Remembering the life and times of Sam Manekshaw | Opinion
Throughout the light-hearted camaraderie of those hours with Sam, the men could see the steel behind those green eyes and it left them with renewed resolve and hopeUpdated: Jun 27, 2020 20:29 IST
On the 12th anniversary of his death on June 27, the nation would do well to remember the extraordinary life and times of the legendary army chief Sam Manekshaw.
I remember an incident in December 1971, which underscores the rapport the army chief had with his men and his indomitable valour. Such a long time ago but not long enough for me to forget even an hour of those days. I was then a lieutenant colonel commanding the 5/8 Gorkha Rifles, which belonged to Sam Manekshaw’s regiment, the 8 Gorkha Rifles. He was proudly referred by the soldiers as Sam Bahadur.
We were deployed in the Chhamb sector where the most ferocious fighting of the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war took place. While the operations against the Pakistan army in East Bengal (now Bangladesh) were launched by the Indian Army after Pakistan’s atrocities against the Bengalis in East Bengal and everyone’s attention was on it, Pakistan launched a pre-emptive attack in the Western Theatre in Chhamb.
By now, it was a full blown war. Pakistan had some initial successes due to the surprise factor and overran the brigade defending Chhamb. By this time, the Indian Army had reacted and deployed the 68 Brigade to defend the line of Munnawar Tawi by occupying the East Bank of the Tawi. While the Tawi was not deep and the infantry could wade through it in most areas, there were only two possible crossings for tanks near the Chhamb Bridge over Tawi and the other about three kilometres south opposite a village called Darh. My battalion was deployed to defend the Chhamb crossing and another battalion was deployed to defend the Darh crossing. I had already demolished the bridge.
That night the Pakistanis attacked Darh with tanks and after fierce fighting they were able to establish a bridge head at Darh by the morning. While the reserve forces of our Brigade were able to prevent the bridge head from going deeper, Pakistan was rapidly building up more forces in the bridge head during the day and it was assessed that during the night they would be able to have sufficient forces to launch a thrust towards Akhnoor about 25 KM east of Chhamb where the bridge over the Jammu Tawi was located. Its loss would have severed the eastern part of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) from India and enabled Pakistan to attack Jammu from the rear, thus cutting off J & K from India.
Consequently the divisional commander ordered me to launch a counter-attack supported by a squadron of T-72 tanks of the 7/2 Armed Regiment. I launched the counter-attack soon after sundown in the darkness and after very fierce fighting and heavy casualties on both sides we succeeded and drove the Pakistani forces back across the Tawi. The progress of our action was being monitored by an anxious army headquarters and the chief of the army staff General Manekshaw was informed immediately. He was away at the Eastern Theatre overseeing the operations against East Bengal which led to an eventual surrender.
The first thing next morning, Sam Bahadur was with us. He had come personally to compliment the soldiers for their brave action. He insisted on going right up to the forward positions. The subedar sahib cautioned that going up to the forward positions would draw enemy fire, especially if they had any inkling of who was in the field. Sam nonchalantly waved aside the objection saying: “Don’t worry, let them know that I am here. They wouldn’t want to tangle with me. In any case they are bad shots and will probably miss me.” Then striding forward he looked back at the subedar sahib and said with a twinkle in his eye. “Now, you be careful, sahib, they might get you instead.” With that, off we went to the forward positions. The Pakistani soldiers were still on the ridges above and looking down at us. For whatever reason no one fired even one shot. Throughout the light-hearted camaraderie of those hours with Sam, the men could see the steel behind those green eyes and it left them with renewed resolve and hope.
Lt General AS Kalkat was army commander & former commander Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF), Sri Lanka. He is the first person in India to be awarded the Sarvottam Yudh Seva Medal, the highest award for leadership in war and conflict.
The views expressed are personal