Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw (1914-2008). The first Field Marshal of the Indian Army was born to Parsi parents, in Amritsar. His father was a doctor and served with the British army. The father was keen that he too becomes a doctor but SHFJ was enamored by the soldier’s uniform. When he expressed his desire to join the army, his father denied him the permission, saying, “You are too careless to look after even yourself”!! He rebelled and finally joined the first batch of the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun (1932).
He was commissioned into 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment that moved to Pakistan during partition, hence, transferred to 8 Gorkha Rifles, in India. During the World War II, he was a young Company Commander and was deployed on the Burma border. In one of the battles, he was grievously wounded and was in a very critical condition. Looking at his bravery and spirit, Major General DT Cowan, a British General officer, took out his own Military Cross, from his uniform, and pinned it on Sam, saying, “A dead man can not be given a Military Cross!” He was evacuated immediately with nine bullets in his body: he was fortunate to survive. In his 40 years long career, he saw four major wars. During the Indo-Pak conflict of 1971, he was the Chief of the Army Staff. He is believed to have told Mrs Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister, “we will launch an attack when we decide and not when you decide”. In a war that lasted 14 days, Indian Army had captured 93000/ Prisoners of War. But, what is more noteworthy is the manner in which these PWs were treated not only in line with international conventions but also the Indian ethos. There are a number of interesting anecdotes around his charming persona. For instance, as a senior officer, he was known to complete his work pretty quickly and go around the offices of his subordinates and the way he used to say, “Sweetheart, this is not the correct way to do this”, often disarmed even the most stubborn soldier.
Although very rare, he was awarded Padma Bhushan in 1968 for his deft handling of insurgency in Nagaland. Later, he was also awarded Padma Vibhushan, in 1971, for his stellar leadership of the armed forces during Indo-Pak operation. As a mark of respect, on the eve of his retirement, in 1973, he was awarded the most coveted rank of a ‘ Field Marshal’.
Thank God, the destiny dictated otherwise. Or else, the army would have lost one of the finest soldiers and the medical profession would have suffered a terrible doctor!!