The 1971 military victory for India remains a stand-out moment in Indian independent history. The sacrifices of our soldiers were defeated by the largesse diplomacy of the government that followed, yet the unmatched courage & dedication shown by our armed forces will remain to be a golden moment in our history. Not to forget that this impeccable performance came after fighting two wars in a span of less than a decade & at a time when India was economically struggling to even provide its people with food.
The victory would have been impossible if not for Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw. He was known for his incredible military acumen & the manner in which he never hesitated in speaking the truth to the face of politicians, even if the politician was the prime minister.
Here are some unknown anecdotes from the war highlighting what a brilliant & blunt man Sam Manekshaw was –
- When refugees started pouring into India from East Pakistan, Indira Gandhi called a cabinet meeting & ordered Manekshaw to take the army into East Pakistan. But he out-rightly refused saying his men weren’t prepared & it would take time to consolidate his formations. Indira Gandhi was left fuming. Such courage in a military officer in India is rarely seen.
- Once the planning was done, political leaders began asking him how much time he would take for victory. He said East Pakistan is as large as France & it would take atleast a month. But he won the war in just 13 days. When Indira asked him why he didn’t say before that he would win in just 13 days, he replied that if had taken even one more day you politicians would have started to question him.
- The United States had sent its 7th Fleet to pressurize India into retreating from Pakistan. The ships were nuclear-capable. Ministers from the government ran to Manekshaw fearing a nuclear strike from the US. He answered that if it were so then he couldn’t do anything about it, but he added that that was never going to happen. The politicians raised concerns about the US intervening in the war. To this he replied, “If the US Army intervenes then I have no fear. I’ll become the greatest general who defeated Pakistan & America.” Such was the confidence!
- He had prepared the surrender document much in advance as he knew he was going to win. Toward the end as it became evident that Pakistan had lost, he dictated the document over telephone to the Chief of Army Staff Eastern Army, & told him to make 4 copies of it & send one to Amir Niazi (General Pakistan Army), one to General Jagjit Singh (General Officer Commanding-in-Chief Eastern Command), & two copies to him. He would send one to the government & would put the other in his office.
- He had made arrangements for Pakistani refugees in tents. One day he went to visit the camps, & asked the Major Subedar of the Pakistan Army for permission to enter the tents. As if they were his own people, he asked them if there were bugs in their beds & if there were ample mosquito nets for their convenience. He even went into a langar & tasted the food being cooked by a Pakistani jawan. But the defining moment of that visit came when he was leaving. The Pakistani Subedar said to him, “Pardon me for saying this, but I now know why you won the war. It’s because you care for your men. The way you visited us today, not even our own officers visit us. They consider themselves as nawabzadas.”