’65 hero, IAF Marshal Arjan Singh, dies
NEW DELHI : Marshal of the Indian Air Force, Arjan Singh, died on Saturday after he was put on ventilator support in an “extremely critical state”.
In a statement, the Indian Air Force (IAF) said Singh died at 7:47pm after being admitted to the Army’s R&R hospital following a cardiac arrest.
The former IAF chief had played a key role in India’s victory in the 1965 war against Pakistan. Singh was the IAF chief from August 1964-69. He was the first Indian Air Chief to be elevated to the rank of Air Chief Marshal on January 16, 1966.
In recognition of his lifelong services, the government conferred the rank of the “Marshal of the Indian Air Force” on Arjan Singh on January 28, 2002 making him the first and the only ‘Five Star’ rank officer with the Indian Air Force. Marshal of the Air Force is equivalent to a Field Marshal in the army.
Earlier in the evening, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman met Singh at the hospital. He was admitted to the intensive care unit of the hospital after cardiovascular complications.
“My thoughts are with his family and those mourning the demise of a distinguished air warrior and fine human, Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh,” the Prime Minister tweeted.
According to the IAF’s official website, Singh’s “testing time came in September 1965, when the subcontinent was plunged into war. When Pakistan launched its Operation Grand Slam, in which an armoured thrust targeted the vital town of Akhnur, he was summoned into the defence minister’s office with a request for air support.” “With a characteristic non-chalance, he replied ‘...in an hour.’ And true enough, the air force struck the Pakistani offensive in an hour. He led the air force through the war showing successful leadership and effort.”
He also held the view that the IAF should have been used in the 1962 India-China war. Singh was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his leadership during the 1965 War and subsequently the rank of the CAS was upgraded to that of Air Chief Marshal. He retired in July 1969, thereupon accepting ambassadorship to Switzerland. He remained a flyer till the end of his tenure in the IAF, visiting forward squadrons and units and flying with them.
In his career, Arjan Singh had flown more than 60 types of aircraft ranging from pre-World War II era biplanes to Gnats and Vampires. On August 15, 1947, he led a fly past over the Red fort in Delhi. Six years ago, the veteran lost his wife Teji Arjan Singh on his birthday, April 15.
God doesn’t make many like him anymore! Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh straddled the aviation scene in the country literally from its inception.
Earning his spurs in the Arakan campaign in the World War II, where he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, he was part of the pioneers who nurtured the fledgling Air Force of India through the turmoil of partition in 1947.
As the IAF grew in stature so did its responsibilities, which unfortunately, were not tested in the 1962 war. But then came the redemption of our armed forces in the 1965 Indo-Pak conflict.
Spearheading the aerial campaign under Arjan Singh’s stewardship, the IAF came out with flying colours. Then Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh was just 45 years of age but what he did was much more than victories and kills that his aviators scored – the Indian Air Force had been set on a path of professionalism, the results of which we are seeing today with modern aircraft and top notch professionals flying them.
This writer, who was a Class V kid during the 1965 war, remembers how Arjan Singh was a household name during those heady days.
After retiring in 1969, Arjan Singh went on to serve India in more ways than one, from philanthropic acts to political and diplomatic assignments.
Very few people outside the Air Force know that he started, with his own money, a special fund for the wards of non-combatants of the IAF.
He was a senior colleague, patron and a father figure to all men and women in blue – and he was so ably supported by his wife Teji.
One always remembered the Marshal for his ramrod straight gait.
The annual IAF Day parade on October 8 was graced by the sight of a ninety year old serving IAF officer walking smartly at Air Force Station Hindan and moving on to the dais to take the salute – not a stumble, not a waiver and woe betide anyone who tried to give him a helping hand, thinking he was old!
After the parade, he was the cynosure of all eyes as he mixed with one and all and obliged everyone with a photograph.
The last three years saw time take its toll on his physical health, but his memory was as sharp as ever.
Just a year back, despite medical issues, the Marshal came to release a book in which were listed all who had died in Air Force flying accidents.
When asked how he had mustered the strength, he said that was the least he could do for those who had laid down their lives for India. That was the spirit of the Marshal that will live on for ever.
Arjan Singh 1919-2017
Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Marshal Arjan Singh during the At Home at the President’s house in New Delhi on January 26, 2016.