Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Sam Bahadur - A soldier's General

Sam was born in 1914, in Amritsar. He was selected for the first course of the new instituted 'Indian Millitary Academy' He was commissioned into the 12th, Frontier Force Regiment, commonly called the 54th Sikhs. He saw action in the Second World War, and in 1942 was gravely injured in action - a much publicised event - when seven bullets from a Japanese machine gun whipped through his body.

Sam survived and went on to become argueably the most celebrated General not only in India but across the Globe. He rose through the millitary hierarchy through rapid promotions and held key assignments from the Director - Millitary Operations (during the crucial Kashmir Operations of 1948), then Commandant of the Defence Services Staff College. He then took over 4 Corps as GOC-in-C, just at the close of the Chinese hostilities of 1962. Sam's first meeting with the senior officers of 4 Corps is legendary, just as it was typical of his personality. 4 Corps at that juncture was a compeltely battered and demoralised army having been humiliated at the hands of the Chinese, and for good measure due to a complete failure of Indian millitary and political leadership.
In his first meeting, Sam had only this to say "Gentlemen - I have arrived. There will be no more withdrawls in 4 Corps. Thank you" Few words which most certainly would have sent a strong message to the rank and file that he meant business and that he expected every man in uniform to act dignified in the face of adversity - and most importantly, that 4 Corps was now in the hands of a true leader.

By then Sam had earned the reputation of being India's most promising and upcoming Gerneal Staff Officer. No wonder then, that he took over as Western Army Commander, Eastern Army Commander before he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Indian Army.

That he led India to its most decisive millitary victory in 1971 which led to the liberation of Bangla Desh is common folk lore not only in India, but in Pakistan too. For his role as India's Army Chief in this crucial period, a grateful Nation honored with with a Padma Vibhushan, and he was promoted as India's first Field Marshal - a rank that is held by an Officer till his death.

That Sam was professionally brilliant is obvious from his career graph. But he was more popularly known as a soldier's general. the safety and honor of the men he commanded was always his prime concern. He was a tough task master and a disciplinarian. Many officers who served in his chain of command or worked closely would still shudder to think of the effort required to keep pace with him. But within a tough exterior lay a very humane being. Sam by his own admission never ever punished a man in uniform, throughout his career - a fact hard to digest.

Sam believed in the values of leadership. To him, the two most important aspects of a good leader were - professional knowledge, and the ability, character and moral strength to stand upright and fight for what was right and just. And if these were true hallmarks of a leader, he always led by example. Prior to the 1971 operations, he sent a clear message to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Defence Minister Jagjiwan Ram, that for a sure shot millitary victory he would 'run the show' his way, and without interfernce from those who were not well versed with millitary matters. Sam did run his own show and led the Country to its first ever decisive victory against Pakistan - an event that restored the morale of not only the Indian Army but India as a whole.

Though a Field Marshal till he died, Sam led a quiet retired life in the Nilgiri Hills.Long after he had lost his wife 'Siloo' he continued to live in the Company of his 'Gurkha' ex - comrades in arms, and their families. Well into his nineties, he was immaculately turned out - at any time of the day. His home continued to reflect the 'millitary style' turn out too - spotlessly clean rooms, and sparkling crockery and cutlery.

Sam lived the life of a true soldier -battling his deteriorating health and old age, till he finally 'hung' his uniform at the ripe old age of 94, on June 27, 2008.

Sam Bahadur - here's a 'salute' to you.

It's been a little over a year now - when India's most celebrated soldier and the first Field Marshal of the Country - Sam Manekshaw passed away, after living a full, eventful and meaningful life.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed a great soldier, was he attached to a Scottish regiment at one time.