’65 hero, IAF Mar­shal Ar­jan Singh, dies

Hindustan Times (Jalandhar) - - FRONT PAGE - Rahul Singh let­ters@hin­dus­tan­times.com

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.

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