ‘Of course, I want Kashmir.’ Then he [Patel] said: ‘Please give your orders.’

The young officer attending the meet was none other than Sam Manekshaw, aka Sam Bahadur, first Indian army officer to become Field Marshal, who led the Army to it’s greatest moment of triumph in 1971 as Chief of Army Staff.


Sam Manekshaw was born on April 3,1914 in Amritsar to Hormusji Manekshaw  a doctor, and Hilsa. They hailed from Valsad in Gujarat, before moving to Mumbai and later to Amritsar. He was the 5th of 6 children and their 3rd son. His father served in the British Indian Army as a doctor during WWI, 2 of his elder brothers were engineers, his sisters Cilla and Sheroo went on to become doctors, while another brother Jemi also joined the Armed forces as a medical officer.

Sam himself wanted to be a doctor like his father, and studied at the prestigious Sherwood College in Nainital. Passing with distinction in the Cambridge exams, he wanted to go abroad to study medicine. However with his 2 elder brothers already abroad he had to drop out. He instead ended up studying science from the Hindu College, Amritsar. When the IMA was set up in Dehradun in 1932, Manekshaw was one of the first 15 candidates to be selected in open competition, he stood 6th in the entrance exam.

Manekshaw belonged to the “Pioneers”, the first branch of cadets at IMA, two of his batch mates Smith Dun and Md.Musa , would go on to command the armies of Burma and Pakistan later on. He was one of the first cadets to join the Gorkha Regiment and was posted with the Royal Scots in Lahore. He was a polygot, fluent in Hindu, Urdu, Punjabi, English, Gujarati, and he also learnt Pashto. When WWII broke out he was posted in Burma, with the 4th Battalion, where he distinguished himself with his bravery.

He was especially noted for his valour in the Battle at Pagoda Hill, against a Japanese counter attack, where he was hit in the stomach badly. He was carried by his orderly Sher Singh to the hospital, severely injured. Sam  however recovered from his serious injury, in fact joking that he was just kicked in the stomach by a mule. In fact he insisted that the surgeon attend to other patients in the hospital, more than him. On his recovery he later attended the staff college at Quetta, and on Oct 30,1944 he was promoted to Lt. Col. Manekshaw supervising the surrender of around 60000 Japanese POWs in Burma, handling the process really well.

After Independence, Manekshaw was assigned to the Punjab Regiment, again handled the division of Army assets well. At end of 1947, Manekshaw was posted as CO of 5 Gorkha Rifles, and he had to face a serious challenge in the Pakistani raiders invasion of Kashmir. He was posted to the MO Directorate directly, he later became the first Indian Military Director of Operations. And played  a crucial role in ensuring the Indian forces captured Srinagar, and beating back the Pakistani raiders in 1947.

n 1955, Manekshaw became colonel of 8 Gorkha Rifles, was stationed at Mhow. He revamped the training manuals at the Infantry School there, making it more up to date. And in 1957, he was promoted as Brigadier. He had a running battle with Krishna Menon, then Defense Minister, over Thimayya who was the Chief of Army Staff. There was no love lost between Menon and Thimayya, and he tried using Sam Bahadur in his internal games.

Menon tried to browbeat Manekshaw, saying that if he wanted he could sack Thimayya. To which Manekshaw replied point blank -“You can get rid of him. But then I will get another”. When Thimayya was made to resign, and Nehru’s lackeys Pran Nath Thapar and Brij Mohan Kaul, were made COAS and Chief of General Staff, Manekshaw did not accept it. And spoke out openly about political interference in the army.

Manekshaw’s open opposition to Kaul, did not go down well with Nehru and Menon. He was spied upon, charged with sedition, and in the biggest irony of all charged as “anti national”. And even had an inquiry commission against him. The fact is Brij Mohan Kaul, used his close relationship with Nehru and Menon to become CGS, then emerged as a power center in the Army, promoted his lackeys. And when Manekshaw stood up to this interference, he was hounded and harassed by the Govt.

The Court however exonerated Manekshaw of all the fake charges trumped up on him by the Menon-Kaul-Thapar trio. The rout in 1962, saw both Menon and Kaul being sacked, and later in Dec 1962 he was reinstated as GOC of IV Corps at Tezpur.Taking charge of the Eastern Command as GOC in 1964, Manekshaw put down the Naga insurgency, there for which he received the Padma Bhushan later. He became the COAS in 1969, also shot down a proposal for reservations in Indian Army.

Manekshaw got his nickname of Sam Bahadur when he was COAS. It’s believed he visited a Gorkha Regiment, and asked the orderly if he knew the name of his chief. The orderly replied as “Sam Bahadur” which became his popular nickname. When the crisis in East Bengal broke out in 1971, Indira Gandhi asked Manekshaw at April end if they were ready to go to war. He refused saying that the Army was not yet battle ready, and with Himalayan passes flooding, it would be too difficult. Manekshaw made it to clear to Indira Gandhi that he would lead the Army on his own terms, else he was prepared to resign. Knowing his capability from long Indira agreed, and gave him a free hand to plan his strategies.

Manekshaw’s role in India’s victory in the 1971 War, would make a separate thread by itself. However his tactic of training and arming the local Mukti Bahini, ensured Indian Army could advance with ease in the Eastern front, and secure it faster. The Mukti Bahini’s role was absolutely crucial. When you look at the fierce resistance the Indian Army faced on the Western Front in the 1971 War, and the relative ease with which it proceeded in the Eastern Front, it’s apparent.

Indian forces have surrounded you. Your Air Force is destroyed. You have no hope of any help from them. Chittagong, Chalna and Mangla ports are blocked. Your fate is sealed.- Sam Manekshaw’s radio message to Pakistan on Dec 9, 1971.

Pakistan was decisively humbled in the 1971 War. And yet when it surrendered, Manekshaw sent Lt. Gen Jagjit Singh Aurora to sign the treaty. That was what Sam Bahadur was, a true team man, who ensured his colleagues always got the due honors, not hankering for personal glory. On January 3, 1973 Sam Manekshaw was made Field Marshal, the first ever Indian Army officer to reach that position. He retired after a glorious period in the Indian Army, and having served the nation with due distinction. Like a true soldier walking away into the sunset. Awarded the Padma Vibhushan in 1972, Sam Manekshaw spent his retired life in Coonoor near Ooty, He was also made a honorary commander of the Nepal Army, on account of his popularity with the Gorkha soldiers. They regarded him as one of their own.

Sam Manekshaw passed away in 2008, at the age of 94. A legend had passed into history, but he would always be there in the hearts of every Indian as Sam Bahadur. Sadly no minister of the UPA Govt turned up for the funeral, no national day of mourning was declared. The fact is post retirement too Sam Manekshaw was treated rather badly. He was made the target of whispering campaigns doubting his integrity. Even worse his arrears were not paid to him, for over 30 years, and it took the then President APJ Kalam’s intervention to do so in 2007.

Sam Manekshaw along with Cariappa and Thimayya, was one of the legends of the India Army, A man of honor, integrity and courage. A no nonsense man who spoke his own mind, was never the yes man to any one. O




About Ratnakar Sadasyula

Blogger with a passion in movies, music,books and history. A techie by profession, and a writer at heart. Author of City of Victory a book on Vijayanagar Empire
This entry was posted in 1947 Indo Pak War, 1971 Indo Pak War, Indian Army, Modern India. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Sam Manekshaw

  1. Pingback: Sam Manekshaw – faujibratsden

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