Great Friend across Palk Strait- General Bipin Rawat

When the time for them to leave my residence, he wants to see my dog, Rexy, his friend from New Delhi. All present at that day were surprised!

by Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne

My mobile telephone rang around noon on 8th December. It was overseas call from Dubai our former Army Commander General Mahesh Senanayake “ Sir did you here the news? General . and madam no-more. Helicopter crash !“

Mahesh knew my close relationship with General Rawat. We did year-long National Defence College course (NDC) at New Delhi in year 2010, eleven years ago. 

I switched on TV and turn to NDTV Channel. They were giving details on this tragic helicopter crash near Ooty, few kilometers away from Indian Defence Services Staff College, (DSSC), Wellington, Nilgiris, Tamilnadu.. India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, PVSM,UYSM, AVSM, YSM, SM, VSM, ADC (senior most serving military officer of India), his wife Mrs Madhulika Rawat and eleven others, most of them were General’s personal staff. All died at crash site, except one, who later succumb to injuries. We had sixty Indian Army brigadiers doing the course with me. I sat next him in auditorium to listen to eminent Indian scholars, retired top military commanders,diplomats and businessmen. Our friendships extended to families also when my family was invited to dinner at his place. Madhurika was a friendly and graceful lady.

Madhulika Raje Singh, descendant of an erstwhile princely family, she was daughter of Kunwar Mrigendra Singh, an Indian National Congress member of local assembly. She has educated in Gwalior and graduated in Psychology at Delhi University. She married Bipin in 1985 and couple had two daughters Kritika and Tarini. 

As Chief of Army Staff of India visiting Sri Lanka on 14th May 2018

Before he was appointed as India’s first CDS, he was the Army Chief for three years. In May 2018 he visited Sri Lanka as India’s Chief of Army Staff (COAS) on invitation of our Army Commander ( then) General Mahesh Senanayake. I was the CDS of Sri Lanka then. He has only one request to Mahesh, that to keep his last night of visit free to visit my home.So, as agreed, I hosted him at my official Residence. He and Madhulika were so happy and relaxed. Navy band played beautiful old Hindi songs, practiced earlier under guidance of my wife Yamuna. It was a lovely evening with delicious food, drinks , great company and melodious old Hindi songs.At end General wants thank all the members of the SLN band personally.

Two ladies Madhulika and Yamuna
With my dog Rexy

When the time for them to leave my residence, he wants to see my dog, Rexy, his friend from New Delhi. All present at that day were surprised! He could remember the name of the dog he met eight years back in New Delhi. That was his sharp mind.

Bipin was born on 16th March 1958 in Pauri town of Pauri Garhwal district ( present day Uttarakhand State).His family was serving in the Indian Army for multiple generations. His father, Luxman Sing Rawat, from 11 Gorkha rifles, retired as Deputy Chief of Army Staff of Indian Army in 1988, rose to rank of Lieutenant General. His mother was daughter of Kishan Singh Parmar, ex- Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Uttarakashi. 

What he saw, all pomp and pageantry was nothing new to him as his father was the Deputy Chief of the Indian Army. He was the recipient of “Sword of Honour” from Indian Military Academy (IMA) , Deheradhun. He was a true follower of Chatwode motto – which is written in Golden letters at IMA hall of fame,

“The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, alway and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last , always and every time”.

Dear General Sir ! You lived to your promise through out your life. You are a role model for all juniors. 

As a result of your visit to Sri Lanka, you arranged Sri Lankan military personnel with their spouses to visit Bodh Gaya every year. You ensured Indian Air Force largest transport aircraft C-17 Globemaster available for this pilgrimage of our men every year. We as Buddhists, we appreciate this gesture with highest respect.

Ironically, the last gift you sent me through Vice Admiral Anil Kumar Chawla, former Flag Officer Command-In -Chief, Southern Naval Command last month was beautiful white marble Buddha statue. It’s in our shrine room at a prominence place. When my wife Yamuna and myself see this statue every day, we will remember General Bipin and Madhulika. Om Shanthi !

The funeral

No time to wait. I decided to attend the funeral of my dear friend and his wife. Media indicated that funeral fixed to 11th December at Brar Square crematorium in Delhi Army Cantonment. I booked a ticket on Colombo-New Delhi Srilankan airlines flight on 10th. The Chief of Defence Staff and Army Commander General Shavendra Silva also took the same flight to New Delhi to attend the funeral representing Sri Lanka Government. It was a appreciative gesture by Sri Lankan Military at this hour of grief of India. Our CDS sat next to Indian Defence Minister Hon. Rajinath Singh, during funeral parade. 

The mortal remains of General Bipin and Madhulika laid side by side in single Gun Carriage left their official residence at K Kamraj Marg to Brar Square crematorium. 800 personnel from Indian Army, Navy and Air Force took part in parade. With Tri – Forces band taking the lead.

I saw some thing I have never seen in my four years and eight months stay in New Delhi (as Defence Adviser 3 years and 8 months and one year doing NDC). Thousands of people carrying tricolor Indian National Flags and photos of General Bipin and Madhulika following funeral parade amid chants of “jab tak suraj chand rehega. Rawat ji ka ma’am rehega” and “Indian Army Zindabad” and others stand on roadside showered flower petals as convoy passes. General was very popular with General public as tough military leader who protect his country with vision and wisdom.

Two daughters of General Bipin and Madhulika conducted the last rites of their parents. Seventeen Gun Salutes boomed into air befitting to senior most Indian Military officer who died in uniform. Fire in funeral pyre mixed their soul into thick air of New Delhi winter. 

Next day morning the ashes of General and wife taken to Haridwar (Haro – God, Dawar – door, Haridwar – door to heaven) and immersed in Great Ganga River by their children. 

We salute you General , dear friend of Sri Lanka.

(The writer retired from Sri Lanka Navy, Former Chief of Defence Staff)

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