Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw: Hero or villain?

In seven years’ time, Sam Hormusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw will turn 100. For 36 years now, India’s first Field Marshal has been the icon of heroism for his role in the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971. But now questions are being asked; accusations are being hurled.

First, Lieutenant-General J.F.R. Jacob, who was the chief of staff of the Indian Army’s Eastern Command during the Bangladesh campaign, gave an interview to Karan Thapar on April 30, in which he claimed “taking Dhaka did not figure in Manekshaw’s plans”, suggesting that it may have endangered India’s great victory.

“Sam unfortunately had a very short experience of war. He was wounded in the early stages of war; unfortunately he was not able to command a battalion,” General Jacob has said, in the context of the government’s decision to give the Field Marshal back pay amounting to Rs 1.6 crore for the period since his retirement more than 36 years ago.

Now, Gohar Ayub Khan, son of General Ayub Khan, has hinted, again in an interview with Karan Thapar, that Manekshaw sold India’s 1965 war plan to Pakistan. In other words, that India’s most respected soldier was a Pakistani spy. Khan has not named the Field Marshal, who now lives near Ooty, but he has dropped four hints.

That he was from the first contingent of the Indian Military Academy. That he was commissioned in the fourth battalion of the 12 Frontier Force. That he was wounded in Burma in February 1942. And that he attained the highest rank, including the Military Cross. These hints point to only one man in the whole wide world: Sam Manekshaw.

So is Manekshaw a hero or a villain? Is Gohar Ayub Khan , a former Pakistan foreign minister, only peddling his book? Is the army establishment jealous of Manekshaw’s recent riches? Is a sensational media committing a grave injustice by airing such charges without giving a chance to a very ill Manekshaw to respond?