Army officers upset over low-key Manekshaw funeral

July 2nd, 2008 - 5:15 pm ICT by IANS  

By Vishnu Makhijani
New Delhi, July 2 (IANS) Several serving and retired Indian Army officers are livid over the low key although state funeral accorded to the legendary Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. And Defence Minister A.K. Antony’s comment that the government had given a state funeral to one who scripted India’s greatest ever military victory - in 1971, over Pakistan - has only added to the anger of the officer corps.

“What is the minister talking about? Doesn’t he realise that Field Marshals never retire and Manekshaw was the senior-most serving officer and was entitled to nothing less than a state funeral?” a retired three-star general who has served as a principal staff officer at the Army Headquarters here asked.

Besides officers, even soldiers at various levels are angry over what they feel is a specious argument of the defence ministry that the low key government representation at Manekshaw’s funeral Friday was because Field Marshals don’t figure in the protocol list.

“Where is the question of protocol in such matters? Does the government consider it a shame to honour a legend like Manekshaw who led the Indian Army to a historic victory in 1971 and to the surrender of 93,000 Pakistani troops?” asked a serving two-star general.

All those who spoke to IANS requested anonymity considering the sensitivity of the subject and because they did not want to offend the establishment.

Manekshaw was the Indian Army chief 1969-73. He presided over the Indian Army’s brilliant surgical strike Dec 3-16, 1971 that saw the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent nation out of the erstwhile East Pakistan.

Manekshaw, 94, had been battling a series of age-related diseases and died of acute pneumonia Friday at the Military Hospital at Wellington in Tamil Nadu. He was interred the same evening in the hill station of Ooty next to the grave of his wife Siloo, who died in 2001.

The highest Indian government representation at Manekshaw’s funeral was in the form of Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju. The Indian Army was represented by vice chief Lt. Gen. M.L. Naidu, who took an early morning flight from New Delhi for the ceremony.

The three service chiefs absent at the funeral. And it was only the Indian Air Force head, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, who issued a condolence message on the occasion.

There was no word from Indian Navy chief Admiral Sureesh Mehta, who is chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee and thus the nominal head of the military. Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor also issued no statement. He was in Russia at the time.

Perhaps in an attempt to atone for their lapses, Antony and the three service chiefs Monday signed a condolence book opened at the India Gate war memorial to the Unknown Soldier here for the public pay their last respects to Manekshaw.

Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh, the air chief in the 1965 war with Pakistan and currently the only serving five-star officer in the armed forces, was also present at India Gate.

“If the government thinks this is enough, it is sadly mistaken. First you promote Manekshaw to Field Marshal for his role in the 1971 operations and then you treat him in this shabby manner,” lamented a serving three-star general.

Asked why he was not representing the government at Manekshaw’s funeral, Antony answered: “My colleague Pallam Raju is going.” On a later occasion, as the controversy refused to die down, he added: “We accorded him a state funeral.”

Asked a general: “Is the minister suggesting the government did the army a favour? How sad it is that we have been reduced to this.”

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