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An Index to Stirring Times

P.R. Chari

By Brigadier Behram M. Panthaki (retd.) and Zenobia Panthaki
Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 214, Rs. 1495.00


This splendidly produced book brought out on art paper and profusely illustrated with photographs and facsimiles of letters to and from Sam Manekshaw to various dignitaries is well calculated to evoke both remembrance and nostalgia about a colourful personality and the stirring times in which he lived. But this is not just another coffee table book. It has serious content.   As with other biographers the two authors have devoted their initial chapters to their subject’s early life with the family—he was born in April 1914 in Amritsar, the fifth of six children— before he entered the Army. Several subsequent chapters in the book trace Manekshaw’s career as he climbed the several rungs up the Service ladder before he became the Chief of the Army Staff in 1969. Two chapters are devoted to the India-Pakistan War of 1971 that led to Pakistan’s comprehensive defeat and the emergence of Bangladesh, aptly termed ‘India’s finest hour.’ The authors go into some details about Manekshaw’s differences with Indira Gandhi on the critical question of when to launch hostilities against Pakistan for its ‘demographic aggression’ by pushing hundreds of thousands of Bengali refugees into India. Indira Gandhi wanted the operations to be started immediately. But Manekshaw refused to be bulldozed into precipitate action that was bound to end in disaster as the Indian Armed Forces were wholly unprepared materially, and also psychologically, to fight a war. Indira Gandhi reluctantly agreed with Manekshaw, but did not quite forget his open opposition to her wishes in a full Cabinet meeting.   The book also goes into the unfortunate controversy about who conceived the ambitious war plan to capture the ‘Dacca bowl’ and liberate the whole of East Bengal from West Pakistani rule. In truth, the initial plan was only to carve out some territory in East Bengal to install a ‘Bangladesh-Government-in-Exile’ (then located in Calcutta). The easy success of the Indian Army in bypassing Pakistani positions strewn along the border, the demoralization of the Pakistani forces isolated in the eastern wing, and the wholehearted support of the local population encouraged the planners in New Delhi to go for the jugular by capturing Dacca. The rest, as they say, is history, leading to the surrender of over 90,000 prisoners of war, and the liberation of over 60 million people.   A unique quality of this book is that it treats its subject, the Field Marshal, with affection, but without ...

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