The liberal grant of Bharat Ratnas to Charan Singh, P. V. Narasima Rao, Kapoori Thakur and Lal Krishana Advani was widely criticised in the media, Parliament and public, linking these to the forthcoming elections. Perhaps, some of them do not merit this highest civilian award but political compulsions have come into play.

So far over 40 Bharat Ratnas have been awarded to people from a wide range of professions, though politicians widely out number the rest. In the past, and now, many more names for this award have been fielded.

These include Biju Patmaik, N. T. Ramarao, Dev Gowda, J. Jayalalithaa, and Master Tara singh etc. All of these from various political parties.

It is indeed strange that no one sponsors the name of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, the one who eminently deserves this award. After a gap of nearly 2,400 years of unremitting defeats for the armies of India against every invading army of consequence, it was Sam Manekshaw who made the country experience the glow of a stunning victory against the Pakistan army. By creating a new country, it cut Pakistan to size.

In addition he took 93,000 prisoners of war, placing India in an enviable position to settle favourably, all outstanding problems with that country. His service to the country has indeed been unique.

It was a victory worthy to rank amongst the great victories and campaigns, as brilliant as any in history. Indian troops won their last great victory against foreign army of importance in 303 B C, When Chandragupta Maurya defeated Seleucus Nicator, one of Alexander’s generals.

Some historical events of far reaching consequences, though widely separated by time and space, have striking similarities. In this context, Sam Manekshaw’s refusal to be hustled into attacking East Pakistan in April-May in 1971 there is a marked similarity with the refusal by Marshal Kutuzov, the commander-in-chief of the Russian army to defend Moscow against Napoleon’s march towards that city in 1812.

Both came under increasing pressure from their governments of the day: the Tzar of Russia in the case of Kutuzov and the Indian Prime Minister and her cabinet in the case of Manekshaw. One had refused to defend Moscow, and the other declined to attack East Pakistan.

By refusing to defend Moscow against Napoleon, Kutuzov saved the Russian Army and consequently saved Russia. Manekshaw by declining to attack East Pakistan in April-May and in fact, till November, preserved India’s honour. An offensive against East Pakistan during April-May or any time sooner than November, would have courted disaster.

Both resolutely held to their professional assessment of the military situation and nothing could make them budge from that position.

A whispering campaign of calumny was mounted against Manekshaw. They talked of his having cold feet and no stomach for a fight. Ignorant of his award of Military Cross for bravery at the Sittang Bridge in Burma, while defending India against the Japanese invasion.

There, he took a full burst of light machine gun fire in his stomach, the chattering classes of Delhi’s cocktail circuit kept running him down. While the army’s state of preparedness became the talk of the town, he simply ignored these barbs.

Developments in East Pakistan had taken a turn for the worst and the exodus of refugees fleeing from the brutalities of the Pakistan army, was leading to, not only, heavy financial burden on India, but also straining the fabric of social structures and political stability along the border.

Then on March 25, 1971 the Pakistan army started genocide of the people of East Pakistan, which created an unprecedented and desperate situation.

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi wanted the army to launch an offensive into East Pakistan, but Manekshaw simply refused to be hustled into such a premature action. Later, there was a cabinet meeting to which Sam Manekshaw was also called.

At this meeting some of the ministers insisted that the army must march into East Pakistan but Manekshaw would rather resign than go against his professional assessment.

Well versed in the art of generalship he knew the sort of planning, time and preparations required for operations in a riverine terrain, more so when the monsoons were around the corner in those parts. He was also faced with the prospects of a war on two fronts with the possibilities of the opening up of the third front as well.

It was a problem, more complex than what had been the bane of the German general staff for nearly half a century across two World Wars. He wanted the Himalayan winter to set in so as to redeploy troops from the Tibet border, against East Pakistan.

He would not take into account the diplomatic assurances in such a serious situation. While he managed Delhi, he gave Eastern Command a masterly operational plan and left it free to conduct day–to-day operations

Had there been a lesser Army Chief than Sam Manekshaw, the government would have stampeded him to go over to the offensive as it so easily did in 1962 war against China (recall the order from Nehru to throw the Chinese out ), Operation Blue Star, misadventure in Sri Lanka and , instead of going for Skardu made Indian troops to undertake suicidal frontal attacks at such heights and up those steep slopes at Kargil.

Military experts are unanimous in their assessment that had India attacked East Pakistan in April-May 1971, without the essential logistics build-up and non availability of troops committed on the Tibet border, it would have been an unmitigated disaster for the Indian Army.

His strategy of offensive against East Pakistan and holding operations against West Pakistan was the hallmark of great generalship.

Marshal Kutuzov is a national hero. On a day in 1988 in Moscow, while on a visit to the diorama of the Battle of Borodino, where Kutuzov had, quite unsuccessfully tried to check Napoleon’s advance into Russia, the line of visitors was a few hundred metres long.

Such is the honour bestowed on Kutuzov and the reverence in which he is held by the people of Russia, all this while. Here in India, we seem to have forgotten Sam Manekshaw and his historic victory against East Pakistan.

Field Marshal S. H. F. J. Manekshaw, MC holds a unique position in contemporary Indian Military and the nation.

High achievers from various walks of life and some others with lesser merit have been honoured with Bharat Ratna.

In this dispensation, is there no place for the most distinguished and eminent soldier in Indian history, whose contribution in upholding the country’s honour and asserting the nation’s military prowess, is unique. His more than 40 years of dedicated service to the nation is indeed exceptional.

Why in this season of Bharat Ratnas there seems to be no place for India’s greatest soldier who brought about a victory worthy to rank amongst the most famous in history of warfare.

Lt General HARWANT SINGH (Retd) is an Indian Army veteran. Views expressed are the writer’s own.