WORLD INTHAVAARAM, 2021–50

About: the world this week, 5 December to 11 December 2021, the Russia-India Love Story, German chemistry produces a new Leader, Myanmar sentences a civilian Leader, and India loses its first Chief of Defence Staff in a tragedy.

Everywhere

From Russia With Love

India and Russia have been best friends for many decades, and they keep the friendship warm with Annual ‘Tea & Coffee’ Summits. And exchanging powerful gifts on the sidelines. This year, President Vladimir Putin came over to visit Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday in New Delhi with a bear-hug and a missile defence system tucked under his arm. The swagger of the two leaders ‘walking down up and down’ was a sight to behold!

I almost expected President Putin to rip off his shirt-with some tips from our own Bollywood Hero, Salman Khan- grab a horse, don a cowboy hat, and dive into Delhi’s nearing ice-cold water for a brief escape from the polluted air; while PM Modi had his hands full, on the drums of India!

At a time when people are thinking booster doses against COVID19, India received a booster dose for the country’s military with the leaders agreeing to take a new missile defence system deal forward: the S-400 surface-to-air missile defence system. It is one of the world’s most sophisticated, with the ability to reach multiple targets at a maximum distance of about 400km. It is also a more affordable option, for India, costing reportedly half of that of a similar United States’ Patriot missile defence system.

PM Modi beamed that the ties between the Nations have remained unchanged, ‘and hot’ even during the pandemic (when hugging each other could be infectious) and that the special, privileged strategic partnership continues unabated. And that

2021 is a significant year in relations between the countries with Putin playing a very important role in strengthening ties over the past two decades.

Putin took home -as a Return Gift from India -some exquisite Agate bowls hand-made by tribal artisans in the Khambat region of Gujarat: one set of brown bowls with an intricate pattern of mineral work; another bowl, rich yellow in colour, with one section showing off an interesting black and white pattern.

Agate -primarily formed within volcanic and metamorphic rocks — is a rock formed mainly of chalcedony and quartz, with various minerals suffusing it with a variety of hues and patterns. So beautiful are these patterns that agate is a natural choice for semi-precious jewellery and ornaments.

Agates, in India, are found in the Rajpipla hills of Gujarat State. In nearby town of Khambat, these agates are moulded into a variety of ornaments, from multi-stringed necklaces to massive bowls and sculptures. It takes the eye of an artist to look at a lump of rock, see the patterns within and carve and polish in such a way that these natural patterns are brought forth with stunning beauty. One of the most fascinating agates is the moss agate, which looks like ancient moss embedded in translucent rock. It is not fossilised moss, however, the network of green fronds is created with iron ore.

Gift a Missile and receive Agate history, fused in rock.

German Chemistry

She’s a Chemist holding a Doctorate (PhD) in Quantum Chemistry. Her husband is also a Chemist and researches at Berlin’s Humboldt University. That’s Angela Merkel, the 67 years old German Chancellor, who making good on her pledge, stepped down on 8 December 2021, after 16 years as Chancellor, to make way for a coalition Government led by her successor Olaf Scholz.

Her chemistry background was a good formula to make and solve coalition equations, keeping the different chemicals physically together; it also brought a calm demeanour in handling the COVID19 pandemic. She has a mixed record as Chancellor, but her exit from power has been a model of grace and restraint.

Merkel was the first woman to be elected as Chancellor, and the first Chancellor since German reunification to have been raised in the former East Germany.

In 1977, at the age of 23, Merkel, then Angela Kasner, married physics student Ulrich Merkel and took his surname. The marriage ended in divorce in 1982. Her second and current husband is quantum chemist and professor Joachim Sauer, who has largely remained out of the media spotlight. They first met in 1981, became a couple later, and married privately on 30 December 1998. She has no children, but Sauer has two adult sons from a previous marriage.

She lived the life of a normal next-door neighbour and brought no Office airs to her neighbourhood.

Angela Merkel once said she wanted to leave politics before she became a ‘half-dead wreck’. Glad, she’s fully alive to that!

Her’s will be a tough act to follow, but the incumbent Chancellor seems up to the task, reading from the chemistry of his background.

Myanmar’s Sentences

In troubled Myanmar after ousting a democratically elected Government about 10 months ago in a coup, the Military Junta piled up about a dozen ‘not so noble charges’ on Nobel Peace Laureate and former civilian Leader Aung San Suu Kyi that add to combined maximum possible sentences of more than 100 years. The kaleidoscope of charges include violating COVID19 protocols, the mandatory corruption (of course), illegally importing and possessing walkie-talkies…and the kind. This week in a first verdict, she was sentenced to four years in jail, which was then shot down to half.

