Sam Manekshaw: Untold Story of India’s First Field Marshal

Reflecting on the remarkable moments shared with Sam Manekshaw, let’s revisit his encounters, from his interaction with a Pakistani Governor to his ties with Amritsar.

Lt Gen Depinder Singh (retd), former GOC-in-C Southern Command, served as the Military Assistant to Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw during his tenure as the Chief of Army Staff from 1969 to 1973. As the film ‘Sam Bahadur’ debuts in cinemas today, we caught up with the General, now enjoying retirement in Panchkula, to reminisce about India’s inaugural Field Marshal.

How do you think Sam Manekshaw would have reacted to a movie being made about him?

He would have been thrilled with the attention, embracing the showman in him. However, as a dedicated soldier, he might have been reserved about it. Sam had a multifaceted personality. He’d probably appreciate it if the movie showcased the Army and its world in a positive light.

What are some distinctive traits you remember about him?

His humanity stood out. He harbored no grudges and had a knack for defusing tension. If he sensed any dissatisfaction from me, he’d drop by my office, casually put his arm around my shoulder, and offer something light-hearted like, “Hey, I’ve got a new music tape. Want a copy?” That always broke any ice. He never carried the airs of a superior officer.

Did he ever talk about his connection to Amritsar?

Absolutely. When he assumed the role of Chief of Army Staff, we visited Amritsar. He took me along to show me the house where he grew up, even pointing out a tree he had planted. I teased him, saying that the tree was taller than him now.

Sam led a company of Sikh soldiers in Burma and was fluent in Punjabi. During his tenure as Army Chief, many ex-soldiers from his regiment sought his help.

It’s said that Sam never sought revenge against those who plotted against him during the inquiry. Is that true?

Indeed. There was an officer who testified against him falsely during a Court of Inquiry while he was Commandant of Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. Later, when Sam was the Western Army Commander and this officer served under him in Jammu, people speculated that Sam would ‘deal with’ this Brigadier.

Tired of the gossip, he gathered everyone and highlighted the officer’s professional prowess but noted his lack of character. “Neither you nor I can change that,” he remarked. That was Sam.

Sam visited Lahore twice post the 1971 war. What was the purpose?

I accompanied him on both visits after the war. These visits aimed to negotiate the return of a village called ‘Thakochak’ south of Jammu, which Pakistan hesitated to relinquish despite the Shimla agreement to return territories captured in the western theatre.

The first visit was inconclusive. Hence, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent Sam again. On the second trip, he persuaded General Tikka Khan to return the village, exchanging it for a village in the Poonch sector surrounded by Pakistan on three sides.

The Pakistani Army officers were gracious during these visits. Sam was received by Gen Tikka Khan in Lahore in a Rolls Royce, part of the Pakistani Army Chief’s fleet.

Could you recount the incident at Governor’s House Lahore?

At the Governor’s House, during a lunch invitation in Lahore, the Pakistan Punjab Governor requested a meeting between Sam and his staff. When they gathered, one man from the Governor House staff stepped forward, placed his turban on the ground, and conveyed gratitude. He acknowledged the Indian Army’s care for Pakistani Prisoners of War, highlighting their respectful treatment and accommodations, which deeply moved everyone present.


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