Sam Manekshaw and Obama

On June 27th, India’s Field Marshal Sam Hormusji Framji “Sam Bahadur” Jamshedji Manekshaw died at age 94. Manekshaw was one of the heros of the 1971 India-Pakistan war, and an extremely popular figure in India:

Sam Manekshaw, who has died at the age of 94, was the first general of the modern Indian army to be made a field marshal; he was awarded this honorary rank in 1973, at the end of his four years as chief of army staff. His career lasted almost four decades, saw five wars, and culminated in his successful masterminding of the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971. [Link]

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p>As an ABD I had never heard of Sam Bahadur until somebody sent me this statement from the Obama campaign:

“I offer my deep condolences to the people of India, on the passing of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. He was a legendary soldier, a patriot, and an inspiration to his fellow citizens. Field Marshal Manekshaw provided an example of personal bravery, self-sacrifice, and steadfast devotion to duty that began before India’s independence, and will deservedly be remembered far into the future.” [Link]

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p>Who in the campaign knew about Manekshaw? The new India brain trust had:

Obama’s statement is a product of a new India policy team set up two weeks ago within his campaign team. The team, co-chaired by two prominent Indian-Americans Vinod Khosla and Swadesh Chatterjee, includes some 20 Indian-Americans and South Asia experts from Bill Clinton’s administration. A key member of the team and the only Indian-American in Obama’s inner circle is Preeta Bansal, a Harvard Law School colleague of Obama. [Link]

What benefit does the campaign get from this? It wont help them with this Indian government if Obama becomes POTUS; neither the defense minister, nor the service chiefs, nor a single member of parliament were at the funeral.

I think it’s a symbolic gesture to the uncle generation, both in the USA and in India where the short PR has gotten a good deal of press coverage. To understand how popular Manekshaw was in his day, consider how threatening Indira Gandhi found him:

… his popularity was such that the premier reportedly confronted him with rumours that he was planning a coup against her. He is said to have replied: “Don’t you think I would be a worthy replacement for you, madam prime minister? You have a long nose. So have I. But I don’t poke my nose into other people’s affairs…” [Link]

It’s a small gesture, but it’s brilliantly coded. The generation of immigrants who remember Manekshaw fondly will feel warm and fuzzy about Obama, and Obama can accomplish this cheaply without antagonizing the non-desi voters who are concerned about the loss of jobs to India and who might feel threatened by a more overt approach.

68 thoughts on “Sam Manekshaw and Obama

  1. I met Manekshaw on a school trip where we stopped by his awesome home in Ooty.

    That would be Coonoor, the home of all those Nilgiri tea estates. I would love to forget my years(3) at Ooty but I’m picky.

  2. Harpreet:

    On 16th December 1971 nearly 100,000 Pakistani soldiers surrendered unconditionally to the Indian Army. An Indian Army whose Commander was a Parsi named Sam Manekshaw; the Indian General who accepted the disgraced Pakistani Army’s surrender was a Sikh named Jagjit Singh Arora; Gen. Arora’s second in command during the war was a Jewish General named Jacob-Farj-Rafael Jacob……… I know all too well that the land of my birth has a long way to go, but I cannot help but also admire her for how far she has come.

    How far she has come? Dude this was just the continuation of the British Colonial Army’s policies. Only the christian anglo-indian is missing from that list. Note the absence of hindu names?

  3. Varmiki I see that youl patliotic re-education crasses have been successfur. Five tigel dongs to you fol dinnel. Now it’s time to enloll you for advance calisthenics for make benefit glolious motherrand.

  4. 52 · Valmiki said

    How far she has come? Dude this was just the continuation of the British Colonial Army’s policies. Only the christian anglo-indian is missing from that list. Note the absence of hindu names?

