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Mainstream, VOL LX No 2, New Delhi, January 1, 2022

Assessing General Bipin Rawat - a modern re-incarnation of Bheema ? | Sumanta Banerjee

Tuesday 28 December 2021, by Sumanta Banerjee


I have been reading the obituaries on, and reminiscences about, India’s first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), General Bipin Rawat (who along with his wife and several military personnel, was killed in a helicopter crash on December 7). His life and tragic end remind me of the fate of the Indian mythical hero Bheema, the second of the Pandava brothers, whose exploits are described in the epic Mahabharata.

Bheema is described as ’kanchan-barna, brishash-skandha, unnata-baksha’ (golden-coloured, shoulders resembling those of a bull, chest spreading out). The photographs of General Bipin Rawat in his various roles - whether presiding over parades, or even in his moods of relaxation - recall that image of Bheema. His achievements as a military commander in high-altitude warfare and counter-insurgency operations in Jammu and Kashmir, are similar to the daring military exploits of Bheema, as described in the Mahabharata. His end in a rather un-heroic (if I may use the term) accident of a helicopter crash also again resembles Bheema’s fate.

At the end of his life, Bheema fell from the status of a military hero to that of a poor supplicant praying for access to the gates of Heaven. He was denied that opportunity, and died mid-way in the tortuous journey that was undertaken by the Pandavas, as described in the Mahaprasthanikparva chapter of the Mahabharata.

In that chapter, we see how the eldest Pandava, Yudhishtir leads his brothers and their wife Draupadi, on their mahaprasthana - the journey of the final departure for heaven. But on the way, Bheema suddenly collapses. Lying on the ground, he plaintively asks Yudhishtir: “What sin had I committed in the past due to which I have fallen down ?” Yudhishtir replies: “Brother ! You denied food to others and consumed in excess. And, you bragged that you were a powerful person who was second to none. Because of these two sins, you have fallen down.”

As for Bheema’s first sin (denial of food), we find a similar instance in the career of General Rawat. During his tenure as the army chief, in April 2017, a jawan, Tej Bahadur Yadav, posted a video complaining of poor quality of food served to the soldiers. He was immediately dismissed by him. (The Hindu, April, 2017).

The other sin - braggadocio - can be described as something that General Rawat shared in common with Bheema. To give a few examples - when in Kashmir, young protestors were pelting stones against the guns of his soldiers, the general in an interview with the PTI on May 28, 2017, referring to these youngsters said: “I wish these people instead of throwing stones at us, were firing weapons at us. I would have been happy. Then I could do what I want to do.” He thus threw a challenge to the protestors, daring them to take up arms, so that he could find justification for further escalation of his military might. Remember Bheema challenging the Kauravas in an open physical contest?

Or, take for instance Bipin Rawat’s habit of encouraging army officers to humiliate the common citizens of Kashmir. In early April, 2017, one of his officers, Major Leetul Gogoi picked up a Muslim shawl-weaver Farooq Ahmad Dar, tied him to a military jeep’s bumper, and paraded him as a human shield against attacks from protestors, (Re: The New York Times, April 16, 2017). Video shots of the incident went viral all over the world, staining the reputation of the Indian army. But soon after in May that year, the army chief Bipin Rawat congratulated the same discredited Major Gogoi by awarding him the prestigious COAS Commendation Card, that immunized him against any punishment. (Re: The Hindu, May 22, 2017).

All these utterances, gestures and acts of General Bipin Rawat’s, carried echoes from the events that marked Bheema’s military career, as described in the Mahabharata - the same demonstrations of heroism, the same bravado, the same urge to insult opponents, and finally meeting the same humiliating end. Instead of culmination in the martyrdom in a war, General Bipin Rawat’s career ended in a messy helicopter crash.  

General Bipin Rawat as a victim of the Hindu dictum of `karma-phal’ ?

Incidentally, the helicopter crash that killed General Rawat on December 7, was preceded by the killing of sixteen innocent citizens by his soldiers in Nagaland’s Mon district on December 4. Those who believe in the Hindu religious dictum of `karma-phal,’ may ponder over this sequence of events. This dictum ordains that one will reap what one sows. According to it, a `karma’ (deed) which is of a virtuous nature, will yield to the person who carries it out, a ’phal’ (result) that is good for him/her. But a `karma’ of a vicious nature will invite a `phal’ that ends in the punishment of the person responsible for the deed. Is it the latter fatal trajectory that the late lamented General Bipin Rawat followed ? Guided as he had always been by the militarist compulsions of his profession, in his last days as the CDS, he was responsible for an operation that led to the December 4 killing of innocent citizens in a Nagaland village - an act which should be considered as a vicious `karma’, according to the Hindu code. Is his death then the `phal’ that he had to suffer as a result of his misdeeds ? Is his career an illustration of the historical lesson that hubris inevitably leads to nemesis ?

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