General Sunith Francis Rodrigues, a former army chief who was instrumental in inducting women as officers and later flagged concerns about the politicisation of the armed forces, passed away at Panaji in Goa on Friday after a brief illness.
He was 88, and is survived by his wife, Jean, sons, Neal and Mark, and daughter, Susan Viswanathan. He was born to Goan parents in Bombay in British India in 1933. His father hailed from Curtorim in south Goa while his mother traced her roots to Assonora in the north.
Rodrigues served as the chief of army staff from July 1, 1990 to June 30, 1993. He was commissioned into the army in 1952. He took part in the 1962 India-China war and the two wars with Pakistan war in 1965 and 1971.
The general played a key role in the induction of women in the army as short-service commission officers in the early 1990s. He served on National Security Advisory Board after retirement.
He was known to be against the so-called politicisation of the armed forces. In 2019, Rodrigues, along with several army veterans, expressed his disappointment over the “politicisation of the armed forces.” He was the lead signatory on a letter addressed to the president and signed by 155 veterans who urged the Supreme Commander of the Armed forces to ensure that the armed forces are not politicised. The letter was sent to the president before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
In a military career spanning over four decades, the artillery officer commanded a division, a corps and two Army Commands before being appointed to the top job. He served at the Punjab governor and Chandigarh administrator from November 16, 2004, to January 22, 2010.
Tributes to his memory poured in from different quarters.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation in paying respects to the general. “Anguished by the passing away of General S F Rodrigues. The nation will remain indebted to him for his exceptional service and contribution towards making India stronger. He was respected for his deep strategic knowledge. My thoughts are with his family and friends. RIP,” the PM tweeted.
“In the passing of Gen SF Rodrigues, we mourn the loss of a distinguished soldier & military thinker. He was one of the unique trio belonging to 1st JSW Course, who made it to the apex of their respective Services almost together. The other two being Adm Ramdas & ACM Suri,” former navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash (retd) wrote on Twitter.
Like the general, Prakash also chose to settle in Goa.
Describing Rodrigues as a “thinker and strategist”, army chief General MM Naravane said the former chief left behind a legacy of utmost dedication and service to the nation.
“Since his retirement, he has been engaged in social and literary pursuits and has also delivered numerous talks on strategic issues. The Nation and #IndianArmy will always be indebted to his invaluable contribution and service to the Nation,” the army said on Twitter.
Former army chief General VP Malik described him as an exemplary military leader and strategic thinker who followed military ethics and values, and looked after his subordinates. “I was part of his team on two occasions. Learnt a great deal. RIP General Rodrigues. Salute,” Malik tweeted.
Minister of state for road transport and highways and civil aviation and former army chief General VK Singh also paid tributes. “He was a true son of the soil, who dedicated his entire life to the service of the nation. An exceptional gentleman, he will forever continue to be an inspiration to all patriots,” Singh said on Twitter
Goa chief minister Pramod Sawant was among those who expressed their condolences. “His family belonged to Curtorim in Goa and all Goans are proud of his service to our motherland,” he tweeted.