By Invitation: They didn’t make it to Sam’s funeral

India’s political establishment and its shabby treatment of a national hero

By Commodore C Uday Bhaskar (retd)

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw whose mortal remains were laid to rest with military honours on Friday, June 27, 2008 in his beloved Nilgiri Hills will remain a legendary figure for the Indian ‘fauj’ and the manner of his departure in many ways symbolizes what he represented to India and its people.

The astute military leader who led India to its greatest military victory in the 1971 war for Bangladesh (the last such decisive military victory for Bharat was under Chandragupta Maurya in 300 BC!) was given an emotional farewell by millions of Indians across the country—and among the diaspora abroad. The mass media did the departed soldier proud and tributes and accolades continue to pour in to pay homage to one of India’s most accomplished yet humble sons.

But the Indian state was less than generous in its response to the Field Marshal’s demise and it has already attracted adverse comment that the UPA government could only send a Minister of State for the funeral—despite the official announcement that in a “rare” gesture, the government would accord him a state funeral. The fact that none of the three service Chiefs participated in the final ceremony—or for that matter that the Defence Minister chose not to go personally—due to ‘political’ compulsions is difficult to ignore. Furthermore, not a single Member of Parliament was able to join the people of India in paying their final respects to a soldier who almost single-handedly restored the ‘izzat’ of the Indian fauj after the debacle of the 1962 China war—thereby instilling a sense of confidence in a very de-moralized nation.

But these are the ‘petty’ realities of the Indian political culture—and maybe Sam Bahadur’s omission was that he was too much of a ‘bahadur’ and the military as an institution has remained marginal to the Indian ruling elite. The visibly disdainful attitude to the ‘fauji’ was nurtured by Pandit Nehru and bolstered by the civilian bureaucracy who always spoke in whispers about the danger of a military coup—as had happened in Pakistan and Burma—in the event that the higher military leadership was brought into the loop of higher governance and security planning.

Sam Manekshaw’s life reflected this pernicious culture and how he remained above it. During the Nehru years, his Defence Minister Krishna Menon tried to belittle the higher ranks of the Indian Army and encouraged sycophancy. The result was that truly professional and apolitical soldiers like Generals Thimayya and Manekshaw were treated shabbily and their advice spurned. The country paid a heavy price and the 1962 war with China was testimony to this crass political ineptitude. Such was the bitter vendetta carried out by Krishna Menon that he initiated a Court of Inquiry against Sam Manekshaw for ‘anti-national’ activities in early 1962 on totally false charges and sought—unsuccessfully—to penalize the general.

However the debacle of 1962 forced Nehru to acknowledge the folly of this political interference in internal military affairs and he resurrected officers like Sam Manekshaw. And ironically, Sam was sent to take over 4 Corps—which had been mauled by the Chinese Army—in the Eastern Sector from Lt Gen Kaul, the Krishna Menon favourite. From 4 Corps Commander to becoming the Army Commander in Calcutta, and later elevated to Army Chief in 1969, Sam Bahadur by dint of personal example and sound professionalism, re-built the tainted ‘izzat’ of the Indian Army.

The clouds of war with Pakistan were looming in early 1971 over the repression and genocide in East Pakistan—and Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted the Indian armed forces to enter the fray so that a popularly elected government could be installed in Dhaka. However Sam Bahadur as the Army Chief refused to be pushed into hasty action and gave her very objective advice—much to her surprise. In his later days Sam recalled how she was initially angry at his dissenting view, but respected his professional appreciation and concurred with his planning and execution of the 1971 war.

But in keeping with his strong commitment to the democratic ethos and the provisions of the Indian Constitution, General Manekshaw who had the highest respect for civilian political supremacy over the military—offered to resign voluntarily in the event that the prime minister did not approve of his dissent. To Mrs. Indira Gandhi’s credit, she took Sam’s advice, reposed confidence in him and entrusted him with full responsibility of the actual conduct of the war with no political interference.

The 1971 war was an outstanding military success and India had managed to do what no country had done since World War II—achieve a decisive military victory over an adversary and dismember that country. Regrettably there was inadequate appreciation of the politico-military harmonisation of ‘victory’ and Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto seemed to emerge the political equal of Indira Gandhi at Simla despite the military defeat. Few people in the Indian political classes and higher bureaucracy seemed to know about war termination objectives and how a military victory was to be translated into an abiding political advantage.