More than 1300 people have been killed by the Myanmar Security Forces, since the coup, and more than 10,000 arrested. Oh, Myanmar, when will your sentence end?

Tragedy in the Hills

The President of India is the Supreme Commander of the three divisions of India’s defence forces: the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force. The President can declare War or Peace on the advice of the Union Council of Ministers (includes the defence Minister) headed by the Prime Minister (PM).

India never had a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) since independence in 1947 and the separate Chiefs of the Army, Navy, and Air Force advised the Defence Minister, on matters related to India’s defence and territorial integrity.

After the Kargil War of 1999, when India fought Pakistan and successfully pushed-back infiltrators along the Line of Control, a Kargil Review Committee suggested the creation of a CDS post with the aim of improving coordination, tri-service effectiveness, and overall integration of the combat capabilities of the Indian armed forces. Though the idea was previously proposed, it never saw the light of the day until PM Narendra Modi announced the decision during his Independence Day speech on 15 August 2019 at the Red Fort, New Delhi.

On 24 December 2019, the Cabinet Committee on Security formally announced creation of the position; a four-star general, a tri-service chief, selected from among the serving officers of the Indian Armed Forces who shall lead the defence forces. While being ‘first among equals’ among the service chiefs, the CDS is a single-point military advisor to the Defence Minister of the Government of India.

On 31 December 2019, Army Chief, General Bipin Rawat was appointed as India’s first CDS and he took office on 1 January 2020. He was named CDS just a day before he was to retire from service, after completing a full three-year term as Chief of Army Staff.

Gen Rawat completed his schooling at Cambrian Hall School, Dehradun, and St.Edward’s School, Shimla before joining the National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla, and then the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun. He also graduated from the Defense Services Staff College, Wellington, Coonor, India, and the Senior Command Course of the United States Army Staff College, Fort Leavenworth Kansas, United States.

He was commissioned into the Indian Army in December 1978 in the fifth battalion of 11 Gorkha Rifles and rose up the Army ranks to become the 27th Chief of Army Staff, taking over from his predecessor, General Dalbir Singh Suhag, on December 17, 2016.

Gen Rawat became a highly decorated Officer, a veteran of counterinsurgency warfare and has served in some of the most difficult terrains of India, including the northern and eastern commands. Gen Rawat is known to be forthright, fearless, and blunt at times. He considered China as India’s arch enemy and was boldly outspoken about it. In the role of CDS he brought energy and purpose to military reforms and built up a momentum.

During his 43 years of service, Gen Rawat served on various responsible positions on the rungs of the Army ladder. He was also a part of the United Nations Peacekeeping Force and has commanded a multinational brigade in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

General Bipin Rawat has been at the centre of hot pursuits and surgical strikes that we have now become familiar with — especially the Balakot Surgical Strikes of 2019.

Let me tell you a story of his command.

In June 2015, eighteen Indian soldiers of the Dogra Regiment were killed in an ambush by militants of National Socialist Council of Nagaland-Khaplang or NSCN (K) belonging to the United Liberation Front of Western South East Asia (UNLFW) in Manipur. The Indian Army swiftly responded with a cross-border strike. A crack team of 70 commandos of the 21st battalion of the Parachute Regiment entered Myanmar and struck a terrorist base, completely destroying militant Group’s camps. They returned within 40 minutes leaving at least 38 Naga insurgents dead and several injured. The operation was overseen by General Officer Commanding, Bipin Rawat, at that time.

Now, back to the Chief of Defence Staff.

On 8 December 2021 General Bipin Rawat along with his wife, Madhulika Rawat- President of the Army Wives Welfare Association — was on an official visit to the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, Coonoor, Tamilnadu — a homecoming to his Alma Mater. He was scheduled to address the faculty and student officers of the Staff Course.

He arrived at the Indian Air Force (IAF) Sulur base, near Coimbatore, by plane from New Delhi and hopped onto to an IAF Mi-17V5 Helicopter to make the, about 30 minutes, journey to Wellington. With him on the helicopter was his wife and twelve other Army and Air Force Officers. The helicopter was piloted by Wing Commander P S Chauhan and Squadron Leader Kuldeep. Seemed like an ordinary day in the peace-time work-life of the Army, but it wasn’t to be.

Almost at the end of the flight, about 10 minutes before landing, around 12.30pm, the helicopter unexpectedly crash-landed, bursting into flames in the Katteri Park area of Nanjappanchathiram of the Nilgiris Hills, near Coonoor.

