Bishops mourn the death of Indian defense chief and 13 others
The Indian bishops offered their condolences to the families of 13, including Indian Defense Chief General Bipin Rawat, who died in a helicopter crash on December 8.
The helicopter was carrying 14 people, including Rawat, 63, and his wife Madhulika Rawat when it allegedly struck a tree and caught fire above a misty hill in southern India. Group captain Varun Singh is the only survivor.
Rawat’s death âcertainly shocked and saddened the nation. The country will be remembered for the courage, dedication and commitment of our armed forces when in service; protect the security of the country and work in difficult situations, âsaid the message from the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India.
The conference “offers its condolences and prayers to the families of all bereaved and prays that God will grant eternal rest to the deceased,” said the message from Archbishop Felix Machado, general secretary of the conference.
Rawat served as India’s first Chief of Defense Staff, a post the government created in 2019, and was seen as close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
His sudden death raised questions about the future of the military reforms he was leading.
The general was traveling with his wife and other senior officers in the Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter, which crashed near its destination in the state of Tamil Nadu.
Modi said Rawat was an exceptional soldier and a “true patriot” who had helped modernize the country’s armed forces.
“His death saddened me deeply,” the Prime Minister wrote on Twitter. “India will never forget their exceptional service.”
Strategic analyst and author Brahma Chellaney tweeted that Rawat’s death “could not have come at a worse time” as “China’s 20-month border assault resulted in a warlike situation along the Himalayan front “.
Rawat served as chief of the 1.3 million-strong army from 2017 to 2019 before being promoted to chief of defense services
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Footage of the crash showed a crowd of people trying to extinguish the flaming wreckage with buckets of water as a group of soldiers carried one of the passengers on an improvised stretcher.
Rawat visited the Defense Services Staff College (DSSC) to speak to students and faculty at Sulur Air Base in Coimbatore.
The helicopter was already descending at the time of the crash and fell about 10 kilometers from the nearest main road, forcing rescuers to go to the scene of the crash, an official told AFP firefighters.
An eyewitness at the scene said he saw passengers fall from the helicopter before the crash and one person crawled out of the wreckage.
The only survivor, a captain working at the DSSC, was being treated for his injuries at a nearby military hospital, the air force said.
Rawat served as chief of the 1.3 million-strong army from 2017 to 2019 before his rise to chief of defense services, which analysts said was aimed at improving coordination between the military, navy and the air force.
New Delhi is seeking to increase its military effectiveness in the face of heightened tensions with China following deadly clashes in a disputed Himalayan region, as well as its long-standing conflict with neighboring Pakistan.
“He had given a huge boost to the integration of the three services, so his successor has big shoes to fill,” retired Lieutenant-General DS Hooda, former head of the northern command of France, told AFP. Indian army.
“He had a difficult job … we will need someone to provide the same impetus he gave to keep the reforms he started to continue at the same pace.”
Messages poured in from around the world, with US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin calling Rawat a “valued partner and friend of the United States” who left “an indelible mark on the course of the US-Indian defense partnership.”
UN chief Antonio Guterres expressed “his sincere condolences to the families of the deceased as well as to the people and government of India,” said his spokesman StÃ©phane Dujarric, recalling Rawat’s time as brigade commander in the UN peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 2008 and 2009.
Rawat has been credited with curbing the insurgency on India’s northeast border and overseeing a cross-border counterinsurgency operation in neighboring Myanmar
Rawat came from a military family, several generations having served in the Indian armed forces.
He joined the military as a second lieutenant in 1978 and had four decades of service behind him, having commanded forces in Indian administered Kashmir and along the actual line of control on the border with China.
Rawat has been credited with curbing the insurgency on India’s northeast border and overseeing a cross-border counterinsurgency operation in neighboring Myanmar.
But at the same time, he was a polarizing figure whose willingness to make political statements put him at odds with the traditional military neutrality in the world’s largest democracy.
He was seen as close to the Modi government and turned heads last month when he allegedly made an approving reference to the “lynching of terrorists” in Kashmir.
The Mi-17 helicopter, which first entered service in the 1970s and is widely used by defense services around the world, has been involved in a number of accidents over the years.
Fourteen people died in an accident last month when an Azerbaijani military helicopter Mi-17 crashed during a training flight.
In 2019, four Indonesian soldiers were killed and five others injured in central Java in another training accident involving the plane.
The Indian Air Force said an investigation was underway into the Dec.8 crash.
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