In retrospect it would appear that the Indian military was neither encouraged nor allowed to contribute to higher politico-military strategic planning and thereby the nation was not able to maximize the victory over the Pakistan Army. Thus we have a paradox in that while the Pakistan Army had subsumed the state and became the central actor in the perennially hostile relationship with India, the Indian armed forces were (and are) kept outside the national decision making framework. To compound the damage, the ruling politico-bureaucratic culture sustained this distancing and denigration of the Indian ‘fauj’ and Sam Manekshaw became the symbol of both public adulation and private (state) anxiety.

Soon after the December 1971 victory and the birth of Bangladesh, Indira became India—a veritable Durga who had slain the wicked demon—an accolade that Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then a young opposition parliamentarian generously paid to his political opponent. India and Indira who were both going through a period of post-1962/post-Nehru despondency and lack of esteem found their confidence. This achievement of the nation and its prime minister was enabled to a great extent by Sam Manekshaw and his tri-service team—and nobody realised this more keenly than Indira Gandhi herself. In Pakistan the people were baying for the blood of their disgraced generals and in India, their counterparts, Sam Manekshaw and Jagjit Singh Arora were being publicly feted.

In 1973 General Manekshaw was elevated to Field Marshal and his public profile was unparalleled for any Indian fauji. Sam loomed larger than life and public adulation grew. Then occurred one of those historic accidents—triggered by Sam’s spontaneous sense of humour and repartee. Responding to a question about what would have happened if he, as a Parsi had opted to join the Pakistan Army in August 1947, he joked that maybe Pakistan would have won the 1971 war! That was to be a costly quip and the Field Marshal was publicly upbraided by many who were envious of his growing stature. The Indian state had found its opportunity to cut the soldier to size and cast the Indian top military leader in poor light.

Sam stepped down as Army Chief in early 1973 and retired gracefully from the limelight—which he no doubt revelled in—but had never actively sought. The politico-military-bureaucratic synergy arrived at between Indira Gandhi-Jagjivan Ram-Sam Manekshaw-KB Lall became a thing of the past. The evolving Indian ethos progressively relegated the Indian military and ironically in his death, Sam Bahadur, for all his monumental contribution to the making of India was treated in a characteristically shabby manner by the Indian state. But this lack of magnanimity taints the present ‘hukumat’ mired in its own sycophancy, more than the glory of Sam Bahadur which will remain shining and inviolable for the people of a grateful nation.

The author is a former head of the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses

14 thoughts on “By Invitation: They didn’t make it to Sam’s funeral”

  1. How can Commodore Uday Bhaskar dismiss the apathy of the services in a single line and direct the rant towards the politico-bureaucratic setup only? If the services have no respect or concern for their own greatest hero, what better can you expect from the civil society?

    Have the services tried to even follow a single idea that he enunciated? Externalities like attending funerals don’t matter in the long run, following his ideas do. Do we want to create another Gandhi here by allowing him to be appropriated by the establishment?

    An army that places sportspersons on posters in cantonments rather than decorated war heroes has got its priorities all mixed up. It is time the services are put under the scanner as much as the politicians and bureaucrats are done by our venerated defence experts.

    Sam Manekshaw was not a product of the politicians or the bureaucrats, and not solely of the services. He was much bigger then all the three institutions put together. He doesn’t need the validation of establishment to be recognised as one of India’s greatest hero since independence.

    Commodore Bhaskar, its nice for many to hear such a rant and turn cynical. But what one is looking for someone like you is a perspective, not a harangue? Why the lack of similar focus on the services themselves? Maybe, the treatment being meted out to the Marshal of the IAF, Arjan Singh and his ideas in today’s IAF would be a huge pointer to the way the current top brass perceives the Marshals– a pain in the a**.

  2. Krishna Menon was a more diabolical bastard than what we have previously known. This quizling Karat is a fitting successor to that vile traitor.

  3. Sam Manekshaw was a giant in a land of lilliputs and at the present time a uncluttered, straightforward hero amongst self serving,ignorant,cowardly self serving political leaders.What will they know of ” facing the enemy ” nor the sacrifices Sam and others made for the country.For them war and governance are all about getting the maximum mileage.So what if a few lives are lost or a hero is ignored !!! The coffers are all that matter not the body bags nor the coffins.Cry ” beloved country “.

