The name of late Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw (3 April 1914 – 27 June 2008), fondly called “Sam Bahadur” and “Sam Manekshaw”, figures prominently in the list of important personalities of the 20th century. He is remembered as first Indian Army officer, who began his career as second lieutenant, to be promoted to the rank of Field Marshal. He became one of the only two Indian Army generals to be awarded this prestigious rank of Field Marshall. Another was General K M Cariappa.
General Mankshaw began his career with service in the British Indian Army in World War II. In the four decade long career, he rose to become the eighth chief of staff of the Indian Army in 1969 and under his command, India won the 1971 war with Pakistan.
While serving for the British Indian army during World War II in Burma, he was badly hurt by the bullets of Japanese. He suffered bullets in his lungs, liver and Kidneys and was close to death; when his orderly evacuated him from the battlefield and was saved by doctors. It has said that when Surgeon asked what happened to him; he replied that he was “kicked by a donkey“!! Later he was awarded the Military Cross for gallantry during the Burma campaign of the Second World War.
Before partition of India, he was serving in the 12th Frontier Force Regiment (in present Pakistan). After partition, that regiment became a part of Pakistan. Being a Parsi, he could move to Pakistan, but he decided to serve India and was reassigned to the Punjab Regiment and later Gorkha Rifles. Once asked what would have happened had he opted for Pakistan at the time of the Partition in 1947, he reportedly quipped, “then I guess Pakistan would have won (the 1971 war)”!!
Manekshaw is best remembered for the decisive campaign he crafted during the 1971 India-Pakistan war that saw the emergence of Bangladesh. It led to his elevation as India’s first field marshal.
He famously refused to address then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as “Madam “as according to him, this sobriquet was reserved for occupants of a “certain kind of house”.