Updated: December 9, 2021 7:27:40 am
The Southern Command, headquartered in Pune, would be an ideal theatre where a joint services command could be set up, General Bipin Rawat had said in 2016, when he led the Southern Command.
General Rawat, who was instrumental in laying down the foundation for joint theatre commands in India as the country’s first Chief of Defence Staff, was General Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Pune-headquartered Southern Command between January 1 and July 31, 2016. At an Idea Exchange with The Indian Express in April 2016, General Rawat had spoken at length about tri-services integration, ties with China, the role of women in the Armed Forces and military-media relations.
After he took over as the first CDS of the country, one of the key mandates he was given was of restructuring military commands by bringing about jointness in operations, including through establishment of joint theatre commands.
During the Idea Exchange in April 2016, while answering a question on the strategic location of the Southern Command, with both land and sea boundaries, General Rawat had said, “The Southern theatre is one where we have a land boundary with our western neighbour. It also has the Indian Ocean region. And there is an active presence of all the three services. This is an ideal theatre, where we could look at a joint services command, which we don’t have at present. But on the other hand, we have an active interaction with the Navy and Air Force.
And here, distances don’t matter as we have extremely good communication. We have been able to integrate our communications. At the ground level, it is a step further. We are actually training with each other. As we speak, we have a training going on at the Andaman and Nicobar islands. At the command level, the rapport is very good. We talk to each other and not at each other.”
On the role of women in Armed Forces, especially in combat roles, General Rawat had said, “What we are looking at is whether we can get women into the main combat role which is Infantry, Armoured Corps and Mechanised Infantry. The operating conditions in these arms are very difficult. Now, whether women are ready to operate in these conditions or not, is a call that women themselves will have to take. I am a strong believer of one thing, equal opportunity means equal responsibility.”
When asked about ties with China, General Rawat had said that China being “aggressive” was a “perception”. “There may be disputes on the border, which are not for armies to settle. There are parts which are claimed by both sides. The perceptions are varying. Yet at the level of armies, we want to maintain peace and tranquility. We don’t want to initiate a war just because there are differences. So this track-II diplomacy is also needed in the form of such exercises. Your question about them being more aggressive I would say is a perception. When they come into our territory, those overtures get portrayed in the media. When we go into their territory, there is no media. On our side, we have become open to the media and so these things are reported.”
One of the key areas of interest for General Rawat was military-media relations and he had pursued the subject for research at an academic level during his career. The General held a PhD for his research on ‘Military Media Strategic Studies’ from Chaudhary Charan Singh University, Meerut.
Answering a question on the subject, the General had said during the Idea Exchange, “There is no cause for friction between the media and military. You have a charter of being a watchdog and bringing out the truth. We have many issues covered under… secrecy and security. I am of the opinion that media interaction is necessary. At a senior level, I feel that some kind of interaction should take place with the media at regular intervals. At the lower level, when an incident takes place, the commanding officer at that level should be made available to the media to explain what has happened.”
During General Rawat’s tenure in Pune, his wife Madhulika Rawat had led the Southern Command’s regional chapter of Army Wives Welfare Association. Officials said that she spearheaded several welfare measures towards health, education, and vocational training of family members of Army personnel in the Command.
Alumnus of the NDA
General Rawat was an alumnus of the 53rd course of the National Defence Academy in Pune. The General was the reviewing officer of the Passing out Parade of NDA’s 130th course in May 2016, when he was the Southern Army Commander, and of the 135th course in November 2018 when he was Chief of Army Staff.
The General was commissioned to the Fifth Battalion, the Eleventh Gorkha Rifles of the Indian Army, in December 1978 from the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, where he was awarded the ‘Sword of Honour’. General Rawat had attended the Higher Command and National Defence College courses, and Command and General Staff Course at Fort Leavenworth, USA, and was a graduate of the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington — where he was headed to when the chopper mishap happened.
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