New Delhi: “Jaldi milte hain” were the last words spoken by Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Bipin Rawat to me, last Saturday, at Navy chief Admiral Hari Kumar’s house on the occasion of Navy Day.
Just an hour earlier, he was waiting on the dais for President Ram Nath Kovind to arrive and had spotted me in the crowd in front of him and gestured to find out how I was doing.
I replied with a namaste and a nod, saying all was well, and then he asked me to tap on the shoulder of the reporter standing next to me, Srinjoy Chowdhury from Times Now.
Gen. Rawat gestured to Srinjoy too, asking him how he was doing. He was in a good mood that day. Once the President had left, he came down from the dais and spoke to the officers and veterans present.
There were many who wanted to get a picture with him, and I jokingly told him he was like a celebrity.
Some journalists including me waited as he turned towards us, and in his usual casual manner, asked how we were all doing.
He cracked jokes, laughed and pulled our leg over the issue of China, even as he gave his perspective on how he thinks the situation will pan out.
The chat went on for about 15 minutes, even as Brigadier L.S. Lidder, his Defence Advisor, kept whispering into his ear that he should leave.
As he was leaving, I jokingly said, “Sir, aap bahut busy ho gaye hain”. He looked at me, smiled and said, “jaldi milte hain”.
An officer on a mission
Gen. Rawat, who took over as the country’s first CDS on 1 January 2020, was a man on a mission — to bring in theatre command and jointness among the three Services, and modernise them.
While one may critique him for the way and speed at which he went ahead with his reform ideas, one cannot deny he did what he thought was the best for the forces.
Gen. Rawat received both praise and brickbats for the steps that he was taking.
Once, while talking to him, I asked whether he was affected by the criticisms. He said, “I am not immune but I know I am true to myself and my organisation. That is what matters”.
I had critiqued him in my column Brahmastra for some of the steps that he took, but at no point was he ever angry with me. And neither was his response different when I supported some of his ideas in my column.
Whenever we met, he had the same warmth, and was more than willing to share his perspective on issues.
Such was his habit of batting on the front foot that he never ever ducked a question from the media. This habit of his has landed him in trouble at times, because he spoke his mind rather than giving it a diplomatic touch.
He was known in the armed forces and the government as a “go-getter”. People who have worked closely with him say that he was a hard task master and he never took no for an answer.
“Don’t tell me what the problem is. Tell me how we can counter it,” Gen. Rawat once said while telling me about what he expects from his officers.
Rawat’s 2015 escape
Gen. Rawat had survived a helicopter crash in 2015 when he was the 3 Corps Commander.
He was then travelling in an Army Aviation Cheetah helicopter when it crash landed seconds after taking off from Rangapahar helipad in Nagaland’s Dimapur district.
The chopper fell from a height of about 20 feet as the engine stalled. Luckily for Rawat, the chopper did not catch fire, and he had escaped with very minor injuries.
(Edited by Shreyas Sharma)