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Sam, the wise and brave

When Manekshaw delivered the KM Kariappa Memorial Lecture.

June 27 marks the 5th anniversary of the passing of one of India’s greatest post-independence military leaders, SHFJ Manekshaw.  In honor of Field Marshal Manekshaw, the COAS Gen. Bikram Singh delivered a commemorative lecture at the Manekshaw Centre in New Delhi.  The Government of India’s Press Information Bureau tells us that the talk was “stimulating,” although we have no way of knowing this, since it was a closed-door affair.

(Comment: And so we continue to perpetuate this absurd practice in our country of largely insulating the armed forces and any discussion about the armed forces from civil society.  Modern nations succeed and thrive through the integration — rather than the isolation — of their armed forces and societies.  Yet we in India hold on to outdated beliefs and misplaced anxieties 65 years after independence.)

But I digress.  Sam Bahadur was not only a great solider but also a brilliant orator.  Excerpts of his Field Marshal KM Kariappa Memorial Lecture from January 1995 follow:

Ladies and Gentlemen, there is a very thin line between becoming a Field Marshal and being dismissed. A very angry Prime Minister read out messages from Chief Ministers of West Bengal, Assam and Tripura. All of them saying that hundreds of thousands of refugees had poured into their states and they did not know what to do. So the Prime Minister turned round to me and said: “I want you to do something”.

I said, “What do you want me to do?”

She said, “I want you to enter East Pakistan”.

I said, “Do you know that that means War?”

She said, “I do not mind if it is war”.

I, in my usual stupid way said, “Prime Minister, have you read the Bible?”And the Foreign Minister, Sardar Swaran Singh (a Punjabi Sikh), in his Punjabi accent said, “What has Bible got to do with this?”, and I said, “the first book, the first chapter, the first paragraph, the first sentence, God said, ‘let there be light’’ and there was light. You turn this round and say ‘let there be war’ and there will be war. What do you think? Are you ready for a war? Let me tell you –“it’s 28th April, the Himalayan passes are opening now, and if the Chinese gave us an ultimatum, I will have to fight on two fronts”.

Again Sardar Swaran Singh turned round and in his Punjabi English said, “Will China give ultimatum?”

I said, “You are the Foreign Minister. You tell me”.

Then I turned to the Prime Minister and said, “Prime Minister, last year you wanted elections in West Bengal and you did not want the communists to win, so you asked me to deploy my soldiers in penny pockets in every village, in every little township in West Bengal. I have two divisions thus deployed in sections and platoons without their heavy weapons. It will take me at least a month to get them back to their units and to their formations. Further, I have a division in the Assam area, another division in Andhra Pradesh and the Armoured Division in the Jhansi-Babina area. It will take me at least a month to get them back and put them in their correct positions. I will require every road, every railway train, every truck, every wagon to move them. We are harvesting in the Punjab, and we are harvesting in Haryana; we are also harvesting in Uttar Pradesh. And you will not be able to move your harvest.

I turned to the Agriculture Minister, Mr. Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, “If there is a famine in the country afterwards, it will be you to blame, not me.” Then I said, “My Armoured Division has only got thirteen tanks which are functioning.”

The Finance Minister, Mr. Chawan, a friend of mine, said, “Sam, why only thirteen?”

“Because you are the Finance Minister. I have been asking for money for the last year and a half, and you keep saying there is no money. That is why.” Then I turned to the Prime Minister and said, “Prime Minister, it is the end of April. By the time I am ready to operate, the monsoon will have broken in that East Pakistan area. When it rains, it does not just rain, it pours. Rivers become like oceans. If you stand on one bank, you cannot see the other and the whole countryside is flooded. My movement will be confined to roads, the Air Force will not be able to support me, and, if you wish me to enter East Pakistan, I guarantee you a hundred percent defeat.”

“You are the Government”, I said turning to the Prime Minister, “Now will you give me your orders?”

Ladies and Gentlemen, I have seldom seen a woman so angry, and I am including my wife in that. She was red in the face and I said, “Let us see what happens”. She turned round and said, “The cabinet will meet four o’clock in the evening”.

Everyone walked out. I being the junior most man was the last to leave. As I was leaving, she said, “Chief, please will you stay behind?” I looked at her. I said, “Prime Minister, before you open your mouth, would you like me to send in my resignation on grounds of health, mental or physical?”

“No, sit down, Sam. Was everything you told me the truth?”

“Yes, it is my job to tell you the truth. It is my job to fight and win, not to lose.”

She smiled at me and said, “All right, Sam. You know what I want. When will you be ready?”

“I cannot tell you now, Prime Minister”, I said, but let me guarantee you this that if you leave me alone, allow me to plan, make my arrangements, and fix a date, I guarantee you a hundred percent victory”. [Field Marshal KM Kariappa Memorial Lectures, 1995-2000]

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