General Bipin Rawat: Soldier, visionary and true patriot

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The loss of India’s first Chief of Defense Staff is a big jolt to India’s defence establishment. As tributes pour in from across the world, government tries to find out what really happened with the general’s flight.

Our Bureau
New Delhi/Lucknow  

India’s first Chief of Defence Staff and longest-serving four-star officer General Bipin Rawat, known as the transformer in the Indian military’s higher defence organisation, passed away on Wednesday after a helicopter carrying him crashed in Tamil Nadu.

The dead include the spouse of the CDS, his wife Madhulika Rawat, his Defence Advisor Brig Lakhbinder Singh Lidder, Staff Officer Lt Col Harjinder Singh and nine other Armed Forces personnel including the Air Force helicopter crew.

CDS Rawat was instrumental in creating foundation of India’s joint theatre commands, a major reform in Indian military establishment since Independence and also for changing the way the Army had been functioning for many decades. Rawat was on a visit to the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington to address the faculty and student officers of the Staff Course when his chopper crashed near Coonor in Nilgiris district. He was accompanied by his wife and 12 other security personnel.

A veteran of counterinsurgency warfare, CDS Rawat served in the most difficult terrains including northern and eastern commands. CDS Rawat was commissioned into the Indian Army in December 1978. He previously served as Chief of the Army Staff from January 2017 to December 2019. He took charge of Chief of Defence Staff on January 2020.

Daughter of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat and his wife Madhulika Rawat, who died in Helicopter crash in Coonoor, performs ritual during their cremation, at Brar square Crematorium in New Delhi on Friday. (ANI Photo)

He was commissioned to the Fifth Battalion, the Eleventh Gorkha Rifles of the Indian Army in December 1978, from Indian Military Academy (IMA), Dehradun, where he was awarded the Sword of Honour.

With vast experience in operations across a wide spectrum of conflict and terrain profiles, CDS Rawat commanded an infantry battalion, along the Line of Actual Control in the Eastern Sector, a Rashtriya Rifles Sector, an Infantry Division in the Kashmir Valley and a Corps in the North East.

He also commanded a Multinational Brigade, in a Chapter VII mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC). As an Army commander, he commanded a theatre of operations along the Western Front.

CDS Rawat is a graduate of the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, the Higher Command and National Defence College courses and, has attended the Command and General Staff Course at Fort Leavenworth, USA.

Whilst serving with the United Nations, he was twice awarded the Force Commander’s Commendation. The officer has penned numerous articles on National Security and Leadership, which were published in various journals and publications.

CDS Rawat was awarded M Phil in Defence Studies from Madras University. He also holds two Diplomas, in Management and Computer Studies respectively. General Bipin Rawat completed his research on military media strategic studies and was awarded Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D) from Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut.

General Bipin Rawat and his wife Madhulika Rawat were laid side by side on the same pyre for cremation at the Brar Square crematorium in Delhi Cantonment on Friday. Their daughters Kritika and Tarini lit the pyre. CDS Rawat was cremated with full military honours including a 17-gun salute by the military.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, Defence Research and Development Organisation chief Dr G Satheesh Reddy, defence attaches of various countries, Ambassador of France in India Emmanuel Lenain and British High Commissioner Alex Ellis, were among the dignitaries who were present at the crematorium to pay their last respect.

People from all walks of life joined the funeral procession as it proceeded towards the crematorium to pay tribute to India’s first CDS. Admirers of CDS Rawat were present along the road during the funeral procession with some of them carrying the national flag. They raised the slogan, “Jab tak suraj chaand rahega, Bipinji ka naam rahega”.

Union Ministers Amit Shah, Nirmala Sitharaman, Mansukh Mandaviya, Smriti Irani, Narendra Singh Tomar and Sarbananda Sonowal went to the residence of General Bipin Rawat earlier in the day to pay their last respects.

Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi, Mallikarjun Kharge and Harish Rawat, BJP chief JP Nadda and DMK leaders A Raja and Kanimozhi were among those who laid a wreath on the mortal remains of CDS Rawat and his wife.

A chopper crash near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday claimed the lives of 13 people including CDS Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat and his defence adviser Brigadier Lidder.

Other defence forces personnel who died in the chopper crash are CDS Rawat’s Staff Officer Lieutenant Colonel Harjinder Singh, Wing Commander Prithvi Singh Chauhan, Squadron Leader Kuldeep Singh, Junior Warrant Officer Rana Pratap Das, Junior Warrant Officer Arakkal Pradeep, Havildar Satpal Rai, Naik Gursewak Singh, Naik Jitendra Kumar, Lance Naik Vivek Kumar and Lance Naik B. Sai Teja.

Group Captain Varun Singh, the lone survivor in the crash, has been shifted to Air Force Command hospital at Bengaluru for further treatment.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets daughter of Late CDS Genral Bipin Rawat and his wife Madhulika Rawat who died in IAF-Mi-17V5 helicopter crash in Coonoor yesterday, at Palam airbase in New Delhi on Thursday. (ANI Photo/ Sanjay Sharma)

The Centre has ordered a ‘tri service’ inquiry into the accident. The inquiry will be headed by Air Marshal Manvendra Singh, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Training Command.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Thursday paid his last respects to Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat and other 11 armed force personnel who lost their lives in the chopper crash and said that the country will never forget their rich contribution.

The Prime Minister visited Palam airbase to pay his last respects.

“Paid my last respects to Gen Bipin Rawat, his wife and other personnel of the Armed Forces. India will never forget their rich contribution,” tweeted PM Modi.

