India’s best-known soldier dies
The Indian general who commanded the military campaign that led to the creation of Bangladesh has died at the age of 94.
Sam Manekshaw, whose career spanned four decades, was one of India’s best known and well-respected soldiers.
Under the British, he was decorated for gallantry in World War II for his part fighting the Japanese army in Burma.
After India gained independence, he became chief of the army in 1969 and in 1973 was made field marshal.
Under his command, India went to war with Pakistan in 1971, supporting Bengali nationalists in what was then East Pakistan.
Pakistan surrendered within 14 days and Bangladesh was born.
In 1973, only a fortnight before he retired, he was promoted to the rank of field marshal, one of only two Indian army generals to rise to the post.
Sam Manekshaw otherwise known as Sam Bahadur – or “Sam the Brave” – was born in the northern Indian town of Amritsar in 1914 and was among the first batch of recruits at the Indian Military Academy set up by the British in 1932.
Serving under the British, he was decorated for his part in a battle with the Japanese army in Burma.
He made the transition to working for independent India with ease and became chief of the Indian army in 1969.
He played a decisive role in some of India’s most significant wars, including the war with China in 1962 and the victory over Pakistan in 1971, which made him a national hero.
A documentary film made about him in 2003 captured some of his much admired sense of humour.
In one sequence Field Marshal Manekshaw recalls how, following the 1971 war against Pakistan, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi confronted him about rumours that he was planning a coup against her.
“Don’t you think I would not be a worthy replacement for you Madam prime minister? You have a long nose, so have I. I don’t poke my nose in other people’s affairs,” he joked.
In the film, Field Marshal Manekshaw also said that India lost a golden opportunity to solve the Kashmir issue once and for all at the Shimla summit with Pakistan which was held soon after the 1971 war.
The BBC’s Charu Shahane says that he will be remembered as being handsome and witty with a handlebar moustache – every inch a victorious soldier.
Our correspondent says that he captured the public imagination and became a hero in the eyes of India’s people.
In retirement, the field marshal remained reticent and eager to keep a low profile despite being much adored by his countrymen.
He recently refused to comment on the war in Iraq despite a huge gathering of journalists bombarding him with questions.
Tributes have been pouring into the websites of Indian newspapers, calling him “a great soldier and a very thorough gentleman”.
Sam Manekshaw, who had been battling a series of illnesses, died at a military hospital in Wellington in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, where he had lived since retiring.
Indian Defence Minister AK Antony said the nation “had lost a great soldier, a true patriot and a noble son”.