  4. I had the opportunity to know and meet the great Field Marshal during our frequent visits to Kodai Canal where my daughter was studying along with Field Marshall Manikshaw’s grandson. He was a down to earth, polite and humble man full of kindness and humor. I am sad to hear about his passing.
    It is simply appalling that all these “political midgets” in New Delhi and all these mediocre political non entities, bloating in their self importance, failed miserably to attend and to pay tribute to this GREAT INDIAN NATIONAL HERO……………
    I guess if Field Marshall Manikshaw would have been Italian, Sonia’s cronies and minions would have been falling over each other to pay tribute……….
    I hope India remembers this blatant disregard and disrespect to our National Hero at the next elections………..and sweep this trash out of office!

  5. Given the way they treated Manekshaw, no wonder they treat “ordinary” soldiers who have given up their life as garbage.

  6. Sam Bahadur is getting a terrific send away from his nation, even if the politicians were missing. Let’s not lose perspective of that.

    Commodore Bhaskar – making an issue of absence of politicians you so despise does not make sense. Extending it into a complain about historical treatment of armed services is pushing it a bit too far. Ironically, your rant is so unlike Sam Bahadur. He commanded respect and did not demand it.

    Nitin – I think I speak for most readers of Acorn that we expect higher quality opinion from The Acorn.

  7. Comm Uday Bhaskar is right. Offcourse it is good that MAHAMANAV like Sam Manekshaw farewell did not have any representative from the ranks of these traitors slaves, the insects, who make a spectacle of themselves dancing when Italy wins the World Cup and licking the boots of foreign italian signiorita,. Offcourse if Sam had been an Italian/christian the full paraphenalia of italian empress and chaprasis would have been there. In fact, these same gutter swill did not even celeberate the 100 birthday of Shaheed Bhagat Singh or the 150th anniversay of 1857 rebellion ( as it was against White european rule), maybe offcourse India would have to celeberate the Mussolini’s b’day as national day.
    Acorn we expect better responses (if offcourse your national interest is not aka Commies nationalism and patriotism), than some opiniated, self important punies who would themselves never dare to serve in the forces calling it rant

  8. Just compare with the Majestic (tax payers money) wasted State funeral given to Missionary Angels of Hell fame Theresa, in which the entire Christianic mafia of UPA was present like slaves

  9. It is good that no politician attended the funeral. At least the focus of attention was not diverted to them and their Z plus security.
    However the question arises as to why the three military chiefs did not attend.

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  11. I respect and share the emotions of Cmde Bhaskar, an old and respected colleague. He has, as usual, put forth his views in a pithy and clear manner. I on the other hand think that the plight of the Indian Armed Forces is largely due to the selfishness of the brass. The bureaucrats and politicians know it rather well. Unless the writing on the Chetwode hall is actually implemented in true spirit by the leaders, things would only get worse. What happened to the Field Marshall is an extension to what happens to all our gallantry award winners. I need not labour the point because the media keeps on coming out with stories about the plight of these gentlemen regularly.

    The latest example of policies of the bureaucrats and politicians is the 6th CPC award. Where care has been taken to look after the top few and to sacrifice the rest, particularly the middle, sure in the knowledge that like in the experience of the past. The only mistake in the calculation was in underestimating the impact of the internet and the free, burgeoning and competing media.

    The rot got arrested in the aftermath of 1962 and has got accelerated after 1971. So it appears that the country needs a clear defeat/loss to wake up again. Until that happens, our uniformed desk warriors are not likely to do anything that affects their promotion/post-retirement prospects.

  12. The Service Chiefs & other military functionaries did not attend F.Marshal Sam’s funeral not because they did not want to, but would have been ‘diplomatically’ encouraged not to by the ‘civilian’ bureaucrats/authorities. This is reminiscent of another reported quarrel between the then President Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Prime Minster Nehru. President Dr. Rajendra Prasad wanted to attend the funeral of the then late Home Minister – Sardar V Patel. Inspite of Nehru’s opposition President Dr. Rajendra Prasad attended. Since 1947, the complete apathy of the civilian bureaucracy towards the Armed Forces, (reducing their comparative rank status in the ‘ warrant of precedence’, compared to that prior to 1947), a total lack of comprehension of matters ‘militaire’ have led to the present morass. The recent ‘6th Pay Commission’ which caused so much justifiably raised the ire of the Armed Forces, must have had a lot of bureaucrats rubbing their hands in glee and quoting section and clause from some decrepit rule book or other. The Indian Armed Forces represent the last outpost of an independent and strong India.

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