    Valmiki=Prema=Ignoramus=Laugh Riot

    Let’s see, Gen.KP Candeth (Hindu) was in 1971 leading the Western Command. Adm.Krishnan (Hindu) was at hand in Dhaka to witness the surrender after sinking PNS Ghazi off Vizag. Air Marshal Dewan (Hindu) too was in Dhaka. Gen.I.S. Gill (Indian Dad, and Irish Mom – Indo-Irish) was in Dhaka then, having overseen the Tangail air drop. The Keelor brothers (Anglo-India) flew on the Western front. Read up at BR before making an…

  5. jyotsana wrote:

    Let’s see, Gen.KP Candeth (Hindu) was in 1971 leading the Western Command. Adm.Krishnan (Hindu) was at hand in Dhaka to witness the surrender

    What part of “that list” didnt you understand? It is the colonized macaulayite mindset that keeps trying to pass off that list as a glorious example of diversity that independent India has achieved, when in reality it is nothing but the legacy of the British colonial racist divide and rule strategy. What tiny fraction of India’s population is parsi and jewish? To claim that parsi and jewish leadership in independent India’s Army is testimony to “how far India has come” is whats ignorant and foolish. The culture of the Indian Army’s officer corps still remains a servile imitation of the british colonial version down to some laughable british quirks.

    Read up at BR

    Bharat Rakshak is infested with hopelessly delusional “india shining” BJP hindutva goons. It is a safe hangout for these armchair warriors (wimps in real life) where they get to thump their chests vigorously over small accomplishments and to rejoice prematurely over projections of future glory; and to rant ad nauseam against christian missionaries, indian muslims, the Congress party, china, pakistan, bangladeshi immigrants, low caste reservations, commies, leftists. secularists etc etc without much fear of being challenged by opposing views which are heavily censored. Any rational poster armed with facts could make the BR crowd look like utter fools.

  6. Armies for “national security” reasons don’t like to talk about themselves and the changes they make to their culture. But if you read anything about the changes that came in after the 1962 debacle with China, you will see that the Indian Army after 1962 tried very hard to become the “un-British” army. A lot of the effete, polo-playing, “war is sport” kind of faux British aristocrat culture was purged and replaced with professional training. Look beyond the shell (use of regiments, etc.) at the substance (recrutiment among the middle class as well as the lower-middle class for officers, not just landowning aristocracy; distribution of soldier recruitment by population of state, rather than by fostering the myth of “martial” and “non-martial” races, etc.).

    Perhaps a better example of a British colonial army would be the Pakistani army which still recruits based on region and religion and where the officers are – like the British officers of old – a kind of glorified fraternity. Hmmm… perhaps that explains their defeat in both 1971 and recently in Kargil in 1999.

  7. I am not surprised that politicians didn’t show up. I remember him giving a speech at my dad’s school founders day event, where he excoriated politicians for scratching “their unmentionables” in public. And I must be an uncleji because that gesture from the O camp warms the cockles of my heart. So says this gal from military town.

  8. 52 · Valmiki said

    Harpreet: How far she has come? Dude this was just the continuation of the British Colonial Army’s policies. Only the christian anglo-indian is missing from that list. Note the absence of hindu names?

    At least there was a Sikh…he’s more than a good enough rep for the Hindus. With your statement, you clearly define the word chutiya. You’re concerned about Hindu representation and you bash Hindutva in the next post.

  9. LOL @ y’all commenting about army, war and patriotism. Most of the SM commenters here are skinny, brown folks who attend(ed) some Ivy league school and is now/will working for NASA/Microsoft/The US State Department/etc.

  10. At least there was a Sikh…he’s more than a good enough rep for the Hindus. With your statement, you clearly define the word chutiya.

    Chutiya is what any self-respecting sikh will call you, chatwala, for saying he is a hindu…..

  11. Most of the SM commenters here are skinny, brown folks who attend(ed) some Ivy league school

    skinny? I haven’t seen a skinny brown person since I myself put on a few pounds a couple of years ago.

