All wasn’t well with farewell to Manekshaw, say ethnic Indians (Special)July 7th, 2008 - 12:59 pm ICT by IANS
By Kul Bhushan
Indians living abroad have been quick to express their angst over the response - rather its absence - of the top Indian leadership to the final farewell for Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. Within hours of the Indian media reporting on their websites the absence of top national leaders at the state funeral, NRIs across the globe were hammering away at their keyboards to express their anger about this faux pas.
Of course, Indians were equally incensed and let off steam on the net as well. Issuing tributes was not enough for India’s most distinguished soldier because the politicians were too busy to attend as they were battling inflation or trying to sign the nuclear deal when they knew well in advance that Sam was on his last lap.
None of the top leaders made the trip to Ooty and so a scathing comment appeared in a newspaper that 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.
A Kiwi Indian from down under wrote that whenever “a digger” (an Australian) dies in Iraq, the top government leaders or officers attend his funeral but when the first Field Marshal of India dies, not even the defence minister can be bothered to attend.
From Britain, Aline Dobbie wrote: “In Sam, we had our own Horatio Nelson (the British Admiral who won the Battle of Trafalgar - the most decisive sea battle for Pax Britannica). Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw presided over the most decisive military victories our country has seen ever.
“Just compare the way the British acknowledge Nelson even today and compare it with how we have started after the departure of Sam. No wonder our defence forces in the present times are struggling to attract the right talent for enrolment, in defence of the nation.”
A number of Indians in the US compiled a collection of acerbic comments on this sorry episode and started to mass mail them to everyone they knew.
The e-mail started off with a list of why the president, the vice president, the prime minister, the head of the Congress party, the leader of the opposition, the chief minister and the governor of the state he lived in for 35 years were all absent.
The reasons given were acidic. It ended by declaring: “Our VIPs and VVIPs have time for dead and dying celebrities, charlatans, fixers. Not for a field marshal?”
Manekshaw is reported to have once said: “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 Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan was ill after being socked in the stomach during the shooting of “Coolie”, Indira Gandhi flew down to Mumbai (then Bombay) to show her concern.
When industrialist Dhirubhai Ambani died, L.K. Advani cut short his Gujarat tour to pay his respects to an “embodiment of initiative, enterprise and determination”.
When politician Pramod Mahajan was shot dead by his brother, former vice president Bhairon Singh Shekhawat had the time to attend the funeral.
US Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama seized the opportunity to curry favour with ethnic Indians by offering his deep condolences to the people of India for the death of Manekshaw.
“He was a legendary soldier, a patriot, and an inspiration to his fellow citizens,” he said.
“The former army chief 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.”
This episode, says another commentator, shows that however high or mighty, rich or powerful, civilian or military, if you should die, as you must, you should do so in the vicinity of New Delhi or Mumbai. Then it is convenient for the politicians to turn up quickly for a “photo-op” to further their own careers!
Another sneered: “With the fuel price hike, our Delhiites must have thought of saving aviation fuel by not attending the funeral…in public interest!”
Of course, Sam, with his great sense of humour, would have had the last laugh. If they had done this to one of his soldiers, he would have joked. “After all, what can you expect from the jokers, sweetie!”
(Kul Bhushan previously worked abroad as a newspaper editor and has travelled to over 55 countries. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)