New Delhi, July 1 : I was surprised when I read in the newspapers that one of the reasons for the poor turnout at the funeral of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw was the confusion about his rank in the warrant of precedence issued by the Government of India. It was mentioned that while the Chiefs of Staff of Army, the Navy and the Air Force have a warrant of precedence, a Field Marshal does not have one other than that he had when he was in service.
Sam Manekshaw only had the warrant of precedence as the Chief of Army Staff. Hence the confusion as to what kind of a funeral that should be given to him and who should be present at the final farewell. The Government had to take a special decision that Sam Manekshaw should have a state funeral. In India, we have to learn to honour our brave soldiers.
As Public Relations Officer for the Army between 1969 and 1973 in New Delhi, I was a witness to the pettiness that Sam Manekshaw aroused among many bureaucrats.
In the Army, it was expected that Sam Manekshaw would be promoted to the rank of a Field Marshal in recognition of his role in leading the Armed Forces to a glorious victory in the war against Pakistan. The 12-day war saw the birth of Bangladesh as a new nation, and the surrender of 93,000 Pakistani soldiers.
From what I know, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who had led the nation during the eventful period, wanted to promote Manekshaw to the rank of a Field Marshal and make him the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). She sent a communication to the effect in March 1972 through her Principal Secretary P.N. Haksar to the Defence Ministry.
The Defence Ministry thought it fit to get the comments of the Navy and the Air Force. While the Navy, then headed by Admiral S.M. Nanda, agreed to the proposal, the Air Force, then headed by Air Chief Marshal P.C. Lal, opposed it.
In his own words, Air Chief Marshal Lal told the Government: "The three Services had operated as equal partners in the Bangladesh war, and they had demonstrated their ability to work effectively together without having a Super Chief sitting over them....I saw in the proposed arrangement a positive danger to the frank and free discussion, particularly if the CDS happened to be excessively assertive and intolerant of the ideas of others."
The file on the subject made many rounds in the Services Headquarters, the Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister's Office.
Ultimately, it was decided that Sam Manekshaw would be given the rank of a Field Marshal fifteen days before he was to hand over his office to General Gopal Gurunath Bewoor, then Chief of the Southern Command.
Sam Manekshaw was also told that the rank did not carry any special pay. He wanted to find out from the Defence Ministry whether he would get his salary after he handed over the office of Chief of Army Staff. For, the convention was that a Field Marshal would never retire and would get the salary of the rank till his death.
Sam Manekshaw was told that there was no special pay that he would be entitled to as Field Marshal and he would get the pension due to him as Chief of Army Staff after he handed over his office. The whole package of pension those days amounted to a princely sum of around Rs. 1,600 a month!
I was also connected with the 'controversy' that surrounded the ceremony when Sam Manekshaw was to be given the epaulettes of the rank and the Field Marshal's baton by President V.V. Giri., who had readily agreed to the proposal. A senior bureaucrat in the Ministry of Defence told me that the function was going to be 'simple' and there was no need to invite the press.
My mentor in the Directorate, Col V. Longer, had moved earlier to the Cabinet Secretariat and the then Director of the organization had proceeded on leave. I quietly went to the Press Secretary to the President late Abdul Hamid, and sought his help.
Abdul Hamid assured me that he would invite the media and ensure that the function during when the President was to present Sam Manekshaw the Field Marshal's baton secured the publicity it deserved. The media stands were overflowing and the function received national and international attention. I felt vindicated.
When I was questioned, I responded that the Rashtrapathi Bhavan made the arrangements.
Justice was done to Field Marshal Sam Bahadur last year when President Abdul Kalam saw him at his bedside in Ooty. Soon after Defence Minister A.K. Antony got government sanction to granting him full pay from the time he was granted the rank and sent the then Defence Secretary with a cheque of Rs. 1.16 crores as pay and past arrears.
Perhaps the Defence Minister forgot to send a proposal to the Government to revise the Warrant of Precedence.
I am sure God did not ask Field Marshal Sam 'Bahadur' Manekshaw his rank in the Warrant of Precedence before admitting him to Heaven.
I. Ramamohan Rao, former Principal Information Officer,Government of India.
Email: email@example.com By I Ramamohan Rao