Military & Aerospace

SAM Manekshaw on Leadership and Discipline
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 04 Aug , 2023

Mrs. Indira Gandhi and Manekshaw

She smiled at me and said, “All right, Sam. You know what I want. When will you be ready?”

“I cannot tell you now, Prime Minister”, I said, but let me guarantee you this that if you leave me alone, allow me to plan, make my arrangements, and fix a date, I guarantee you a hundred percent victory”.

“My movement will be confined to roads, the Air Force will not be able to support me, and, if you wish me to enter East Pakistan, I guarantee you a hundred percent defeat.”

So, Ladies and Gentlemen, as I told you, there is a very thin line between becoming a Field Marshal and being dismissed. Just an example of moral courage. Now, those of you who remembered what happened in 1962, when the Chinese occupied the Thag-la ridge and Mr. Nehru, the Prime Minister, sent for the Army Chief, in the month of December and said, “I want you to throw the Chinese out”. That Army Chief did not have the Moral courage to stand up to him and say, “I am not ready, my troops are not acclimatized, I haven’t the ammunition, or indeed anything”. But he accepted the Prime Minister’s instructions, with the result that the Army was beaten and the country humiliated.

Remember, moral courage. You, the future senior staff officers and commanders will be faced with many problems. People will want all sorts of things. You have got to have the moral courage to stand up and tell them the facts. Again, as I told you before, a ‘yes man’ is a despicable man.

This takes me to the next attribute: Physical courage. Fear, like hunger and sex, is a natural phenomenon. Any man who says he is not frightened is a liar or a Gorkha. It is one thing to be frightened. It is quite another to show fear. If you once show fear in front of your men, you will never be able to command. It is when your teeth are chattering, your knees are knocking and you are about to make your own geography- that is when the true leader comes out!

I am sorry but I am going to illustrate this with another example from my own life. I am not a brave man. In fact, I am a terribly frightened man. My wife and I do not share the same bedroom. “Why?” you will ask. Because she says I snore. Although I have told her, No, I don’t. No other woman has ever complained”.

“…but let me guarantee you this that if you leave me alone, allow me to plan, make my arrangements, and fix a date, I guarantee you a hundred percent victory”.

I am not a brave man. If I am frightened, I am frightened of wild animals, I am frightened of ghosts and spirits and so on. If my wife tells me a ghost story after dinner, I cannot sleep in my room, and I have to go to her room. I have often wondered why she tells me these ghost stories periodically.

In World War II, my battalion, which is now in Pakistan, was fighting the Japanese. We had a great many casualties. I was commanding Charlie Company, which was a Sikh Company. The Frontier Force Regiment in those days had Pathan ompanies. I was commanding the Sikh Company, young Major Manekshaw. As we were having too many casualties, we had pulled back to reorganize, re-group, make up our casualties and promotions.

The Commanding Officer had a promotion conference. He turned to me and said, “Sam, we have to make lots of promotions. In your Sikh company, you have had a lot of casualties. Surat Singh is a senior man. Should we promote him to the rank of Naik?” Now, Surat Singh was the biggest Badmaash in my company. He had been promoted twice or three times and each time he had to be marched up in front of the Colonel for his stripes to be taken off. So I said, “No use, Sir, promoting Surat Singh. You promote him today and the day after tomorrow, I will have to march him in front of you to take his stripes off”. So, Surat Singh was passed over. The promotion conference was over, I had lunch in the Mess and I came back to my company lines. Now, those of you who have served with Sikhs will know that they are very cheerful lot- always laughing, joking and doing something. When I arrived at my company lines that day, it was quite different, everybody was quiet. When my second-in-command, Subedar Balwant Singh, met me I asked him, “What has happened, Subedar Sahib?” He said, “Sahib, something terrible has happened. Surat Singh felt slighted and has told everybody that he is going to shoot you today”.

Surat Singh was a light machine gunner, and was armed with a pistol. His pistol had been taken away, and Surat Singh has been put under close arrest. I said, “All right, Sahib. Put up a table, a soap box, march Surat Singh in front of me”. So he was marched up. The charge was read out- ‘threatening to shoot his Commanding officer whilst on active service in the theatre of war’. That carries the death penalty. The witnesses gave their evidence. I asked for Surat Singh’s pistol which was handed to me. I loaded it, rose from my soap box, walked up to Surat Singh, handed the pistol to him then turned round and told him, “You said you will shoot me”. I spoke to him in Punjabi naturally. I told him, “Have you got the guts to shoot me? Here, shoot me”. He looked at me stupidly and said, “Nahin, Sahib, galtee ho gayaa”. I gave him a tight slap and said, “Go out, case dismissed”.

