When Indira Gandhi suspected Sam Manekshaw of ‘planning a military coup’ – Khel Ja

He led India in five wars and was at the forefront of some of the turning points in the history of the nation. From the time of India gaining independence in 1947 to the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971, Manekshaw’s role was remarkable.

What was more striking was Manekshaw and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s tenuous equation.


Did you know that there was a point in history when Gandhi suspected Manekshaw of planning a coup against her government? Here’s what happened.

Sam Bahadur’s trailer gave a glimpse into Mankeshaw-Indira tensions

Recently, RSVP Movies dropped the trailer for Vicky Kaushal-starrer Sam Bahadur. Apart from Vicky’s fierce looks and gripping background score, what caught my attention was a snippet featuring Sana Fatima Sheikh.

Sheikh, who plays the character of Gandhi in the movie, is seen having a private conversation with Manekshaw.

In the trailer, Sheikh says, “Sam, are you planning something?” to which Kaushal replies, “What do you think about it?”. Sheikh then says, “You can’t”.

Kaushal replies, “I can’t, or I won’t? It is the difference in capability and intent, Prime Minister”.

 The trailer then moves to the next scene.

This cryptic conversation shown between Sheikh and Kaushal is not about a war against Pakistan but is probably pointing more towards the rumours at the time about Makenshaw planning to overthrow Indira Gandhi.

When Kaushal talked about “capability and intent”, it was about Manekshaw’s willingness to whether to take on Gandhi or not. This becomes clear from the movie’s teaser, released earlier, in which Kaushal was seen saying “I have no interest in politics. The Army is my life” to Sheikh.

When Indira Gandhi doubted Manekshaw of planning to ‘take over’

But what actually happened? Manekshaw himself said in one of his interviews that the former PM almost believed that he was planning a coup against her government.

In 2002, Mankeshaw was interviewed by his own grandson for a documentary, ‘In War and Peace – The Life of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, MC’, in which he talked about this particular episode. The documentary was released by Parzor Foundation.

He narrated that Gandhi called him into her office one evening for an important conversation.

After that phone call, Manekshaw told his aide-de-camp (ADC) that the “girl wants” him in the Parliament House. When he reached there and asked Gandhi what was troubling her, she replied you,”You are my problem”, according to Manekshaw.

“Everybody says you are going to take over me, “said Gandhi, to which Mankeshaw replied in his own charismatic manner “And what do you think?”.

The conversation went on exactly as shown in the trailer between Sheikh and Kaushal, according to Manekshaw’s interview. He made it very clear to PM Gandhi that he had no such plans.

“I had no intention or even a thought of getting involved in politics or taking over, as long as I command my army without any interference”, said Manekshaw in the interview while narrating the incident.

He also requested Gandhi not to let the people and the country start thinking that he was going to do the same thing in India that General Yahya Khan did in Pakistan.

However, he asked for more freedom as the Chief of Army Staff.

Notably, while India never witnessed a military coup like Pakistan, the latter saw several such takeovers in its history. The military wields massive influence on the politics and civilian leadership of Pakistan, even when not in power.

The upcoming Meghna Gulzar film Sam Bahadur is releasing on 1 Dec 2023. Sam Manekshaw took his last breath on 27 Jun 2008 at the Military Hospital in Wellington, Tamil Nadu.

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