  12. 60 · sardar said

    At least there was a Sikh…he’s more than a good enough rep for the Hindus. With your statement, you clearly define the word chutiya.
    Chutiya is what any self-respecting sikh will call you, chatwala, for saying he is a hindu…..

    Chutiya is what YOU are for taking my words out of context. I said he’s a good enough representative. Anyway, I know plenty of Sikhs who would strongly disagree with your statement.

  13. 30 · jyotsana said

    20 · louiecypher said
    louiecypher on July 2, 2008 07:50 PM · Direct link · “Quote�(?)The dismemberment of Pakistan makes you feel warm inside? Careful sir this is a South Asian blog ;-)
    South Asia includes Bangladesh, right? Or is it only one nation? Careful sir! This is a South Asian blog!

    Please remember India had refused to get involved until repeatedly asked to help the starving and tormented Bangladeshis. No one was interested in dismembering Pakistan even though Pak portrays this event as such. No one in or from Pak remembers that it was the terrible treatment given by Pakistan to Bengali Muslims that created Bangladesh.

  14. Thanks for the history/geography lesson. What does a wink signify in the real world? What does a wink emoticon signify when used online? Now I understand why dancing midgets are the mainstay of Indian humor

    South Asia includes Bangladesh, right? Or is it only one nation? Careful sir! This is a South Asian blog! Please remember India had refused to get involved until repeatedly asked to help the starving and tormented Bangladeshis. No one was interested in dismembering Pakistan even though Pak portrays this event as such. No one in or from Pak remembers that it was the terrible treatment given by Pakistan to Bengali Muslims that created Bangladesh.
  15. I’m a little put-off by Obama’s continuing double-speak.

    He definitely commented on the India-US nuclear deal, saying that he was against it (and nuclear proliferation in general). So the fact that he’s just trying to ham up Indian votes – confirmed by name-dropping Preeta Bansal – a catch name in the up-and-coming educated Indian community for virtually any politician or social advocate – is a huge turn-off.

    This is, of course, a problem with US politicians in general – there was only one ambassador to the ‘South Asia’ region til 1991, when the then-Ambassador recommended that each country get its own ambassador, considering how different the nations and their political sentiments were.

    But coming back to the point – Obama definitely isn’t getting my vote by just sticking an Indian face on his campaign roster, and then going around promising to crush burgeoning Indo-US relations. It’s a pity Indians who are serving on Obama’s board – or raising money and publicity for him, like the Chatwals – don’t get that!

  16. “What benefit does the campaign get from this? It wont help them with this Indian government if Obama becomes POTUS; neither the defense minister, nor the service chiefs, nor a single member of parliament were at the funeral.”

    Ennis, please.

    You are an american citizen. Leave Indian affairs and behaviour for our criticism. if you may, please go ahead and post about Bush and his teams behaviour all you wish.

    What benefit? let’s not be naive. As an indian citizen who has been here enough, I can easily see that it is only to court funds and donations that Obama has developed this new love for Sam Manekshaw. I am sure if he was asked the day before Mr. Manekshaw passed away, he would not have had a clue. Let’s not make it look like Obamais some kind of saviour who is more Indian than an actual Indian.

    Your post would have been more classy had it not been for the dig about Indian politicians/govt. You have your own country to criticize. Till you are an Indian citizen, or are living in India, try to avoid criticizing India.

    Oh, I have spoken against, however politely, one of the gods of sepiamutiny. let’s see how long it is before the dictatorial overzealous intern bans me :) guesses anyone?

  17. Just a point of clarification. The rank of field marshal was not honorary. It was real, a reward for his role in India’s great military victory in 1971. Subsequent elevations, such as that of Gen Cariappa or Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh could be seen as honorary as they were given well after they had retired. They were clearly an afterthought. But Sam’s rank was deserved. By the way, a Field Marshal never retires, he is in service till he dies. Neither does he salute, he merely raises the Field Marshal’s baton.