General Bipin Rawat, his wife, and 11 other people have died in a helicopter crash near the southern Tamil Nadu state in India
On Wednesday, a Russian-made Indian Air Force helicopter crashed several minutes before it was meant to land, tragically killing most passengers onboard. The only survivor, air force captain Varun Singh, is currently on life support at a nearby military hospital, with the country’s defence minister Rajnath Singh stating that “All efforts are being made to save his life.” Amongst the casualties in this sudden tragedy were 63-year-old defence chief Bipan Rawat – who had been appointed to the relatively new role back in 2019 – and his wife, Madhulika. Locals from nearby Coonoor village rushed to the scene of the crash when they spotted plumes of smoke rising from the trees, and alerted officials to the accident. Coming as a huge shock to the Indian government, all victims of the crash – the majority of whom were military personnel – will be brought to New Delhi for burial, with Rawat being laid to rest with full military honours.
Rawat, who was close to prime Minister Narendra Modi, is a previous veteran of multiple counterinsurgency operations, and whose military efforts helped to modernise the country’s armed forces, according to Modi. Modi stated that “his passing away has saddened me deeply,” and if we look at Rawat’s history, his death comes as not only a great shock and loss to his friends, but indeed to the continued border security of India in general. Rawat contributed greatly to protecting the country’s border with China, commanding troops along the frontier, as well as in Indian-controlled Kashmir. With Rawat gone, India has lost a top military strategist, experienced in maintaining the border security of his country. Owing to the continued border aggression from China – which has continued over a 20-month period – Rawat’s death “couldn’t have come at a worse time,” tweeted strategic analyst Brahma Chellaney. On top of this, Rawat was a key figure in shoring up Indo-US military relations, recently spending five days travelling the US in a counterpart visit to discuss military development, as well as opportunities to enhance cooperation between the two countries.
Owing to the high-profile nature of Rawat’s position, the Indian Air Force has ordered an investigation into the accident. A cabinet security committee held an emergency session, chaired by Prime Minister Modi, immediately after the crash. To help contribute to the investigation, the craft’s black box has been successfully recovered from the wreckage, and analysis of its contents are ongoing by the Indian military. As always with accidents like this, my thoughts go out to the families of all involved, and I wish a speedy recovery to the sole survivor of the downed craft.