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A tribute to General Bipin Rawat—A national hero and a legend

Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying tributes to General Bipin Rawat at the Palam airport on December 9 (Image courtesy: PIB)

General Bipin Rawat and I are course mates from the National Defence Academy and the Indian Military Academy. And Bipin had lived by the credo of our alma mater all his life which instils that ‘The honour, wellbeing and safety of your country comes first every time. The wellbeing, comfort and honour of your men comes next. Your own comfort, safety comes last, always and every time.’

Bipin was always there for his juniors. As Captains we were both posted as Platoon Commanders at the IMA, Dehradun. I vividly recall Bipin’s deep concern when one of his youngsters sustained an injury while doing PT jumps over the horse. Besides being supportive for the cadet’s quick recovery, he was equally concerned that the Cadet did not get relegated and lose six months. True to his reputation, Bipin ensured that the young man passed out along with his course mates.

Bipin Rawat

A no-nonsense person, Bipin had the ability to penetrate and strike at the root of complex problems. He could keep his nose to the grindstone. He was posted as Colonel MS 3 in the Military Secretary’s Branch dealing with NCC and other such deputations. I was posted as Colonel MS 2 managing Infantry officers. Our daily morning conferences with our boss – Deputy MS A, would swing from moments serious to hilarious, depending on the nature of requests.  With details on his fingertips, Bipin could satisfy the most exacting demands, typical in a personnel branch.

Bipin had his ears to the ground, and at the same time was protective of the Units under his Command. On promotion to the rank of Brigadier, he commanded the Rashtriya Rifles sector in Sopore in North Kashmir in 2007-2008. I saw him very closely from the Brigade I commanded, on the Line of Control in the Keran sector. Those were trying times, and yet Bipin was able to shield his Units from the multiple pressures that are faced in such situations, where so often decisions of commanders determine ‘life or death’.

Bipin Rawat

From Kashmir, Bipin was chosen to command the Indian Brigade Group in Congo in 2008-9. In the year-long tenure, he performed with distinction and left an indelible impression in the United Nations set-up. After returning to India, he replaced me as Deputy MS B. Many of the personnel policy reforms that he initiated later as COAS and CDS were drawn from the experience gained there.

After successfully commanding the Baramulla Division in J&K in 2011-12, he was posted as MGGS – Operations, Eastern Command Kolkata in 2013 – 14. We used to be in touch several times a day during this period, as I was posted as Additional DG Military Operations (A), and Eastern Command was very active, both along the Line of Actual Control with China, and Counter Insurgency & Counter Terrorist Operations. Bipin was a pillar of strength for his Army Commander.

Bipin Rawat

Bipin was always swift to respond, hard-hitting and accurate! From Kolkata, he went on to command the Corps in Dimapur. In June 2015, an Army convoy was ambushed in Chandel District, Manipur, resulting in 18 fatal and 15 non-fatal casualties. He hit back with a powerful cross-border strike at a NSCN (K) terrorist camp, resulting in the neutralisation of many terrorists.

Earlier in February 2015, he had miraculously survived a helicopter crash, soon after take-off from Dimapur. I was posted as GOC 15 Corps in Kashmir at that time. By the time I could reach him over the phone that evening, he sounded quite unfazed and rearing to go. Next morning when I saw pictures of the mangled Cheetah helicopter, I marvelled at his happy-go-lucky spirit that nothing could deter.

His tenure in 2015-16 as Army Commander Southern Command gave him precious insights of the deserts and peninsular India, helping him gain a 360-degree perspective of India’s operational challenges. Also, with a vast majority of the defence industry and academic institutions located in the Southern Command region, Bipin was a big help in the Indian Army’s drive for indigenisation, which I was leading at the time. An initiative that he supported through his tenure as Vice Chief, Army Chief, and eventually as Chief of Defence Staff.

Bipin Rawat

Bipin was very accessible, be it the military fraternity, civilians, media, industry, institutions, or academia. I saw him closely in Defexpo 2016 & 2018, and in Aero India 2017; he had all the time for young entrepreneurs, inspiring them, and getting them charged up.

