Sam Manekshaw — credited for India’s 1971 war victory over Pakistan, the man who cheekily claimed to have called Indira Gandhi ‘sweetie’ and who was celebrated with the highest possible rank, field marshal — lacked strategic acumen, promoted sycophancy and angled for post-retirement prospects.
These claims have been made by Lt Gen (retd) JFR Jacob in his autobiography An Odyssey in War and Peace, which hits the stands next week.
Jacob was chief of staff at the Calcutta-based Eastern Command during the war and was credited by Pakistan for planning and executing a textbook offensive that led to the unconditional surrender of 93,000 troops.
In the autobiography, Jacob says that Manekshaw ordered an “unnecessary operation” in the Hilli sector on November 23, 1971 that left 67 Indian soldiers dead and another 70 wounded. He also says that Manekshaw jeopardised India’s war effort by revealing the army’s success in cracking Pakistan’s naval code. The army ability to take pre-emptive action was jeopardised, according to Jacob, when Manekshaw ordered the broadcast of an intercept despite being advised against it.
Jacob writes, "The Pakistan Navy immediately changed their code. Subsequently, we were unable to read any further naval wireless traffic."
Jacob had questioned Manekshaw’s leadership in his previous book Surrender at Dacca: Birth of a Nation, but not in such detail.
Lt Gen Depinder Singh (retd), Manekshaw’s military assistant from 1969-73, said Jacob had only followed Manekshaw’s instructions. “Jacob has a tremendous ego and believes he won the war. The win was the result of Manekshaw’s meticulous planning, executed by then Eastern Army commander Lt Gen JS Aurora,” Singh said.
According to Jacob, Manekshaw liked to have ‘yes’ men, recalling how top officials “were aghast to see Aurora take the tray from a waiter and serve drinks to DP Dhar (Indira’s advisor for Bangladesh) and Manekshaw” at a gathering in Calcutta in September 1971.
He also says Manekshaw admitted he did not like Aurora but appointed him army commander because “I (Sam) would like to have him as a doormat”. Arora passed away in 2005 while Manekshaw died in 2008.