This Tuesday morning, India’s military complex suffered a major blow with the loss of Gen. Bipin Rawat – India’s first Chief of Defense.

Taking off from Coimbatore’s Sulur Air Force base, the helicopter was en route to a Defense Services Staff College in nearby Ooty, before it crashed near the hillside town of Coonoor. Along with General Rawat and his wife Dr. Madhulika Rawat, 11 other lives were claimed.

While India mourns their tragic passing, it’s important to note just how distinguished the General’s career was.

As one of the most academically qualified, well-trained officials to hold top military honors, both his life story and prolific written works on national security offer a deep insight into army life and India’s new-age military complex.


Destined For The Military

Born in 1958 to a Garhwali family living in the hills of Uttarakhand, the young Bipin Rawat was born into military and political influences on both sides of his family. His father, Laxman Singh Rawat, was a Lieutenant General serving in the 11 Gorkha Rifles, while his maternal grandfather, Kishan Singh Parmar, was an ex-MLA from Uttarkashi.

This legacy certainly carried expectations with it, and Rawat seems to have earnestly followed through in his teenage years. After a top education at Dehradun and Shimla, he moved on to the National Defense Academy, Khadakwasla, and the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun.

After graduating with a ‘Sword of Honor’ to his name, Rawat was commissioned into the very same unit as his father was. He quickly developed a keen sense of high-altitude warfare in the Himalayas, becoming a counterinsurgency expert across the next decade while commanding an infantry division in Kashmir.

He would go on to forge an ironclad reputation across 4 decades of military service.


A Warrior and a Scholar

Aside from his hands-on military training, General Rawat built a strong base as an academic – obtaining a variety of impressive degrees throughout his life. Early on, he achieved an MPhil in Defense Studies from the very destination of his fatal flight – Defense Services Staff College, Wellington.

He also received training at the United States Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and achieved diplomas in Management and Computer Studies from the University of Madras. Finally, he was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy by Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut.

It’s interesting to note that his PhD was tied to military-media research – a key aspect of his tactical repertoire that was touched upon in research papers, press events, and a number of articles concerning national security.


His Claim To Fame

While General Rawat carried an impressive resume and wealth of knowledge, it was his experience and skill in carrying out counterinsurgency that led him to join the top brass. In particular, historians and defense commentators often suggest that his strategies were instrumental in controlling militancy in Northeast India and Kashmir.

Many of us may already know of his involvement in conducting 2016’s Balakot surgical strikes, as a response to a devastating attack on 40 Indian soldiers in Pulwama, Jammu & Kashmir. After closely monitoring and executing the strike from New Delhi, Rawat went on to make several key statements on the situation, often making major news headlines.

“The surgical strikes post-Uri terror attack and the Balakot airstrikes have delivered a strong message to Pakistan that it no longer enjoys the impunity of pushing terrorists across the Line of Control under the nuclear bogey.” Gen. Rawat, November 2020

Similarly, Rawat’s III Corps, through the 21 Parachute Regiment, led a cross-border strike in 2015. This time in Manipur, the Indian Army was faced with an ambush attack by UNLFW insurgents – Rawat’s forces responded by conducting a deadly strike on their Myanmar base.

Naturally, many of these operations have been met with both public approval as well as outrage from activists – the latter of whom blame Rawat for many alleged human rights violations against the people of Kashmir.


International Operations

Even prior to his ascension to the Chief of Defense Staff position, General Rawat had represented India on a number of occasions – both diplomatically and militarily.

As the Chief of Army Staff, he conducted well-publicized visits to Nepal, Myanmar, Kazakhstan, Sri Lanka, Russia, the United States, and other nations.

One of the less recent, but most interesting chapters in his life was while Rawat commanded MONUSCO – a lesser-known yet great example of the General’s leadership prowess.

Operating within the Democratic Republic of Congo, this was a multinational UN brigade that helped stem the tide of brutal civil war in the region.

Rawat’s conduct during this military tour earned him great admiration and respect amongst the international military community, cementing his reputation as a gifted logistician and peacekeeper.

Apart from coordinating a staggering 7,000 military personnel from various parts of the world, he helped support the counterinsurgency efforts of the Congolese Army, while aiding innocent civilians and local communication efforts.


Not His First Crash

An interesting side-note regarding General Rawat’s death is that he has actually survived a previous helicopter accident.

The incident occurred back in 2015, while Rawat served as Lieutenant General and commander of the III Corps mentioned above.

The crash took place at the Rangapahar military base – barely 20 seconds after takeoff, the helicopter plunged nose down 20 meters, dealing minor injuries to its occupants.


A Nation in Mourning

As one of the most public, prolific generals of India, Rawat’s death left a mark on millions of Indians.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who appointed Rawat as Chief of Defense Staff in late 2019, took to Twitter to offer his thoughts:

A storm quickly brewed across social media, with several critical and counter critical opinions regarding the General’s legacy. In particular, Colonel Baljit Bakshi (Retd) took flak for supporting views critical of Rawat’s policies in Kashmir.

Whether demonized or honored, it stands that his personal history is one of the most fascinating chapters in Indian history, and stands to be studied for decades to come.

(Image Source: PTI, FinancialExpress, @narendramodi)