By Abhi Athavale (Veteran)
When alive they protected the nation. In death, they united us.
On a black Wednesday, a piece of terrifying news shattered everyone.
Sleep well Sir…
My heart sank the moment I heard the breaking news on TV that a MI – 17 V 5 was involved in a crash in the hills with 3 senior-most Army officers were on board.
As the day progressed the nightmare had become a reality.
the helicopter that crashed near Coonoor in the Nilgiri hills on Wednesday, took off from the Sulur airbase at 11.45 am with 14 people on board including chief of defense staff General Bipin Rawat and his wife Mrs. Madhulika Rawat, and it was scheduled to land at the helipad at the Wellington golf course at 12.15.
Gen Rawat was on a visit to the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) at Wellington to address the faculty and student officers of the Tri services undergoing a one-year course the tri-services institution is known to further the career progression of young officers from the army, air force, and the navy.
By evening a pall of gloom descended on our nation, with the confirmation that the CDS along with the fellow officials on board were no more except one.
The whole of the nation was shocked and stunned by the abruptness of the tragedy. The brutality with which the almighty extinguished the lives of our CDS, his wife, and his fellow officers were unbelievable.
What followed was a sense of disbelief and heartache.
The mortal remains of Gen Bipin Rawat his wife and 11 others were received by PM Modi at Palam airport.
Gen Rawat was a person who had a futuristic vision of the warfare to be fought in the future. In an interview, he had said that we must look ahead of conventional warfare into the biological one.
He was a very determined man his father Gen Laxman Rawat who served the Army was a Lt Gen.
During Uri, he was in charge of the operation. It was a well-conceived operation with the Para SF penetrating in POK killing hundreds of terrorists on the launch pads with no casualties on our side except one who had stepped on a mine. It was an unprecedented strike in the enemy territory since the 71 war, which was due to the resolve of the political will of Modi ji equally matched by Gen Bipin Rawat.
CDS Bipin Rawat was scripting a roadmap for reforms and upgrade. The road map to having a set of Theatre commands was a well thought out strategy that can effectively two enemies on different fronts. He was against arms imports and stressed upon producing them in India thus making it self-sufficient.
It is a tough job to find someone to fill in the big shoes and carry forward the reforms. And the timings are crucial as China continues to be a problem which he dealt with an iron fist.
During Pulwama attack on a well-conceived plan in coordination between the IAF Western Command, Army, and the NSA “The intelligence given by R&AW on Balakot was excellent, very specific. It had good coordinates, excellent quality of imagery the operation was called out BANDAR
It led to the Balakot strike penetrating deep inside POK around 50 Kms beyond the LoC and killing more than 150 odd terrorists.
It’s a different story and planning which went into the strikes.
Gen Rawat started his career with Gorkhas and commanded 5/11 Gorkha Rifles. During his long journey up to his becoming the COAS, he led many successful operations. He was planning a retaliatory operation in Myanmar to avenge the attack on the Dogra battalion
On 2015 June 4th when there was a terrorist attack by NSCN-K when 18 of our Jawans were killed and within 5 days he played a crucial role in the surgical strike in Myanmar. The same day Mr. Doval had called him in the evening before the operation took place asking him about his plans. 102 terrorists were neutralized that day!
He was successful in containing the militancy in the NE and the successful mission was carried out by the Dimapur-based lll Corps.
Here was General and a combat soldier who was very outspoken and ruffled many feathers in the bureaucracy and political circles to get things done and didn’t bother about the consequences.
He looked down on China during the GALWAN and Doklam standoff, matched Gun to gun, soldier to soldier, Tank to tank, and gave China a bloody nose. Never in the history of India had this been achieved except the battle of Rezangla.
Gen Bipin Rawat was the people’s General.
It was an unprecedented sea of emotions and gratitude for the departed Gen Bipin Rawat and his fellow officers. With people lining up the road from Wellington to Sulur to pay their last homage to the departed. With tricolour in hand and slogans “Bharat Mata Ki Jai” “Gen Rawat Amar Rahe” “Vande Mataram”
The unprecedented solidarity showed by the 1 Billion plus people of India..!!
Here was a person who was not a politician, never gave false promises of FREE FOR ALL electricity, and water never was in the limelight or did election rallies. Despite the fact here were citizens who spontaneously came out on the roads for his last journey in tens and thousands, what made ordinary lives touched by him whom he had never met. There was something in his persona which touched the citizens of India.
Thousands of civilians paid their respects to the Gen it was unheard of.
We have watched heads of a political party die and the party bringing truckloads of hired people who are paid to assemble at the funerals.
But here was a man where citizens lined up from his residence to Brar square with a tricolour in hands and Bipin Rawat amar rahe on the lips.
Soldering is about winning wars. And the citizens of India have now recognized how Gen Rawat stood Against China and Pakistan during the last 3 years.
It is very heartening to see thousands of civilians recognizing and remembering the martyrdom of the arms forces.
While Brigadier Lidder who was laid to rest at Brar square in the morning, five hours later his brave wife was once again seen along side of the two daughters of Gen Bipin Rawat and Ms Madhulika Rawat. What courage it must have been needed.
While the Shameless MP’s of the suspended RS were on Dharna in front of the parliament. There was a Congress MP who had called the COAS Gen Bipin Rawat a Sadakchhap Gunda. A befitting reply was given by the citizens and was very much delighted to see a sea of people supporting and acknowledge the Army’s real face.
They stand in vigil in sub-zero temperatures to protect us. Let us keep them in our prayers and heart always every hour of the day.
In this hour of grief how the youth were running along with the cortège, are the role models and they should be inspired by the legacy of Gen Bipin Rawat. And today when I see how the country has united gives me a sense of hope as I think our youth has recognized the qualities it needs to respect and to pay obeisance to.
And that’s the battle won.
By Abhi Athavale.