…there is a very thin line between becoming a Field Marshal and being dismissed.

I went around the company lines, the whole company watching what was happening. I walked around, chatted to the people, went to the Mess in the evening to have a drink, and have my dinner, but when I came back again Sardar Balwant Singh said, “Nahin Sahib, you have made a great mistake. Surat Singh will shoot you tonight”.

I said, “Bulao Surat Singh ko”.

He came along. I said, “Surat Singh, aj rat ko mere tambu par tu pehra dega, or kal subah 6 bjay, mere liye aik mug chai aur aik mug shaving water lana”. Then I walked into my little tent.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I did not sleep the whole night. Next morning, at six o’clock, Surat Singh brought me a mug of tea and a mug of shaving water, thereafter, throughout the war, Surat Singh followed me like a puppy. If I had shown fear in front of my men, I should never have been able to command. I was frightened, terribly frightened, but I dared not show fear in front of them. Those of you, who are going to command soldiers, remember that. You must never show fear.So much for physical courage, but, please believe me, I am still a very frightened man. I am not a brave man.

What comes next? The next attribute of leadership is loyalty. Ladies and Gentlemen, you all expect loyalty. Do we give loyalty? Do we give loyalty to our subordinates, to our colleagues? Loyalty is a three way thing. You expect loyalty, you must therefore, give loyalty to your colleagues and to your subordinates. Men and women in large numbers can be very difficult, they can cause many problems and a leader must deal with them immediately and firmly. Do not allow any non sense, but remember that men and women have many problems. They get easily despondent, they have problems of debt, they have problems of infidelity- wives have run away or somebody has an affair with somebody. They get easily crestfallen, and a leader must have the gift of the gab with a sense of humor to shake them out of their despondence. Our leaders, unfortunately, our “so-called” leaders, definitely have the gift of the gab, but they have no sense of humor. So, remember that.

You have got to have the moral courage to stand up and tell them the facts. Again, as I told you before, a ‘yes man’ is a despicable man.

Finally, for leadership; men and women like their leader to be a man, with all the manly qualities or virtues. The man who says, “I do not smoke, I do not drink, I do not (No, I will not say it)’, does not make a leader. Let me illustrate this from examples from the past. You will agree that Julius Caesar was a great leader- he had his Calphurnia, he had his Antonia, he also had an affair with Cleopatra and, when Caesar used to come to Rome, the Senators locked up their wives. And you will agree that he was a great leader. He was known in Rome as every woman’s husband and he was a great leader. Take Napoleon, he had his Josephine, he had his Marie Walewska, he had his Antoinette and Georgettes and Paulettes. And you will agree he was a great leader. Take the Duke of Wellington- do you know that the night before the battle of Waterloo, there were more Countesses, Marchionesses and other women in his ante-chamber than staff officers and Commanders. And you will agree he was a great leader. Do you know, Ladies and Gentlemen, a thought has just struck me. All these leaders- Caesar, Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington- they had one facial feature in common, all had long noses.

So much, Ladies and Gentlemen, for leadership, but no amount of leadership will do this country much good. Yes, it will improve things, but what this country needs is discipline. We are the most ill-disciplined people in the world. You see what is happening- you go down the road, and you see people relieving themselves by the roadside. You go into town, and people are walking up and down the highway, while vehicles are discharging all sorts of muck. Every time you pick up a newspaper, you read of a scam or you read of some other silly thing. As we are the most ill-disciplined people in the world, we must do something about discipline.

What is discipline? Please, when I talk of discipline, do not think of military discipline. That is quite different. Discipline can be defined as conduct and behavior for living decently with one another in society. Who lays down the code of conduct for that? Not the Prime Minister, not the Cabinet, nor superior officers. It is enshrined in our holy books; it is in the Bible, the Torah and in the Vedas, it is in the teachings of Nanak and Mohammad. It has come down to us from time immemorial, from father to son, from mother to child. Nowhere is it laid down, except in the Armed Forces, that lack of punctuality is conduct prejudicial to discipline and decent living.

