BNBM Prasad, Lt. Gen (Retd) SM, VSM
Lucknow:As we celebrate 50th anniversary of the historic win of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war, exceptional leadership qualities exhibited by then Army Chief late Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw popularly known as Sam Manekshaw stand distinct. He was undoubtedly the supreme architect and the shining star of that monumental feat, leading to the birth of Bangladesh.
Then Prime Minister, Mrs Indira Gandhi, wanted an immediate all-out war with Pakistan to put an end to the worst refugee and security crisis that India was facing, with millions of refugees already in India. She consulted the Army Chief then General Sam Manekshaw, who extended to her all possible military support to diffuse the crisis excepting giving his consent for an immediate war, much to the chagrin of his both detractors and political pundits.
Despite strong political pressure, he stood his ground like a rock since he knew that an immediate war against Pakistan was detrimental to the national interest. He was aware of the peril of going against wishes of his Prime Minister Mrs Gandhi, considered by many as an avatar of Goddess Durga.
Finally, he had his last laugh and Mrs Gandhi accepted his view since she knew very well that her most trusted Army Chief can never go wrong. In that milieu of perfect political and military synergy, General Manekshaw pulled out a military miracle that was never witnessed before.
Under his able military leadership, East Pakistan was not only wiped out from the map in no time but also Pakistan had to bite the dust with her ignominious Army led by General Niazi Khan surrendering along with 93,000 prisoners of war. For India, this was the inflection point and the God sent gift for regaining nation’s pride and reposing faith in her military abilities after the country lost to China in the 1962 war.
SHFJ Manekshaw born in an illustrious Parsi family on 03 April 1914 at Amritsar, wanted to become a doctor but destiny took him to Indian Military Academy (IMA) Dehradun from where he emerged out successfully among the first batch of Indian Commissioned officers in the year 1934. During his chequered military career spanning over four decades he charmed every one with his magnetic personality that was a perfect blend of both the head and the heart. He had innumerable admirers including his seniors for his razor-sharp intellect, compassionate attitude and uncanny ability to diffuse a crisis with his bench mark wit and humor. This quality enabled him to see greater heights in his life despite facing many setbacks. As a Captain while serving in Burma during the second World War, he not only survived bullet injuries that were complicated by the most dreaded wound sepsis but also most deservingly earned the much-coveted Military Cross for his dare devil actions while battling for his life with serious war injuries. He came out unscathed from a disciplinary proceeding that was initiated against him on a false charge of his detractor while he was a senior officer and due for his promotion. During the 1971 War, after suffering initial setbacks, he led the Indian Army to the supreme glory by carving out one of the finest military victory of all times.
I consider myself extremely fortunate to be associated with such an illustrious man as his Physician that enabled me to serve him till the very end. He died on 27 Jun 2008 at the ripe age of 94, when I was at his bed side at the Military Hospital Wellington with both his daughters –Mrs. Maya and Mrs. Sherry holding his hands with great reverence and affection.
Till the end, he was visited by innumerable admirers include
ng then President Dr. Abdul Kalam who like many in the world, considered Field Marshal Manekshaw as an iconic military leader, possessing exceptional abilities and his famous words in the visitor’s book of Military Hospital Wellington “Military Hospital Wellington is always contributing the best. Please take care of our great wealth, our only Field Marshal Manekshaw” echoes this sentiment. Even after more than a decade of his death, he continues to inspire many millions like me, remaining evergreen in our memories. God bless his soul with eternal happiness.
(03 April 2021 is the 107thbirth anniversary of late Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw)
Lt Gen (Retd) BNBM Prasad is former Director General Health Services (Armed Forces), & renowned Pulmonologist. He was Physician to late Field Marshal Manekshaw.