Lieutenant General (R) Syed Ata Hasnain
India’s first-ever Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS), and his wife are no more. They along with 11 other brave hearts of the Armed Forces of the Union of India met a fiery end when their Mi-17 helicopter crashed in some reported bad weather near Wellington in the Nilgiris, Tamil Nadu. Through the day after 12.20 PM on 8 Dec 2021, my family and I were at prayer for the lives of our good friends Bipin and Madhulika, and all those accompanying them. We hoped God would be kind to them, to us, and to all of India to spare their lives. They had much more to contribute to their Nation’s destiny but it’s God’s will that they have been taken from us.
As Service children who went on to join the Indian Army General Bipin Rawat and I enjoyed a commonality of what in the military system is called – ‘passing it on’. We therefore could relate to each other very well. We were both commissioned into our father’s unit; he to 5/11 Gorkha Rifles and I to 4 Garhwal Rifles. He replaced me in the Military Secretary’s (MS) branch of the Army Headquarters as a Colonel in the crucial appointment which oversees and drafts policy on the management of officers, their placement, and their careers.
It was on my strong recommendation to our common superior that General Bipin got this job. He never looked back. A couple of years later I returned to Kashmir to command the famous Dagger Division at Baramula. To my surprise I found my friend Bipin parked right next door as the Commander of the Rashtriya Rifles (RR) Sector at Sopore. The Sopore RR Sector was always perceived as a hell hole of a command.
Terrorist presence was everywhere in those days. Bipin came to meet me on my arrival and through the next many months several operations were coordinated in the Sopore – Baramula area. He seemed to be on the move always, hardly ever spending time at his headquarters. Post his Sopore stint he went for the National Defence College, a prestigious course at Delhi and then as Commander of the Indian Brigade in UN operations in Congo. I think he served there just a little before General Qamar Bajwa, the Pakistan Army Chief who commanded the Pakistani Brigade.
On his return he was to be promoted Maj Gen. I was then GOC 15 Corps (Kashmir) and took upon myself to request the Army Chief to post Gen Bipin Rawat to Kashmir to command the division I had commanded at Baramula. He would thus serve under me and our old rapport would work wonderfully for the organization. General VK Singh, the then Army Chief accepted my request. His tenure as GOC Dagger Division was memorable and especially his handling of the local populace. At one time he took a lot of guidance from me on sensitivities regarding various festivities and occasions in Kashmir. He always seemed to remember them.
General Bipin had many other feathers in his cap in subsequent years too. He survived a helicopter crash in Dimapur while commanding the prestigious 3 Corps where he had to travel extensively by helicopter throughout the area of responsibility. He planned and coordinated the response against the NSCN (K) terror group which had ambushed and killed many of our jawans in an ambush in Manipur on 4 Jun 2015. He then went on to command the Army’s Southern Command before being moved as the Vice Chief of the Army. In that capacity, I met him a day after the surgical strikes and he gave me a full brief on these in his office.
In a slightly controversial move, he was appointed the Army Chief to succeed General Dalbir Suhag on 01 Jan 2016. During his tenure as the Chief, Pakistan attempted to revive the proxy war in Kashmir but he allowed it no quarter, responding strongly against all forms of violence. After having stood ground against the Chinese for 72 days at Doklam in 2017 he ensured that in 2019 he oversaw the security of J&K during the risky period involving the amendment of Article 370. He was the natural choice for Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) when the government decided to create history through instituting that appointment.
Having instituted the Department of Military Affairs (DMA) in the Ministry of Defence it was left to him to create the department and get it functioning. One of the main tasks before him was the setting up of the Theatre Commands of the Armed Forces. In the new appointment, General Rawat shed his orientation as a soldier and donned the role of a truly Joint Commander, winning the respect of all three Services. His greatest desire was to leave the appointment with the theatrisation process complete with the setting up of the Theatre Commands.
It was a measure of his intellect that he instantly absorbed this unique challenge, something no military officer had ever been tasked to undertake. He was on the verge of launching big-ticket reforms to execute the concept of Theatre Commands and streamline the integration process, in the last year of his command. From a leadership angle, General Bipin Rawat was an absolute no-nonsense man, who spoke his mind to the point of even creating controversies. These were as per his conviction and his experience. Having served the longest any officer has ever served (till 64 years of age) I only wish General Bipin had lived to complete his tenure and spend a total of six years in the rank of a General (4 star), a unique record in its own right.
Bipin and Madhulika indeed made a charming couple. They will be remembered long for the stellar work they did for the Armed Forces and their contribution towards nation-building. We shall remain proud of them. Jai Hind.
(The author is a retired Lieutenant General of the Indian Army and is presently Chancellor Central University of Kashmir)
Disclaimer: Views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.