Indian Government Screws Up Field Marshal Manekshaw’s Passing Away Rites

Last week, one of the greatest Indians of his generation, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw passed away. As the world’s oldest Field Marshal and India’s first, he deserved a full state funeral. However trust our government to screw things up and then start the blame game. Here is an email forward that I received that captures the gist of the angst that I feel.

If you have to die, do so around Delhi or Mumbai

by Krishna Prasad

The passing away of the only Indian to be appointed Field Marshal when in active service has been remarkable for the warmth of the ordinary men and women, who queued up to say meebeenamet to the adorable dikra who put his life on the line for them.

It has also been remarkable for the complete lack of grace and gratitude, civility and courtesy, decency and decorum on the part of the bold-faced names rapaciously grazing the lawns of power in Delhi and elsewhere, for the brain behind India ‘s only decisive military victory.

Sam, the Bahadur, had been unwell for a while now. From about 1000 hours on June 26, reports of his being “critically ill” had appeared in the media. Yet, when the “expected tocsin” sounded at 0030 hours till the guns were fired in salute around 1500 hours on June 27, “civil society” chose to show its incivility.

Pratibha Patil , the commander-in- chief of the armed forces with all the time in the world: Absent

Hamid Ansari: Vice-president releasing books and writing reviews of books by fellow-travellers: Absent

Manmohan Singh , the prime minister who could do with a bit of the field marshal’s charisma and heroism: Absent

Sonia Gandhi : daughter-in- law of the woman the field marshal called “sweetie”: Absent

L K Advani: prime minister in waiting of the party which would like to do to Pakistan what Manekshaw did: Absent

M Karunanidhi and Surjit Singh Barnala: chief minister and governor of the state which Manekshaw had made his home for 35 years: Absent

Politicians may have their reasons. They always do. Maybe, there are issues like protocol. Maybe, this is one way in which ‘civil India ‘ shows the armed forces its place. Maybe, this is why we are not as militaristic as Pakistan . Maybe, the knees are just too old to climb the hills.

But what about the armed forces itself?

A K Antony : the defence minister ‘now behaving like the chairman of the confederation of the armed forces’ trade unions: absent ‘due to prior political engagements’.

The chief of army staff: absent (away in Russia )

The chief of navy staff: absent

The chief of air staff: absent

The fact that the defence minister was represented by his deputy Pallam Raju, the fact that the navy and air staff sent two-star general rank officers, shows that however high or mighty, however rich or powerful, civilian or military, if you should die as you must, you should do so somewhere in the vicinity of New Delhi — or Bombay.

Or else, they must have some use for you.Or else, too bad.

As he rightly surmised once: “I wonder whether those of our political masters who have been put in charge of the defence of the country can distinguish a mortar from a motor; a gun from a howitzer; a guerrilla from a gorilla — although a great many of them in the past have resembled the latter.”

The contrast couldn’t be starker:

When Amitabh Bachchan was ill after being socked in the stomach during the shooting of Coolie, Indira Gandhi flew down to Bombay to show her concern.

When Dhirubhai Ambani died, L K Advani cut short his Gujarat tour to pay his respects to an ’embodiment of initiative, enterprise and determination’.

When Pramod Mahajan was shot dead by his brother, Vice President Bhairon Singh Shekawat had the time to attend the funeral.

Our VIPs and VVIPs have time for dead and dying celebrities, charlatans, fixers. Not for a field marshal?

In his biography, K M Cariappa, the only other field marshal India has had (and who too died at age 94), writes of his father’s cremation in May 1993:

“Honouring him in death as they did in life were Field Marshal Manekshaw, the three service chiefs all of whom belonged to the same course and at whose passing out parade from the joint services wing father had presided, the gracious chief minister M Veerappa Moily and C K Jaffer Sharief, Minister for Railways representing the President as the supreme commanded of the armed forces.”

Somebody should have told the geniuses in Delhi that Sam, the Bahadur, passed away in Wellington , Ooty, not Wellington , New Zealand . The nearest civil airport is Coimbatore , just 80 km away.

If this is how we say goodbye to Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, any wonder why Rang de Basanti could successfully tap into the angst of an entire generation?


  1. Martin Just July 23, 2008

    I had the pleasure meeting field marshal Manekshaw several times, respected and admired this great man. The most fun (embarrassment) however I had when I met him the very first time.
    By the way, I was born and grew up in Switzerland and working as liaison officer at LMW in Coimbatore at that time, spending a little over 3 years in India (1974-1977).
    I was invited to a party in Coonoore and was sitting on a sofa. Here comes this vibrant gentlemen and sits right next to me and naturally we started talking. I introduced myself; he didn’t which I though at that time was a bit strange. After a while I asked him if he was in tea business which was a possibility since so much tea is grown in the Nilgiri Mountain. His answer was –No-. Nothing else which again I thought was a bit strange.
    After about 20 minutes he excused himself and went to the bathroom. Immediately the hostess rushed to me and kind of scolded me, saying “How could you ask him if he was in tea business, don’t you know you are sitting next to field marshal Manekshaw? “No, of course I did not know otherwise I would not have asked my stupid question” was my reply. What to do?
    Well, he came back and set down next to me again and I decided to take care of my kind of insult immediately. I’m sorry thinking you were a tea planter and please accept my apology, I said.
    See, young men. You coming from Switzerland and Switzerland suppose being a neutral country I thought you did not know the difference between a tea planter and a field marshal so don’t worry, you are excused. Using “excused” not in a military way but in an extreme nice and friendly way. As a result of this the entire room exploded in laughter and every time I ran in to field marshal Manekshaw (about 6-7 times) he called me by my first name and we always had good discussions solving the problems of the world.
    What a men – rest in peace-
    Martin Just

  2. vikas kumar singh August 3, 2008

    a salute

  3. shreenath. shukul July 19, 2010

    a 24 gun salute should have been given to the greatest indian soldier.

  4. Kr. Ajay Singh September 29, 2010

    A SALUTE..

    What a MAN….

    What a shame [Indian Government Screws Up Field Marshal Manekshaw’s Passing Away Rites ]

    What to say ???

  5. AMIT JOSHI February 6, 2011

    i like

  6. Jagjit July 30, 2011

    What a pity that we as a nation could not pay our humble homage and salute that great soldier on his demise ?

    God bless and fogive us for our sins

  7. major hegde (retd) March 23, 2012


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