General Bipin Rawat (16 March 1958 – 08 December 2021)
As I heard the unfortunate demise of General Bipin Rawat – India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) – multiple thoughts ran into my mind. Eyes gloomed to the television set; I went into a flashback of memories of my interaction with one of the most decorated Generals of our Armed Forces. He was the first CDS of our country, who assumed office on January 1, 2020. The General Officer was a highly operational soldier having served in almost all terrains and in the most difficult environments in Jammu & Kashmir, North-East India & in the UN Peacekeeping missions.
His going away, and the manner in which he went away along with his wife, and 11 staff and crew members, was heartbreaking and indeed most tragic. As a true soldier and a highly decorated and astute General Officer, he deserved a more respectful and honourable departure. He certainly did not deserve to go away the way he did. His sudden and unfortunate departure has saddened and shocked the entire nation and especially the Armed Forces fraternity.
Though personally, I had a fair opportunity to interact with him professionally as we both did not have the advantage of serving together during service years; however, official interactions increased manifold as I assumed the office of Director CLAWS in June 2018. As the Chief of the Army Staff back then, General Rawat was the Patron CLAWS.
Our personal interactions over the years became engaging and will remain with me forever. While I was serving in the MS Branch as a Colonel, there were occasions when we both met and spoke briefly in the South Block while crossing each other. When he was commanding 19 Infantry Division (Baramulla), I remember he had called me (surprised me to no end) and we exchanged notes on the trend of infiltration across the LoC, and the movement profile of terrorists in the hinterland. A few years later, he would tell me that he wanted to compare with the earlier trends, and to know the challenges that I had faced as a brigade commander in the same division in 2001-02. It just went on to show his professional curiosity to learn, understand, and further improve upon his own standards. Such was his commitment, sense of responsibility, and he certainly showcased a learner’s attitude in many such instances.
Circa 2014-15, I wanted to visit my Regiment in Mariani (near Jorhat) in 3 Corps, where he was the GOC. I spoke with him to inform him, and he startled me when he suggested that he too would join me there whenever I visited the Regiment. Finally, my visit materialised in 2016, when he had moved away from Dimapur. However, I always admired his spirit to remain proactive, to remain focused on operational matters and to remain with the troops. Yes, he appeared most at ease and was at his best with the troops.
CLAWS fraternity is fully aware that he, as the COAS and Patron CLAWS, went out of his way to provide all possible and unwavering support to the organisation and be available for all important seminars conducted by CLAWS. During my first call on him in his office as the Director CLAWS, he surprised me when he requested that I should deliver the Field Marshal Manekshaw Memorial Lecture on Infantry Day in October 2018. On my mild protest, he said that he was serious. It was indeed an honour to do so. Given his astute strategic vision, he would suggest the areas that CLAWS should lay greater emphasis on. Despite his busy schedule as the COAS, he would in fact attend the seminars after delivering the keynote address, with a view to listen to the rationale of the eminent speakers. A learner’s desire in him! In our one-to-one interactions, he was more than receptive to discuss the role of women officers in the armed forces.
During COVID times in 2021, Dr Amrita Jash, Research Scholar at CLAWS, accompanied me to present her book on ‘ The Concept of China’s Active Defence’ to the CDS. While Dr Jash was moving out of his office, he called for a photographer and posed for a photograph accepting the book. It means so much to young people. Senior commanders must be willing to listen to others viewpoints, an attribute that he possessed in abundance. One fine day, we were informed that General Rawat, CDS, would meet veterans from all three services at CLAWS in the evening between 6 pm and 7 pm. Sure enough, he was there to listen and interact, and give his rationale to certain projects under consideration.
Endowed with wonderful qualities of head and heart: humane, caring, bold, and firm in his convictions, he did not have any doubt about his aim and pursued it passionately. He was not deterred by the disagreement or the challenges that he faced in the path-breaking ventures like the transformation of organisational structures, integrated theatre commands, infrastructure development, and bringing in a greater focus on the infusion of technology. His role in planning and conduct of surgical strikes is all too well known. Between the two of us, we did have some differences of opinion, which he was always willing to discuss. He will be missed as a General with a vision and strategic thinking, and one who looked forward to making the Indian Armed forces one of the most operationally effective organisations.
Our heart goes out to the bereaved family members. May God give them the strength and courage enough to bear the loss. May the General, Mrs Rawat, and his staff-cum-aircrew members rest in peace.