Gen Rawat had earned the full confidence of the National security hierarchy. This was evident in the tough stance that the Army took against China in Doklam, under his watch. That faceoff lasting over two months prevented China from pushing deeper towards the Jampheri ridge and threatening the Siliguri Corridor. He had the full backing and support of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval.

In more recent times, during the Eastern Ladakh faceoff, Gen Rawat demonstrated firm conviction and confidence in the Armed Forces’ capabilities, making significant impact on the political leadership at home as well as the adversary.  The pictures of Prime Minister Modi addressing troops in Ladakh, flanked by the CDS and the COAS Gen Naravane in 2020, are still fresh in everyone’s mind. What a strong display of common purpose in the political and military leadership. On the other side, China had not anticipated the scale and swiftness of India’s military mobilisation, involving all the three services. India’s reaction to the Galwan encounter came as a shock to the belligerent PLA. And the actions by India in end August, to occupy the Magar Hill, Gurung Hill, Rechen La, Rezang La, Mokhpari, and the dominating height over Chinese positions near Finger 4, took the wind out of China’s sails. Of course, it goes to the credit of our Forces, their capabilities in high-altitude and extreme cold weather warfare, that enabled the resolute stand taken by the Nation.

Bipin Rawat

As Chief of Defence Staff, Gen Rawat amply demonstrated his remarkable courage of conviction, as he undertook the mandate given to him by the Prime Minister of integrating the Three Services. He pushed against all headwinds, in driving reforms within the Armed Forces, and also the civil- military interface in national security.

As CDS one of his charters was indigenisation of the Armed Forces. I had the opportunity to work on indigenisation as Deputy Chief, and we were able to put together our experience of numerous country wide Army – industry – academia interactions to good use in helping evolve policies that would promote indigenisation. Gen Rawat was quite conscious of the fact that the targets were ambitious. But he maintained that given the state – of – affairs, unless we pushed for ambitious targets, we would not make much headway.

Bipin Rawat

He took criticism on the chin! Took what was worth keeping and ignored the rest. He was resolute in focusing and driving towards his objective. In our numerous interactions, he maintained that deeply entrenched ways of several decades required phenomenal horsepower to bring about the desired change.

A leader in every way, Gen Rawat embodied the finest qualities of a good soldier. He had tremendous vision & foresight, was bold & ambitious, demonstrated immense strength of character, never afraid of taking tough decisions, was resolute despite adversity, and proved his endurance each time that he drove towards victory in all the missions he undertook.  He was an exceptionally brave and inspiring leader who cared deeply for the Country, the Institution of the Armed Forces, and the personnel under his command.

Bipin Rawat

In his passing, the nation has lost one of its best and bravest. Not just India, it is a loss to the world, I would say. He enjoyed a great personal rapport and respect with his counterparts in various countries. The US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin had described the visit of CDS Gen Bipin Rawat, in October this year as “historic “, and discussed ways to drive greater inter-operability between the US and Indian Armed Forces. Gen Rawat was the driving force behind the successful outreach to several countries in India’s neighbourhood. The outpouring of grief in the country and condolences from friendly countries is a testimony to the mark he had made across the world.

On my part, I have lost a dear friend, and a worthy colleague. I will forever cherish our close association of over four decades. 

Bipin Rawat

As the country’s first CDS, Gen Rawat’s contribution is immense and will be remembered in all times to come! In fact, I would say, this is not the end, but the beginning of a legend.

Jai Gorakh! Tagra Raho! and Jai Hind!

(Lt Gen. (Dr.) Subrata Saha (Retd.) has been a former member of the National Security Advisory Board, Deputy Chief of Army Staff, GOC 15 Corps, Additional DGMO, GOC Strike Division, Commander Keren Sector, Commandant Assam Regimental Centre and CO 5 Assam)

Also Read: India bids farewell to national hero General Bipin Rawat with a 17-gun salute

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Video: Daughter of Lt Colonel Harjinder Singh, who died in General Rawat’s helicopter crash, performs his last rites