India’s foremost military officer and the first Chief of Defence staff, Gen Bipin Rawat, PVSM, UYSM, AVSM, VSM, YSM, SM bid his countryman a final goodbye on 08 Dec 21. In the unfortunate helicopter crash which led to loss of life of the General along with 13 passengers has brought the entire nation together in mourning and paying heartfelt tributes to the ‘People’s General’. Nation, often divided due to differences in political leanings, religion, caste, domicile, views etc. came together in an unprecedented manner only reserved for the public figure revered and respected across all platforms.

How does one person, born in a small hill village of Uttarakhand, can bring together the entire Indian population? The heartfelt scenes of people of Tamil Nadu lining up alongside road, showering flower petals and raising slogans of ‘Veer Vanakkam’ to the candlelight tributes at multiple locations in the insurgency affected Kashmir.

Special prayer ceremony, led by Bhutan’s King and his father to the special tributes by Ambassadors and Government officials of multiple countries, indicates how the ‘People’s General’ has touched the lives of thousands and lakhs of people. As correctly brought out by Hon’ble Prime Minister, while expressing his grief “Gen Bipin Rawat was an outstanding soldier. A true patriot, he greatly contributed towards modernizing our armed forces and security apparatus. His insights and perspectives on strategic matters were exceptional. His passing away has saddened me deeply.”

The situation was no different in the valley. The loss of lives has deeply affected the people of Kashmir and tributes were paid throughout the valley. A prayer meeting was organised at the Army Headquarters in Srinagar. Kashmiris in huge numbers along with Lt Gen DP Pandey, GOC, Chinar Corps were in attendance. Another candlelight march was organised by the 150 residents of the Machil area, Kupwara. Gen Bipin Rawat had visited the Machil sector on 27 July 2021 along with Brigadier LS Lidder. Tributes were paid at Sherwani Hall in Baramulla also. Prayer meets for eternal peace of the departed souls were also held in the mosques of Macchil, Pushwari, Dabpal and Keran sectors.

The General officer was acquainted with many locals during his tenure here. He had spent a large part of his service in the valley. He was deployed in the valley thrice- as a Company Commander in Uri (Baramulla), Sector Commander of Rashtriya Rifles Sector 5 in Watlab (Sopore) and as a General Officer Commanding, 19 Infantry Division (Dagger Division), Baramulla. As aptly stated by Lt Gen DP Pandey, GOC, Chinar Corps, General Bipin Rawat, even after being appointed as the Army Chief and the Chief of Defence Staff, used to answer calls from Kashmiris and lend his help. His tenures at the valley were very close to his heart. His efforts were reciprocated by the people of Kashmir and they remember him with huge respect and regard. “The amount of love, the connection that he had with the people of Uri, people of Baramulla and especially the people of Kashmir, I don’t think anybody, any army man had,” Lt Gen D P Pandey, GOC, 15 Corps on his visit to Baramulla.

According to Junaid Mattoo, Mayor, Srinagar, “he connected with the people and forces in the valley”. ”I am in deep shock as a Kashmiri youth. If you see the past ten years, the situation in north Kashmir was very volatile, but General saab worked for the area and there was a connection of youth with him. He connected hearts in the valley. No one was working with the army in Kashmir, but It was only when the General was posted here that he bridged the gap. There are many examples from north Kashmir of people who are mainstream now because of General. He will be in our hearts always. We are mourning and it’s painful,” said Aqib Renzu, Councilor, Srinagar.

The General officer’s strong stance towards the security aspects in Kashmir coupled with his civil welfare efforts went a long way towards ensuring an environment of peace, stability and prosperity in the valley. The patriotic fervour of the people of Kashmir was palpable in all the prayer meets and candlelight marches. It will be apt to state that the General officer had a deep connection with the people of Kashmir and his demise is a huge loss to the valley and the nation as a whole.

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