Gen Rawat fought China on border and corruption within military
Even as General Bipin Rawat stood up to the aggressive Chinese at Doklam plateau and Ladakh, he will be also remembered for initiating a war against corruption within the military establishment as he used to often say that Indian armed forces were all about respect, not money.
As India’s first Chief of Defence Staff, he pushed the Indian Army to ask the CBI to inquire about alleged corruption in the sub-standard construction of married accommodation project (MAP) in Meerut and the Salaria Officers’ Enclave in Delhi by Military Engineering Services (MES). The total sanctioned cost of MAP phase I and II was ₹6,033 crore and ₹13,682 crore. He berated the MES top officials for shoddy construction and told them that Salaria Enclave resembled bombed-out Syria not New Delhi with sub-standard material being used for officers and jawans accommodation.
As the army chief, he initiated major reforms in military canteen purchases, much to the anger of the retired generals, by putting a cap of ₹12 lakh on the purchase of cars. When he found that senior military officers were saving precious excise and buying luxury cars like Mercedes and SUVs and top-brand single malt whiskies through the canteen route, he removed these items from the canteen list saying that a normal officer or jawan cannot afford these with the existing salaries. The veterans hated him for putting a cap and only allowing Indian made foreign liquor to be sold in canteens, but General Rawat told them that if they have so much money, they should buy the Mercedes or Blue Label whiskey from the open market and not dent the Indian exchequer. For the jawans, he ensured that sub-standard products did not find their way into the military canteen through the grease route.
Another area where he fought against his own peer group was the misuse of disability pension particularly by senior officers of the three services. Keeping his then defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman in the know, General Rawat found that senior officers were deliberately lowering their medical category before retirement to only not get disability benefits for themselves and their children but also tax-free pension. He found in many cases, a general or an air marshal or an admiral was getting more pension than his salary by using the disability pension route. While he was all for the support to the genuine disabled who lost their limbs in war or insurgency, he was totally against misuse of disability pension. It is perhaps for this very reason that Gen Rawat never claimed disability pension despite having a steel rod fitted inside his ankle due to a serious injury during an operation on the LoC in Kashmir.
Today, General Rawat passes into history, but the reforms he initiated within the military to make them more accountable cannot be stopped as it is the need of the hour.