I will again tell you a little story about that. Some years ago, my wife and I were invited to convocation at a university. I was asked to be there at four o’clock. I got into the staff car with my wife, having chased her from about eleven o’clock in the morning. Don’t forget, darling, you have got to be on time. Get properly dressed; you have to leave at such and such time’. Eventually, I got her into the car. I told the driver, “Thoda aayisthe, thoda jaldi”, but we got to the university and the convocation address place at four o’clock. We were received by the Vice Chancellor and his Lady. We were taken into the convocation hall, and the Vice Chancellor asked me to get on the platform, asking my wife to do so, too. She gracefully declined, and said she much rather sit down below as she seldom had an opportunity of looking up to her husband. Anyway, on the platform, the Vice Chancellor sang my praises. As usual there were 2000 boys and girls who had come for the convocation. There were deans of university, and professors and lecturers. Then he asked me to go to the lectern and address the gathering. I rose to do so and he said (sotto voce), Field Marshal, a fortnight ago we invited a VIP from Delhi for the same function. He was allowed to stand on the same lectern for exactly twenty seconds. I wish you luck. “I said to myself, had the Vice Chancellor mentioned this in his letter of invitation, I wonder, if I should have accepted.

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38 thoughts on “SAM Manekshaw on Leadership and Discipline

  1. Thank you so much for the information Sir, the information what you told is very important for Growth and Well begin , It is a booster dose for my career .

    Once again I am very thankful to Mr Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw Sir.For the immense knowledge what he has given thorough his experience and from his point of View.

  2. Thank you so much for the information Sir, the information what you told is very important for Growth and Well beign , It is a booster dose for my career .

    Once again I am very thankful to Mr Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw Sir.For the immense knowledge what he has given thorough his experience and from his point of View.

  3. Every word in his address is so true and so normal. Since I practised most of these traits in my own carrier in the corporate world where I rose from a very humble beginning to become the managing director and remained so for18 years I can very easily relate.
    A very simple man endowed with great virtues.

  4. I have had the privilege of hearing the Field Marshal a few times. It was a treat to listen to him. He never looked down to see any notes. He looked into your eyes and you know he meant every bit of what he was saying. His speech at the Passing Out Parade in IMA in Mar 72 was extremely inspiring. I cannot forget his words ” You will now be in command of men who have won, men who are best soldiers in the world, men who expect a lot from you. make sure you give it to them.” or words to this effect. I had attended the parade. Had about 15 months service at that point in time. I was totally impressed, highly motivated and felt extremely proud of the uniform I was wearing.

    Happy Birthday SAM. We miss u. Indian Army needs more SAMs

  5. Happy Birthday SAM. I fondly remember you, Miss you,and love you.can’t forget your aura. Please be born again this Indian army needs you badly to save it from downfall. I know you will be watching it from heaven ,leave heaven come to lead it once again. Show it the way as it has got lost after you left it. I m sure you are listening.come before it becomes BER.

    You live in our hearts for ever.Thank you SAM for being our leader

  6. SAM BAHADUR IS BORN : Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, 8th Chief of Army Staff was born on 3rd April, 1914 (Amritsar Punjab).Indian Army under his leadership compelled Pakistan to kneel before India along with 93000 troops in 1971 Indo-Pakistan war. This war resulted in creation of Bangladesh which was earlier known as East Pakistan.


  7. Where’s the doubt? lack of leadership,right FM is.

    There are academies to teach leadership to officers but where do you teach the politicians and how.until unless they learn problem not going to be solved. And I don’t find an answer to it .Winston Churchill’s warning has come true

  8. The British Trained officers who later rose to become fieldmarshals , generals
    like Carriapa , Himmatsinghji,SAM Bhadur and dartmourth trained admirals LIike
    Ronny Pierra Marshal of the airArjan singh were the jewels in the crown of the Indian army navy and airforce . If the poorly paid , poorly equipped forces performed well in 65 and gave india a resounding victory in 71 it was because of their leadership and many unsung heroes . Who can forget the battle of Rezang la in 1962 when the brigade under the brig RAINA AWORLD WAR -2 expierenced vetran gave a bloody noze to the chinese with so many chinese casulties and the IndianS led by maj Shaitan singh faught to the last man and to the last bullet all falling near the posts without abandoning or withdrawal . TIMES HAVE CHANGED . WE NOW HAVE CHIEFS STEALING HOUSES IN ADARSH SCAM MEANT FOR WIDOWS , RATION WALLAS , MEDICINES WALLAS , RENT SEEKERS , ARMS MERCHANTS , DALALS and commission agents ready to sacrifice the service interests for petty joint secretary level ambassoderships and governerships .

