Updated: December 11, 2021 7:53:24 am
Some of them started at 4 am, making their way from Uttarakhand to reach the National Capital in time for a final glimpse of India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, General Bipin Rawat, who hailed from the state. By noon, the crowds had swelled outside his official residence in the heart of Delhi as political leaders, senior military officers and the Chief Justice of India made their way inside to pay their last respects.
In the end, the long wait outside was in vain as time started running out, and the mortal remains of Gen Rawat and his wife Madhulika were taken to the Brar Square crematorium where their two daughters bid them an emotional farewell.
Earlier, the crematorium witnessed the last rites of Brigadier L S Lidder, who was among the 13 people who died in an IAF helicopter crash near Coonoor in Tamil Nadu Wednesday. The charred remains of the others are yet to be identified for the last rites to be conducted.
The 13 caskets were flown from Sulur near Coimbatore to the Palam air base Thursday night when Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tribute by placing a wreath and offering petals before each of them.
On Friday, Brigadier Lidder’s daughter, Aashna, told ANI: “I am going to be 17. So he was with me for 17 years, we will go ahead with happy memories. It is a national loss. My father was a hero, my best friend. Maybe it was destined and better things will come our way. He was my biggest motivator.”
Geetika Lidder, the wife of Brigadier Lidder, told ANI: “We must give him a good farewell, a smiling send-off, I am a soldier’s wife. It’s a big loss.”
At General Rawat’s residence on Kamraj Marg, Union Minister Amit Shah was among the senior leaders to arrive early. “With a heavy heart paid my last respects to Gen Bipin Rawat Ji and Mrs Madhulika Rawat Ji. Gen Rawat was the epitome of bravery and courage. It was very unfortunate to lose him so early. His commitment towards the motherland will forever remain in our memories,” Shah tweeted along with images of him laying wreaths on the two caskets.
Among the first to arrive from the Opposition ranks was Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who reached soon after 11 am and stayed for around 10 minutes. “This is an unprecedented tragedy and our thoughts are with their family in this difficult time. Heartfelt condolences also to all others who lost their lives. India stands united in this grief,” he tweeted later.
The other early arrivals included the country’s top bureaucrats — Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister, P K Mishra, and Cabinet Secretary Rajeev Gauba — and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who was considered close to General Rawat.
From then till 2 pm, when the mortal remains were taken out, a string of senior leaders visited to pay tributes. Chief Justice of India N V Ramana also arrived at the official residence to pay tribute.
The ruling dispensation was represented, among others, by: BJP president JP Nadda, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami and former chief minister Tirath Singh Rawat, Haryana and UP Chief Ministers Manohar Lal Khattar and Yogi Adityanath, and Union Ministers Nirmala Sitharama, S Jaishankar, Smriti Irani, Anurag Thakur and Gajendra Singh Shekhawat.
Apart from Rahul Gandhi, non-NDA parties were represented, among others, by: Mallikarjun Kharge, Kodikunnil Suresh and former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat (Congress), Kanimozhi (DMK), Harsimrat Kaur Badal (SAD), Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal (AAP), Sushmita Dev and Jawahar Sircar (TMC) — and some of the suspended Rajya Sabha MPs, including Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi and TMC’s Dola Sen.
The others to arrive included several diplomats, defence attaches and a large number of serving and retired military officers along with their families. The three service chiefs — General M M Naravane, Admiral R Hari Kumar and Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari — were among the last to reach the residence of the CDS, and left for the crematorium with the vehicle carrying the mortal remains.
Outside, meanwhile, chants of “Jab tak suraj chand rahega, General Rawat ka naam rahega (Gen Rawat will be remembered as long as the sun and moon exist)” rang out as the trickle of people waiting to catch a final look became a swelling crowd. Around noon, they were asked to queue up, and told they would be allowed in later.
Sandeep Deshmukh, a 32-year-old Delhi-based businessman who hails from Satara in Maharashtra, said he had come because “almost every house in my village has people in the military”. Accountant Ramesh Chandra chose to wait in the queue as General Rawat “was such a big personality, and it is our duty to pay tribute to him”.
Kulwinder Singh, who works in the “mechanical field”, said he had some for a “darshan, because General Rawat was very good”. And two students in their 20s, Anandita and Rishab, said that he “had played an important role and as civilians it was important to respect that”. Rishab said the “country’s right hand was punctured”, and that while there are “a lot of heroes in the country, this will be a big void to fill”.
But by 1 pm, an announcement was made that those gathered outside won’t be allowed in. Soon, the crowd started thinning out, many blaming Delhi’s “VIP culture” for denying them a chance to pay their final respects.
A little after 2 pm, the mortal remains of General Rawat and his wife were taken to the crematorium. Two officers each from the services, each a three-star officer, were the pallbearers while a ceremonial battery provided the gun carriage.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh was among the last to pay his tributes to General Rawat who was cremated with full military honours, including a 17-gun salute.
Rajnath tweeted: “Rawat devoted his life to serving and protecting our nation. India will remember his courage, valour and patriotism. Farewell General!”
After the Defence Minister laid a wreath, and the last bugle played out, the cremation ceremonies were conducted by General Rawat’s daughters, Kritika and Tarini, who lit the funeral pyre.
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