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Union Minister Smriti Irani also visited Palam airbase and paid their respects to Gen Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat and other 11 armed force personnel who lost their lives in the helicopter crash. The three service chiefs – Army Chief Gen MM Naravane, Navy Chief Admiral R Hari Kumar and IAF chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari also paid their respects.

Reaction from the US

From Washington, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday (local time) spoke to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar to express his condolences over the death of India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat, his wife, and colleagues in a chopper crash in the Nilgiri Hills.

He said that Gen. Rawat was a strong leader and advocate for India, and his passing is a great loss for both of our nations. “Today I spoke with Indian Minister of External Affairs @DrSJaishankar to express my condolences for the tragic death of Gen. Bipin Rawat, his wife, and colleagues. Gen. Rawat was a strong leader and advocate for India, and his passing is a great loss for both of our nations,” tweeted Blinken.

The Pentagon top officials on Wednesday including Secretary of Defense Lloyd J Austin III, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen Mark Milley and Pentagon spokesperson John Kirby condoled the demise of India’s first CDS, General Bipin Rawat.

“We are deeply saddened by the loss of General Bipin Rawat, the Indian Chief of Defence Staff, his wife, and eleven others who died in a tragic helicopter crash. As India’s first chief of defence, he made a lasting impact on the Indian military and reinforced our strong military-to-military relationship between the US and India,” said Milley’s statement. US’s top military commander also shared that both Rawat and his wife Dr Madhulika, who too died in the crash had spent time with him and his spouse Hollyanne Milley.

“Hollyanne and I spent time with Gen Rawat and his wife, Dr Madhulika Rawat, during their visit to the US in September. We feel this loss deeply, we are thankful to have met them, and we feel grateful for their life of service,” added Milley.

The US Embassy in New Delhi on Wednesday expressed condolences over the demise of General Bipin Rawat, who was killed in a helicopter crash along with his wife and 11 others on board an Indian Air Force’s chopper in Tamil Nadu.

“The U.S. Embassy extends its deepest condolences to the Rawat family and the families of those who perished in the tragic helicopter crash in Tamil Nadu,” US Embassy and Consulates in India said in a statement. According to the statement, Rawat was a strong friend and partner of the United States, overseeing a major expansion of India’s defense cooperation with the US military.

“As India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, General Rawat spearheaded a historic period of transformation in the Indian military. He was a strong friend and partner of the United States, overseeing a major expansion of India’s defense cooperation with the U.S. military,” read the statement.

(file photo) Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of U.S Army, General Milley tweeted this picture of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat to pay condolences on his death, on Thursday. CDS General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika Rawat, and other officers died in an IAF Mi-17V5 chopper crash in Coonoor. (ANI Photo)

“In September, he spent five days traveling throughout the United States as part of a counterpart visit with General Mark Milley to discuss military developments and opportunities to enhance our cooperation with like-minded countries. His legacy will continue on,” the statement added.

Also, Israeli envoy to India, Naor Gilon on Thursday said that the demise of India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Gen. Bipin Rawat in a helicopter crash in the Nilgiri Hills is “a loss of a friend”.

He said, “Gen. Rawat was a hero son of India and champion of very strong defence relations between Israel and India. For us, it is a loss of a friend. The top leadership of our country knew him, valued his friendship.” “13 people lost their life with Gen Rawat. You saw in the reactions from Israel coming from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, former PM Benjamin Netanyahu, Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, Minister of Defence Benny Gantz, Speaker of Parliament, Mickey Levy,” added Gilon.

The Israeli envoy further stated that everyone knew him, appreciated him, valued his friendship because its part of the alliance between India and Israel. “For us, anyhow the military side and the defence side things are very close to our heart. He touched us at many levels,” said Gilon.

Inquiry ordered

A ‘tri service’ enquiry has been ordered regarding the crash of the Indian Air Force Mi-17V5 helicopter that claimed the lives of Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, his wife and 11 other defence personnel, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh informed the Rajya Sabha on Thursday.

The enquiry will be headed by Air Marshal Manvendra Singh, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Training Command. Giving his statement in the Upper House a few minutes after the proceedings started in the House for the day, Singh stated “an enquiry in the incident has been ordered by Indian Air Force, headed by Air Marshal Manvendra Singh, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief Training Command.”

Explaining the sequence of events, the defence minister said, “With profound grief and heavy heart, I stand to convey the unfortunate news of the crash of the military helicopter in the noon of December 8, 2021, with India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat onboard.”

Flames come out from a crashed IAF chopper with CDS General Bipin Rawat, his wife, and defence assistants near Coimbatore and Sulur on Wednesday. (ANI Photo)

General Rawat was on a scheduled visit to Defence Services Staff College, Wellington to interact with the student officers, Singh said. “The Air Force Mi-17V5 helicopter took off from Sulur Air Base at 11:48 am yesterday (Wednesday) and was expected to land at Wellington by 12:15 pm,” said the Minister.

Air Traffic Control at Sulur Air Base lost contact with the helicopter at approximately 12.08 pm, he added. Subsequently, Singh said, few locals spotted a fire in the forest near Coonoor and rushed to the spot where they observed the wreckage of the IAF helicopter engulfed in flames.

“Rescue teams from the local administration in the vicinity reached the site and attempted to recover the survivors from the crash site. All those recovered from the wreckage were rushed to the Military Hospital, Wellington,” Singh informed.

The inquiry report will take some time and it may finally reveal what went wrong. But it will be very difficult to fill the void left by General Bipin Rawat.

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