  9. An excellent reading. Had the good fortune of escorting the Field Marshal to College of Naval Warfare, Mumbai in 1990 and listening to his lectures on two occasions. So I could visualize him delivering this lecture too, in his typical charismatic style! His lectures were full of experiences, anecdotes, humour and always with a glint of mischief in his eyes! He was undoubtedly the most dynamic Military Leader the Indian Army has had – whether he was a born Leader or made through long experience and training, I am not competent enough to say! He stressed upon moral courage, discipline and character, traits which are very much wanting in the modern youth and society in general. One only wishes that he should have been at the helm during 1962!

  10. the speech is very stimulating and describes stste of art in India. leadrers are made and not born.

    we lack leadership in all fields of life. we need to develop a system for our country and people.

    political system is corrupt. govt employees are corrupt

  11. the speech is very stimulating and describes stste of art in India. leadrers are made and not born.

    we lack leadership in all fields of life. we need to develop a system for our country and people.

    political system is corrupt.

  12. from the experience of Manekshaw and Gen VK Singh, Indian Army officers are true moral leadership citizens of or nation. So they can also put incharge as the politician masters and other government Officers. Because today Indian Defence Services stand tall in nature. I hope all soldiers and citizens can joined together to make INDIA prouder in the countries among the world.

  13. Hats off to the Field Marshall. Now thats how one delivers a lecture. Full of lively, engaging anecdotes with messages that are direct and tacitly forcing our minds to retrospect and learn. Alas, we do not have The Field Marshall physically today; but he lives on, in our minds and hearts. A true leader and an example to us all Bharatiyas. Jai Hind.

  14. What a wonderful speech… a very academic pitch with notes of humour in between (typical with Manekshaw)
    All points conveyed in detail and attested with elaborated examples. This must be added to the curriculum of young officers’ academy.
    A great speech by the soldiers’ General, with conviction.

  15. Yes, knowledge of your job/ subject is absolutely paramount, thats why Manekshaw was able to rattle our PM. Now take our politicains, most of them have no bloody knowledge of their ministry except how to rake in the moolah for themselves and their relatives- Mayawati, Mulayam, Laloo, Jayalalitha etc readily come to mind, and these mo fuc@@ers have the gall to become prime ministers. If they do so even god cannot help this country

  16. He was the upfront and down to earth person. Our Indian Army was very lucky to have such a person of high caliber and compassion for his subordinates. This was an answer to claimants of nationalism who only offer the lip services but totally lacking in leadership. He has won the hearts of millions of people in India and abroad. He was the true nationalist, a true Hindi and last but not the least a true Parsee. Jai Hind !

  17. An awesome article that must be read by everyone in our armed forces and in our government. Wish we had people like Field Marshal Manekshaw in the army – and indeed in all walks of life in our country – today.

  18. A Superb Article- Late Field Marshal Sam Maneckshaw was a True Legend & a Icon for the Armed Forces. In India,There is NOT ONLY LACK OF LEADERSHIP AT ALL LEVELS,but also Wrong type of so called leaders [Scoundrels ] at all levels. These Scoundrels [ Politicians ] are able to Fool,Sway & get support of the illeterate & gullible masses by making False promises,by lies & by promising Freebies etc… Ultimately, People get the leaders they Deserve & Leaders get The opposition they deserve & this Rigmarole goes on & on.The Aam Aadmi in India is NOT A SIMPLETON !!!-Always Remember the Golden Saying – ” THE STRENGTH OF THE WOLF IS THE PACK, THE STRENGTH OF THE PACK IS THE WOLF “.

  19. It is very singular, that this speech was for army personnel. I must express, it is very singular and people see it as so, that Gen. V. K. Singh does speak about matters to do with, and to people, who do very much want to shake his hand, but wouldn’t perhaps understand him. It appears, he didn’t and others also don’t perhaps communicate at all, so that they need to really be understood, in the armed forces. I really seem to feel, he cannot understand what people might understand of him, in measure. I mean, if he was discussing military matters, in uniform or not, people might not be interested at all, but he would be heeded, with regard.

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