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Krishna Menon wanted to sack Manekshaw
VISHAL THAPAR  New Delhi | 5th Apr 2014

Krishna Menon

ield Marshal Sam Manekshaw's career was almost written off as a major general after he rebuffed Defence Minister V.K. Krishna Menon's attempt to rope him in a bid to isolate the then Indian Army Chief, General K.S. Thimayya, with whom the Defence Minister openly had differences.

A new biography on Manekshaw by his long-serving military aide, Brigadier (Retd) Behram Panthaki and his wife Zenobia, brings out graphically how Manekshaw refused to be disloyal to his chief, and stood up to Menon, who then tried to fix him on frivolous grounds.

Titled Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, The Man and His Times, the biography also discloses how a furious Sardar Patel hustled a reluctant Jawaharlal Nehru into sending the Army to Kashmir and saved the valley from Pakistani raiders in 1947. Nehru, according to this version, wanted to consult with the UN before sending in troops, even after the Maharaja of Kashmir had signed the Instrument of Accession to India.

Menon, widely considered responsible for pushing India to its military defeat at the hands of China in 1962, had sought to undermine General Thimayya, after he cautioned the Nehru government against the Menon line of military adventurism against China without adequate preparation. Thimayya offered to resign, but was persuaded by Nehru to stay on. But this did not deter Menon from attempting to subvert Thimayya. The Manekshaw biography paints a grim picture of the Defence Minister trying to create divisions within the Army in the run up to the 1962 War, and even canvassing directly with generals against the Army Chief.

In a first, detailed account of the sparring between Menon and Manekshaw, then a major general commanding 26 Division on the Ceasefire Line in the Jammu region, the biographers suggest that Menon sought to probe Manekshaw during a visit to his formation by seeking his opinion on the then Army Chief. "Mr Minister, I am not allowed to think about him. He is my Chief. Tomorrow, you will be asking my (subordinate) brigadiers and colonels what they think of me. It's the surest way to ruin the discipline of the Army. Don't do it in future," responded Manekshaw.

Menon flew into a rage and told Manekshaw to "abandon his British ways of thinking", and declared that "I can get rid of Thimayya if I want to!" Undeterred, Manekshaw acknowledged that the Defence Minister could indeed sack the Chief, but that would still not shake his resolve not to comment on the next appointee as well. Manekshaw, whose centenary was observed at a low-key function at Delhi Cantonment on 3 April, also refused to carry out Menon's orders to use soldiers as labourers for constructing deficit accommodation. He insisted that soldiers under his command would only train to fight the enemy and not be used as cheap labour.

A scorned Menon turned hostile to Manekshaw, and teamed up with the then Major General B.M. Kaul, to fix him by cooking up evidence to back up frivolous charges. A court of inquiry was ordered against Manekshaw on allegations of being an "unabashed Anglophile", too Western and, by implication, anti-Indian, of restoring and putting up in his office portraits of Robert Clive and Warren Hastings, and insulting Shivaji by saying (allegedly) that the painting of Shivaji riding a stallion was misleading because Shivaji only rode taattoos (ponies).Image 2nd

In a foreword to the biography, Manekshaw's contemporary, Lt General S.K. Sinha recounts the sordid attempts by the Menon-Kaul duo to cook up evidence against Manekshaw. Sinha was then, briefly, at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, where Manekshaw was the Commandant. A colonel was sent by Kaul from Army Headquarters to get instructors at the Staff College to depose against Manekshaw. This colonel was staying not at an Army mess but, strangely, at a hotel in Coonoor. Sinha too was summoned to this hotel. "When I entered the colonel's room, I found two Army instructors from the Staff College briefing the Colonel and insinuating that Sam had been indulging in 'anti-national' activities....The Colonel asked me to give similar evidence but I refused since I was not witness to any anti-national activity by Sam. The colonel was outraged and threatened to call General Kaul... I walked out of the hotel," recounts Sinha.

The charges were dismissed by a court of inquiry by the Western Army Commander, Lt General Daulet Singh, but Menon did not relent in his effort to get Manekshaw dismissed. He wrote a letter of severe displeasure and had it put on Manekshaw's service record. Kaul comes out as an inept General jealous of Manekshaw, who was a threat to his aspiration to become Army Chief.

Manekshaw's career survived this vicious assault after both Krishna Menon and Kaul met their nemesis in the 1962 War.

The biography also has a revealing account of Nehru's indecision on Kashmir, even as Pakistani raiders were within 7 km of the Srinagar airport on 26 October 1947, and Sardar Patel prevailing upon Nehru. Manekshaw, then a Lt Colonel in the Directorate of Military Operations, presented an assessment to the Defence Committee of the Cabinet that Kashmir would be lost for good if troops were not flown immediately.

"Nehru hesitated (even after the Maharaja of Kashmir acceded to India). He was concerned about the world opinion and talked about consulting the UN until an impatient Sardar wrested the initiative from him. "Jawahar, do you want Kashmir or do you want to give it away?" "Of course, I want Kashmir," was Nehru's indignant response. The Sardar turned to Sam and said, "You have your marching orders".

"At 11 am from Delhi's Safdarjung airport with six IAF and fifty Dakotas requisitioned a few days earlier from private airlines. A total of 800 sorties were flown for a fortnight. By 16 November the raiders had been repulsed from the valley and Srinagar and the airport were secured although engagement with infiltrators in the rest of Kashmir and along the border continued for another 14 months," the book states.

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