India’s Chief of Defence Staff , General Bipin Rawat, his wife Madhulika, and 11 others died in a military chopper crash near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu on Wednesday.
“With deep regret, it has now been ascertained that General Bipin Rawat, Mrs Madhulika Rawat and 11 other persons onboard have died in the unfortunate incident,” the Indian Air Force said in a statement.
Gen Rawat was on a visit to the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington in Nilgiri Hills to address the faculty and student officers of the staff course.
Around noon on Wednesday, an IAF Mi17V5 helicopter with a crew of four members carrying the CDS and nine others met with the tragic accident near Coonoor. Out of the 14 people, Group Captain Varun Singh, Directing Staff at the Defence Services Staff College, is currently undergoing treatment at the Military Hospital in Wellington.
Madhulika Rawat, Brigadier LS Lidder, Lieutenant Colonel Harjinder Singh, Naik Gursewak Singh, Naik Jitender Kumar, Naik Vivek Kumar, Naik B Sai Teja and Havaldar Satpal were travelling along with General Rawat.
Whether one agreed or disagreed with him, one could never ignore India’s top military officer, General Bipin Rawat. He himself made it very clear that as the country’s first-ever CDS, his mandate was to push ‘jointness and integration’ among the Army, Navy and IAF despite stiff resistance, while also weaning the forces off their overwhelming dependence on expensive foreign weapon systems.
“Gen Rawat was a total gogetter. He did not believe in being a status-quoist. In meetings, he would often go on the offensive in his typically blunt manner but if you knew your stuff and spoke with conviction, he would always listen intently,” said a senior military officer. Gen Rawat, appointed the CDS on December 31, 2019 after three years as the Army chief, did ruffle many feathers among both serving officers as well as the vocal veteran community.
He publicly junked the Navy’s long-standing case for a third aircraft carrier and rejected the IAF’s concerns over integrated theatre commands. During a seminar, he even went so far as to dub the IAF “a supporting arm” in war-fighting akin to artillery or engineers in the Army.
Several proposals mooted during Gen Rawat’s tenure, ranging from measures to slash non-operational military flab and the pension bill to “monetisation” of defence land and restrictions on CSD purchases, sent shockwaves down the ranks.
Unfazed by criticism, Gen Rawat rarely pulled his punches and remained outspoken while pushing firmly ahead with his agenda. Even his critics would acknowledge that his determined thrust to build an integrated land-air-sea war-fighting machinery through theatre commands and other means is desperately required for India amidst the limited budget for military modernisation.
“Gen Rawat may have sometimes behaved as a bull in a china shop but it was urgently needed in the backdrop of the three services continuing to indulge in petty turf wars. Yes, theatre commands will have some adverse impact on the individual services but it’s mandatory for the overall good,” said another senior official.
The son of a Lt-General, Gen Rawat began his military career with a flourish by winning the coveted “Sword of Honour” at the Indian Military Academy when he was commissioned in the 5/11 Gorkha Rifles in December 1978.
In December 2016, the Modi government superseded two senior Lt-Generals, Praveen Bakshi and P M Hariz, to appoint Gen Rawat as the Army chief, contending that merit rather than mere seniority had been considered for his appointment. But some interpreted the move as Gen Rawat being close to the government.
Gen Rawat responded to the confidence placed in him by showing his mettle during the 73-day face-off at Doklam near the Sikkim-Bhutan-Tibet tri-junction in 2017 after Indian troops proactively blocked China’s attempt to extend its motorable track towards the Jampheri Ridge, which overlooks India’s strategically-vulnerable Siliguri Corridor.
The government then appointed him as the CDS of the 15-lakh strong armed forces, a four-star general like the Army, Navy and IAF chiefs but the clear “first among the equals” as the permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee. He also became the secretary of the new department of military affairs in the defence ministry.
The government contended Gen Rawat would push the boundaries to drive the desperately-needed integration among the three Services, which often pull in different directions in planning, procurements, logistics, doctrines and operations.
In an interview last year, which created quite a stir in the defence establishment, Gen Rawat had said, “We are not expeditionary forces that have to deploy around the globe. We have to guard and fight only along our borders and, of course, dominate the Indian Ocean Region. So, we should not go in for large amounts of imports by misrepresenting our operational requirements.”
“We should boost ‘Make in India’ by hand-holding our domestic industry even if they deliver weapons with only 70% of the GSQRs (general staff qualitative requirements or technical parameters) in the beginning… given the opportunity, they will eventually deliver cutting-edge technology,” he had added.