Tri-Services Leader, India's 1st Chief of Defence Staff Bipin Rawat No More
An IAF helicopter, which was carrying Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat, crashed in Tamil Nadu's Coonoor.
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An IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter, which was carrying Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, crashed in Tamil Nadu's Coonoor on Wednesday, 8 December, leading to the unexpected demise of Rawat and his wife.
The chopper crashed after having taken off from Sulur in the Nilgiris, while it was heading to Wellington base.
The death of the highest ranking military officer, whose position and stature had become a veritable symbol for tri-services synergy, is followed by an atmosphere of shock.
"Gen Bipin Rawat was an outstanding soldier. A true patriot, he greatly contributed to modernising our armed forces and security apparatus. His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional. His passing away has saddened me deeply. Om Shanti," Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted after the news of the death.
India's First Chief of Defence Staff
Rawat had been appointed as the chief of the defence staff on 30 December 2019. He assumed office as the CDS on 1 January 2020, at the beginning of an epoch in senses, temporal as well as institutional, for this was the first time that India had a leader for its entire military force.
CDS Rawat's assumption of office was touted as a watershed moment for India's military planning, a move to achieve convergence among the Army, Navy, and the Air Force.
The appointment had come a day prior to Rawat demitting his office at the age of 62. The then Army General Rawat was set to hang up his spurs and retire from the Indian Army on 31 December, after having served as its chief for three years.
The Defence Ministry had amended the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force rules, to provide for the CDS to be able to serve till 65, instead of 62 years of age.
The CDS role had bestowed officer Rawat with not just one, but two hats – one as permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee which has the chiefs of the three services as members, and the other of the head of the newly created Department of Military Affairs (DMA) in the Defence ministry.
“The CDS is mandated to facilitate integration, ensure best economical use of resources allocated to the Armed Forces and bring uniformity in the procurement procedure. I want to assure you that the Army, Navy and Air Force will work as a team and the CDS will ensure integration among these,” General Rawat had vowed after taking charge.
43 Years of Service and a Life Dedicated to the Armed Forces
Hailing from Uttarakhand's Pauri, and a family that has been serving in the army for generations, Rawat was commissioned into the 5th battalion of 11 Gorkha Rifles on 16 December 1978, the same unit as his father.
During his distinguished career in the army, he commanded an infantry battalion along the Line of Actual Control in the Eastern Sector, an Infantry Division in the Kashmir Valley, and a Corps in the North East.
General Rawat had also commanded a Multinational Brigade in the Democratic Republic of Congo. As an Army Commander, he commanded a theatre of operations along the Western Front, and had been serving as the Vice Chief of the Army Staff before assuming office as 27th Chief of the Army Staff in 2017.
During the span of over 43 years in the Army, General Rawat has been awarded several gallantry and distinguished service awards, including the Param Vishisht Seva Medal, Uttam Yudh Seva Medal, and Sena Medal.
Rawat had been an alumnus of the National Defence Academy, Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, and the National Defence College. He also attended the Command and General Staff Course at Fort Leavenworth in the United States.
Controversy, Personal Views & Partisanship
“We keep ourselves away from politics. We act according to the directives of the government of the day,” a newly-appointed Chief of the Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat had said the day he assumed office.
However, Rawat's long career is blemished by criticism of his partisanship in favour of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government.
In December 2019, when protests against the highly-contended Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) had rocked the country, Rawat had made a less-than-cryptic comment against the demonstrations:
“Leadership is all about leading... Even amongst the crowd you find leaders emerge. But leaders are those who lead people in the right direction. Leaders are not those who lead people in inappropriate directions, as we are witnessing in a large number of universities and college students,” General Rawat had said.
His remarks had elicited criticism of the Opposition, which had sounded alarm over the sharp departure from the army tradition of political neutrality. "Never before have we had a CoAS as openly politicised as this one (not even VK Singh)," RTI activist Saket Gokhale had said at the time.
In 2019, Rawat's seemingly homophobic stance had evoked public censure.
“We will not allow this to happen in the Army,” Rawat had said, alluding to the Supreme Court verdict decriminalising homosexuality.
The CDS had, however, batted for the inclusion of women into the army in 2021.
"Today, distinction between the role of men and women in warfighting is blurring...Women have proved their mettle in combat roles such as fighter pilots, paratroopers, submarines. They will continue to do so in the future too," he had been quoted as saying by news agency ANI, after the Supreme Court's verdict allowing women to enrol in defence services.
The defence chief, whose wife Madhulika Rawat also died in the helicopter crash on Wednesday, is survived by two daughters.
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