Sam Manekshaw is not only remembered for his brilliant military career but also for his wit. There are numerous incidents of his exemplary courage and quick-witted replies. One such incident is about when Sam Manekshaw met with former Indian PM, Indira Gandhi.
While releasing the book, ‘Liberation and Beyond: Indo-Bangladesh Relations’ by former Foreign Secretary J.N. Dixit, General Manekshaw shared a great detail about his relationship with Indira Gandhi and Pakistani president, Yahya Khan.
Not long before the Indo-Pak war of 1971, US President Richard Nixon and his security advisor, Henry Kissinger, asked US Army Chief to visit India and a close look at the refugee crisis in West Bengal. Gen. Westmoreland visited India and was taken around by Gen. Manekshaw taking a closer look at the intense crisis.
Upon his return to US, Nixon reportedly asked the General as to how long will it take for India to liberate East Pakistan and the General replied that it would take one to two months. However, fate had something else in mind and it took India only 13 days to liberate East Pakistan and create a new country called Bangladesh.
When Gen. Westmoreland asked Manekshaw what did he not show him, Manekshaw replied,
“I have seen several angry women, including my wife. But never one like Mrs Gandhi.”
Gen. Manekshaw at the book release recalled that he was called in for an immediate meeting with Indira Gandhi in the summer of 1971. Indira Gandhi was very upset with the refugee crisis in West Bengal and asked him if he was ready for a war. To this, Manekshaw asked Gandhi if she had read the Bible.
Upon asking as to what Bible has to do with the war, quoting the Genesis, Manekshaw replied,
“In the beginning there was darkness. God said let there be light and there was light. He then divided light from the darkness. I have only 30 tanks and two armoured divisions with me. The Himalayan passes will be opening anytime. What if the Chinese give an ultimatum? The rains will start now in East Pakistan. When it rains there the rivers become oceans. I guarantee 100 per cent defeat.”
Gandhi adjourned the meeting later in the evening and asked the General to stay back. After listening to his strategy, Gandhi agreed to give him enough time to work on his strategy and ensure a victory which would alter the world’s history and geography.
Seven months and four days later when Pakistani President Yahya Khan lost his patience and marched his forces to attack forward Indian posts, Manekshaw had already amassed two armoured brigade in the region.
Thirteen days later, Bangladesh was created and India showed the world that it is capable of doing the best. The US was isolated and India brought Western Europe on its side.
In the same event, Manekshaw remembered one another incident with Yahya Khan. Before partition, the two were posted at the Defence Headquarters of the British Indian army and Khan was Manekshaw’s junior.
Khan had fallen in love with the General’s motorcycle which he had brought for Rs.1400. The General said,
“I told him that he could have the vehicle for as much. He said he would give only Rs.1000. I said okay. ‘But I don’t have a thousand rupees now, I will send it to you later,’ he said.”
Twenty-one years later, Khan became the President of Pakistan. The General recalled,
“I never received the Rs.1000, but he gave me the whole of East Pakistan.”
This incident clearly showed that Sam Manekshaw was witty, courageous and a great senior. In the armed forces, one bonds with his seniors and juniors like a family and the relationship is carried on even when one retires. Clearly, Sam had maintained his superiority over Yahya Khan even after partition.