The untimely passing away of Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat in a chopper crash in Tamil Nadu’s Nilgiris district has caused irreparable loss to India. As the first CDS, he had challenged status quoist measures and had pushed for wide-ranging reforms to bring about synergy between the three wings of our armed forces.
A true son of Mother India, he was an army officer who always led from the front. The nation had got its first Chief of Defence Staff after 70 years of independence. He presided over the induction of modernized weapon systems, next gen jet fighters, warships, submarines, latest assault rifles and state-of-the-art equipment in our armed forces to give them a cutting edge.
Gen Rawat was not only the senior most officer of our armed forces, but also an ever active, widely experienced and outspoken officer who never minced words while speaking out facts. He was also jovial but, at the same time, was serious about critical issues. He had big plans for modernizing our armed forces, but fate had willed something else. You all can well imagine what India has lost with the death of its defence chief. In his condolence, Prime Minister Narendra Modi described him as “an outstanding officer” and “a true patriot”. “His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional”, he said.
The crash took place on Wednesday afternoon when the Mi17V5 chopper in which Gen Rawat, his wife Madhulika, and 12 others were travelling from Sulur air force station near Coimbatore, and needed seven minutes more to land in Wellington, where the CDS was scheduled to address the faculty and students of Defence Services Staff College. There was mist on Niligiri hills when the chopper crashed into a wooded gorge in Katteri, and burst into flames.
Gen Rawat was reportedly alive when he was rescued from the debris but died on way to hospital. The lone survivor Group Captain Varun Singh is fighting for his life in a military hospital. The others who died in the crash, were Brigadier L S Lidder (defence adviser to CDS), Lt Col Harjinder Singh, Wing Commander P S Chauhan, Squadron Leader Kuldeep Singh, Junior Warrant Officers Das and Pradeep, Havildar Satpal, Naik Gursewak Singh, Lance Naik Vivek Kumar and Lance Naik Sai Teja. It was a distressing sight as many of those who died in the crash could not be identified as their bodies were badly mangled and half burnt. DNA tests will be carried out to identify the mortal remains.
The General and his wife will be accorded state honour at their funeral in Delhi. Foggy conditions and poor visibility, rather than any technical fault, could have been the cause behind this crash, because there was no SOS call to the Air Traffic Control before the crash. A local resident said, he saw the chopper hitting a tall tree in mist and crashing to the ground. Mi-17V5 is a modernized, powerful helicopter which can carry heavy payloads at higher altitudes. It is one of the most advanced transport helicopters in the world can carry personnel, cargo and equipment. It can also be used to destroy ground targets.
Sixty-three year old Gen Bipin Rawat had a distinguished career. He hailed from a family of army personnel. His father Lt Gen Laxman Singh Rawat retired as Vice Chief of Army Staff in 1988. Gen Rawat spent 42 years in the armed forces and his life in the army had a variety of shades. He fought battles and also took part in peacekeeping operations abroad.
A day before he was to retire as Chief of Army Staff on December 31, 2019, Gen Rawat was appointed India’s first Chief of Defence Staff. As CDS he promised to set up theatre commands in the armed forces within three years and the work is now in progress. He was confident of achieving this target within a clear timeframe. During his three-year tenure as Army Chief, the air strike on Balakote in Pakistan took place after the Pulwama killings. In 2015, during his tenure, the army entered Myanmar and destroyed rebel camps. Not a single commando died and the entire rebel group was eliminated. After the Balakote air strike, fears were raised about Pakistan’s response, but the General said, there is nothing to worry, Pakistan knows our strength and will not take any risk of misadventure, and even if it takes, it will rue its act.
On the China front too, the General had a very clear view. He had commanded an infantry brigade at the Line of Actual Control, and had discharged onerous responsibilities, both in the eastern and western sectors. He was fully aware about the machinations and strategies of the Chinese PLA. In 1987, during the standoff between both armies, it was his battalion which was in the forefront during the eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation.
It was Gen Rawat who prepared the Indian army’s strategy when a similar standoff took place in Dokalam. The Indian army’s strong reply, coupled with diplomatic manoeuvres in Beijing, forced the Chinese army to back away from a direct confrontation. Similarly, during the continuing standoff in eastern Ladakh, it was the General who was planning the overall strategy on how to deal with the Chinese army. It was last year when Gen Rawat said, China has now started to realize the results of its misadventures and has also realized that India will not brook any misadventure.
These are those great lines from Hindi poet Harivanshrai Bachchan’s ‘Agneepath’: “Tu na thakega kabhi, tu na rukega kabhi, tu na mudega kabhi, kar shapath, kar shapath, agneepath, agneepath” Its English literal translation is, ‘You must never tire, you must never stop, you must never deviate, that’s your vow, that’s the Path of Fire’. These lines were written for our great warriors and Gen Rawat has now joined this pantheon of heroes. The warrior may have stopped in his path today, but his stories of valour will always inspire our future generations. Gen Rawat was a New Age general, and whenever I met him, he always used to speak about the armed forces, on how to modernize, on the armed forces’ ‘swabhimaan’ (self-respect) and ‘shakti’(power).
I had planned to invite him to my show ‘Aap Ki Adalat’, because as a guest, it was Gen Rawat alone who could reply to probing questions about Pakistan and China. He could have revealed several secrets that are still shrouded in mystery. Every time, he used to reply, let me first retire and let the restrictions be removed so that I can speak freely. I was waiting for his outspokenness, but now, this will be a never-ending wait.
The nation will forever remain indebted for what the General did to our armed forces. He has now gone in deep slumber after showing the new path to our armed forces. A warrior of India has gone to sleep has attained the supreme sacrifice after fulfilling his duties. He now sleeps silently after starting a new chapter in history. The true son of India may never return, but it should be our collective duty to keep the flame of memory alive. The flame of his bravery shall always continue to burn in our hearts. Only this can be a fitting tribute to a great General.
India's Number One and the most followed Super Prime Time News Show 'Aaj Ki Baat – Rajat Sharma Ke Saath' was launched just before the 2014 General Elections. Since its inception, the show is redefining India's super-prime time and is numerically far ahead of its contemporaries.