The Mi-17V5 helicopter was last seen flying in the Nilgiris valley from East to West at a low altitude, in thick mist, when it suddenly did a U-turn, turned North, flew about 100 meters, caught fire, and rammed a tree before crashing into a hill.

The intense flames burnt and martyred General Bipin Rawat, 63 years old, and all on board with the exception of Group Captain Varun Singh, who as seriously injured, and is the lone survivor of the crash. He is fighting for his life in hospital, with over 80% burn injuries. Recently, in August this year, Group Captain Varun had been awarded the Shaurya Chakra one of India’s highest Gallantry Awards for showing exemplary courage in handling of his Tejas Fighter Jet after it faced major technical issues during a sortie in October 2020. He successfully landed the aircraft despite losing control due to multiple technical failures.

Gen Bipin Rawat himself survived a helicopter crash in February 2015, when he had a miraculous escape when the single-engine Cheetah copter in which he was travelling crashed in Nagaland. At that time he was a Lt. General and heading the 3 Corps, headquartered at Dimapur, Nagaland. The pilot had lost control of the helicopter, which dropped like a brick from a height of 20 metres. General Rawat had suffered minor injuries in the accident.

The other Officers who were martyred in the present crash are: Brigadier LS Lidder, Lt Col Harjinder Singh, Wing Commander PS Chauhan, Squadron Leader Kuldeep Singh, Junior Warrant Officers Das and Pradeep A, Havaldar Satpal, Naik Jitendra Kumar, Naik Gursewak Singh, Lance Naik Vivek Kumar and Lance Naik B Sai Teja. It was a Herculean task to identify the bodies.

Let’s delve into the technicals of the helicopter of the crash.

The Mi-17V5 helicopter, the work-horse of the Indian Military-is Russian made and built like a battle Tank, with twin engines of 2700 HP engine power, capable of transporting 36 armed soldiers, or 4500 kilogrammes of load on a sling. It is probably the only Helicopter in IAF’s inventory with full-authority digital control system, which basically makes the engine inherently safe, efficient, and reliable. The Mi-17V5 is equipped with four swappable multifunction displays: weather, radar, radio altimeter readings giving accurate measurement, night vision equipment to fly in pitch-dark conditions, and an exceptional autopilot which has the capability to auto-hover.

The Mi-17V5 has infrared suppressors to protect against heat-seeking missiles, chaff and flare dispensers to provide passive electronic warfare capability, and noise and deception jammers to evade radar-guide missiles. It has a wire cutter in the front to cut wires if it inadvertently encounters cables. The helicopter is heavily protected with armoured plates. It has self-sealing fuel tanks made of material called Hycatrol and is also covered with polyurethane fire retardant foam giving it protections against explosions. Simply put, it is nearly impossible to shoot down this helicopter.

Diving deeper into the basic working of helicopters: They fly purely by the thrust generated by the engines which is transferred to the rotors. The main rotor produces the thrust which is equivalent to the weight of the helicopter when in hovering condition. If the engine fails, the helicopter needs to trade height to maintain main rotor rotation and the pilot has to quickly find a place to land. In this condition, the fall is almost vertical and survival depends on the terrain below, weather, and crew training. Helicopters have another peculiar design aspect: to counter the torque of the main rotor, so that the body does not rotate in the opposite direction, a tail rotor is provided to act as a counter-balance. Failure of the tail rotor can be catastrophic.

I’m beyond grief and disbelief on this Himalayan loss of soldiers who tirelessly work to protect the country. Their lives are precious and irreplaceable. How did the accident happen against the might of such mind-boggling technology, with strenuously trained pilots, battle-ready Defence Officers inside the helicopter, and fantastic equipment, in familiar terrain, in a peaceful civilian environment? Blame it on the weather, or equipment failure? What are we missing? The reasons have to be unravelled and India should resolve never to lose its finest Officers in such a manner. We need to hold a mirror to ourselves while we start hunting for clues in the debris of the burnt and mangled remains.

General Bipin Rawat, a people’s General, is survived by two daughters, Kritika and Tarini. They lit the funeral pyre of their parents, watched over by the General’s young grandchild. May his soul, and all of those who joined him on this last flight, rest in peace. Travel well, brothers in arms: you live in our hearts forever.

More stories coming up in the weeks ahead, live with World Inthavaaram.

Once an Engineer, now a Make-in-India Entrepreneur; Wordsmith; Blogger; maybe a Farmer!

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Kumar Govindan

Kumar Govindan

Once an Engineer, now a Make-in-India Entrepreneur; Wordsmith; Blogger; maybe a Farmer!

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