Saturday, June 28, 2008

GOODBYE SAM BAHADUR


“Your Chief is not only accusing you of being dishonest but is also calling you a thief. If I were you I would go home and shoot myself or resign. I am waiting to see what you will do.”

Those memorable words were uttered by Field Marshal Sam Harmusji Framji Jamshedji Manekshaw, Padma Vibhushan, Padma Bhushan, Military Cross, to a General accused of misusing funds, shaming the latter to quit the Army.

In his passing away at the age of 94, the era when leaders were expected to and did exhibit the finest leadership qualities grounded on uncompromising moral values has truly ended.

They don’t make leaders like that anymore, military or civil. Dishonesty and thievery have now seeped so deep into the veins of India’s vast political, bureaucratic, even military machinery that ‘integrity’ and ‘honesty’ have been reduced to meaningless words.

Sam Bahadur, as he was fondly called by the Gorkha troops of his regiment, was equally forthright even when dealing with political leaders. When he was a Major General, he snubbed Defence Minister Krishna Menon when the latter deviously asked him as to what he thought about the then Army Chief. Later, when he became the Army Chief, he spoke to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as no one else dared to. After demitting office, he refused to accept any other favour from the government, declining Indira Gandhi's offer to be made India’s High Commissioner to UK or the Governor of Maharashtra, telling her that he had taken an oath to the effect when he had taken over as the Army Chief.

Compare this to what happens these days. Top Generals and bureaucrats simply do not want to give up the good life even when they retire. They suck up to all those who matter, often in a demeaning manner, so that they can get some odd job which will give them a good free house, a car and the many other perks which they have got hooked on to and become dependent on in service. Politicians too want to similarly keep ‘serving’ the nation till their maker calls them.

As a logical result, in an alarmingly increasing number of cases, sycophancy and dishonesty have now become inescapable tools to get ahead in both service and politics.

Only a Sam Bahadur could tell Indira Gandhi that he could not launch military operations in Bangladesh in the time frame that she wanted, knowing fully well that he was walking the very thin line between possible future glory and immediate dismissal. He took that risk demanded by his professional judgement and personal integrity only because of complete absence of greed for goodies ever after. Perhaps that is why he could get as strong a lady as Indira Gandhi, whom he once described as the only man in the cabinet, to let him choose the time of the operations based solely on his military appreciation.

No wonder then that Sam Manekshaw, who had earlier taken nine Japanese bullets during World War 2, earning an on the spot Military Cross, was able to lead India to the spectacular military victory it achieved in 1971, creating a new country, Bangladesh, literally in 14 days flat!

To this great son of India, to a great and inspirational leader, to a truly fine human being full of life, I bow my head in reverence.