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Business News/ Opinion / Online Views/  Remembering Sam Bahadur

Remembering Sam Bahadur

The year leading to Manekshaw’s birth centenary is a good time to think about what makes for good politico-military strategies

A file photo of Field Marshal S.H.F.J. Manekshaw. Photo: PIB Defence Wing (PIB Defence Wing)Premium
A file photo of Field Marshal S.H.F.J. Manekshaw. Photo: PIB Defence Wing
(PIB Defence Wing)

The last time that Indian tanks liberated a country, it was under the watch of one of its outstanding military leaders, Field Marshal S.H.F.J. Manekshaw affectionately known as Sam Bahadur. The year leading to his birth centenary is a good time to think about what makes for good politico-military strategies. 

The liberation of Bangladesh is a watershed in the history of India after 1947. Barely nine years earlier, China had inflicted a crushing defeat on India. The country’s morale was low and its military leadership was cowed. The win in 1971 changed all that. If only for that revival of confidence, Manekshaw’s memory will remain alive for a long time to come.

In 1971, India witnessed a constellation of three unique factors: a strong-willed political leadership, a military leader of the first rank and a neighbour that has never respected the rights of its citizens.

What makes that victory stand out starkly in contemporary times is the lack of many of the ingredients that served India so well at that time.

The external environment remains as hostile as ever. What is missing is the right kind of coordination between political and military leadership in the country. There was one important reason why Manekshaw was so successful. His easy familiarity with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi transcended the normal bureaucratic relationship between a serving chief and the Prime Minister. He had the courage to tell her what was workable and what was not.

To be sure, every army chief will present his leader with a menu of options but few, if any, will push for the right choice beyond a point. The politico-military equilibrium in any country, leave alone a democracy where political leaders shy away from military and strategic affairs, is a tricky one. No one—politicians and soldiers alike—want to disturb it even for the right reasons. Manekshaw was one rare exception in this. His decision to wait until the monsoon was over before crossing into Bangladesh’s treacherous terrain was one such choice. This was in spite of the fact that political conditions for successful action were present since April 1971.

His military sagacity did the rest. And as they say, the rest is history.

What is the secret of military success: competent military leaders or a strong-willed political leadership? Tell us at

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Published: 02 Apr 2013, 07:44 PM IST
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