Sunday, May 20, 2007

Karan Thapar's Hatchet Job on Sam Bahadur

The sight of Indian mediawallahs going ga-ga over “flamboyant” and “dashing” Pakistani Generals is hardly anything new. But when Karan Thapar joined the bandwagon, it came as a bit of a surprise to me. Because Thapar is no fool, or so I used to believe. His interviews with politicians and other big wigs are at times, simply brilliant. So when he readily bought into Gohar Ayub Khan’s ludicrous allegations about Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw being a Pakistani spy, I smelled a rat. Calling Ayub an “officer and a gentleman”, and going weak in the knees at how “dashing” and “suave” he was, was certainly not what I expected from this “aggressive interviewer”. Was this the same Karan Thapar who had taken Arjun Singh and Renuka Chaudhary to the cleaners? If so, why were there no tough questions doubting Gohar’s credibility? After all, he is known for being corrupt to the core, and is regarded as something of a joke in his own country. Why was this one statement, “Why would a man lie to his own diary” the only proof Thapar needed to believe in what is an obvious attempt to sell a rag nobody would otherwise have given a second look? Why did he not notice how, if Pakistan lost in spite of having access to India’s war plans, Ayub was nothing but a blithering idiot? On the other hand, why was he baiting Field Marshal Manekshaw relentlessly? It almost seemed that he had a score to settle. This piece in “The Week” by R Prasanan cleared things up.

The troubling fact is that, though no one in India has ever accused Manekshaw of being a traitor, many have been jealous of his rise through the 1960s. The Army Headquarters in the 1960s was virtually divided into two groups, as has been brought out in the various accounts of the 1962 and 1965 operations. Nehru's defence minister Krishna Menon was grooming his own coterie, the most prominent among whom was B.M. Kaul whom he appointed commander of IV corps in the east. Menon also appointed the pliable Gen. P.N. Thapar to succeed K.S. Thimayya (whom Menon hated) as Army chief.

Thimayya's favourites-mainly Lt-Gen. S.P.P. Thorat, J.N. Choudhuri and Manekshaw-were sidelined during the Thapar-Kaul days. Thorat, who was a contender for the chief's post against Thapar, retired as a lieutenant-general. Thapar and Kaul also tried to block Manekshaw's promotion by instituting a frivolous inquiry against him.

The fortunes of Choudhuri and Manekshaw looked up after the Thapar-Kaul duo goofed up the 1962 war. Thapar resigned forthwith, and was succeeded as chief by Choudhuri. Thapar later managed an ambassadorship in Afghanistan. It is said, Thapar's Kabul appointment papers were the last papers signed by Nehru. Kaul had to quit in disgrace; he was succeeded by Manekshaw as IV corps commander.

So there we have it! Thapar does have a bone to pick with Field Marshal Manekshaw! He makes it a point to mention that he is a general’s son. What he conveniently leaves out, is the fact that he is the son of an officer who was popular with the likes of V.K. Krishna Menon for obvious reasons. An officer whose incompetence probably lost India the 1962 war against China. An officer who had tried to create hurdles in the way of Manekshaw’s promotion. As Prasanan rightly points out, “Thapar has the distinction of being the only Army chief who had to quit in disgrace. And Manekshaw has the distinction of having been the most successful chief ever.”

Karan Thapar fails to see the irony in the words he uses to describe Ayub Khan – “As a general’s son I can tell you they don’t make them like this any more!” Good thing too, Mr. Thapar! If they don’t make them like your father anymore, India is surely in good hands!