Ar­jan Singh: An iconic per­son­al­ity

The Pana­garh air­base will be known as ‘Air Force Sta­tion Ar­jan Singh’, a trib­ute to a great hero


[ By R. Chan­drakanth

O] n April 15, Marshal of the In­dian Air Force (IAF) Ar­jan Singh, DFC, turned 97 and not just the IAF but the coun­try saluted the iconic per­son­al­ity. Be­fit­ting the cel­e­bra­tions, the Chief of Air Staff Arup Raha an­nounced that the Pana­garh air­base will be known as ‘Air Force Sta­tion Ar­jan Singh’, an hon­our un­matched. At the cel­e­bra­tions, a num­ber of dig­ni­taries were present in­clud­ing the for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Dr Man­mo­han Singh and the three Ser­vice Chiefs among oth­ers.

Ar­jan Singh is the only of­fi­cer of the IAF to be pro­moted to fives­tar rank equal to a Field Marshal to which he was pro­moted in 2002. He was born in Lyallpur (now Faisal­abad, Pak­istan). His fa­ther was Risal­dar Dar­bara Singh of the Hod­son’s Horse who had served in Gal­lipoli dur­ing World War I and was wounded in Burma dur­ing World War II.

The Marshal of the Air Force was the first In­dian Air Chief to lead a young IAF into war in 1965. He was hardly 44 years of age when en­trusted with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of lead­ing the IAF.

Af­ter ed­u­ca­tion at Mont­gomery in Pak­istan, he went to RAF Cran­well at the age of 19 for the Em­pire Pi­lot train­ing course. His first as­sign­ment was to fly West­land Wapiti bi­planes in the NorthWestern Fron­tier Prov­ince as a mem­ber of the No. 1 RIAF Squadron. Af­ter a brief stint with the newly formed No. 2 RIAF Squadron where he flew against the tribal forces, he later moved back to No. 1 Sqn as a Fly­ing Of­fi­cer to fly the Hawker Hur­ri­cane. He was pro­moted to the rank of Squadron Leader in 1944. He led the Squadron against the Ja­panese dur­ing the Arakan cam­paign, fly­ing close air sup­port mis­sions dur­ing the cru­cial Im­phal cam­paign and later as­sist­ing the ad­vance of the Al­lied Forces to Ran­goon. For his role in lead­ing the Squadron in com­bat, he was awarded the Distin­guished Fly­ing Cross (DFC) in 1944. On Au­gust 15, 1947, he achieved the unique hon­our of lead­ing a fly-past of over a hun­dred IAF air­craft in Delhi, over the Red Fort.

On pro­mo­tion as Wing Com­man­der, he at­tended the Royal Staff Col­lege at UK. Im­me­di­ately af­ter In­dian in­de­pen­dence, he com­manded Am­bala as Group Cap­tain. In 1949, he was pro­moted as Air Com­modore and took over as Air Of­fi­cer Com­mand­ing (AOC) of an op­er­a­tional com­mand, which later came to be known as West­ern Air Com­mand. Ar­jan Singh had the dis­tinc­tion of hav­ing the longest ten­ure as the AOC of an Op­er­a­tional base, ini­tially from 1949-52 and then again from 1957-61. On pro­mo­tion as Air Vice Marshal he was ap­pointed as the AOC-in-C of an Op­er­a­tional Com­mand. To­wards the end of the 1962 war, he was ap­pointed as the Deputy Chief of the Air Staff and he be­came the Vice Chief of the Air Staff in 1963. He was the over­all com­man­der of the joint air train­ing ex­er­cise ‘Shik­sha’ held be­tween the IAF, RAF and RAAF.

On Au­gust 1, 1964, as Air Marshal he took reins of the IAF, at a time when it was still re­build­ing it­self and was gear­ing up to meet new chal­lenges. He was the first Air Chief to keep his fly­ing cur­rency till his CAS rank. Hav­ing flown over 60 dif­fer­ent types of air­craft from pre-World War II era bi­planes to the more con­tem­po­rary, Gnats and Vam­pires, he has also flown in trans­port air­craft like the Su­per Con­stel­la­tion.

In 1965, when Pak­istan launched its Oper­a­tion Grand Slam, with an ar­moured thrust tar­geted at the vi­tal town of Akhnur, he led the war and in­spired the IAF to vic­tory. The then De­fence Min­is­ter Y.B. Cha­van wrote: “Air Marshal Ar­jan Singh is a jewel of a per­son, quiet ef­fi­cient and firm; un­ex­citable but a very able leader.”

He re­mained a flyer till he re­tired in Au­gust 1969, there­upon ac­cept­ing Am­bas­sador­ship to Switzer­land. He was Lieu­tenant Gov­er­nor of Delhi from 1989 to 1990. He is a Padma Vib­hushan awardee.

He has main­tained high prin­ci­ples through­out his life and they in­clude: one should be thor­ough in his pro­fes­sion; one should com­plete the job at hand to the sat­is­fac­tion of ev­ery­one; one must have im­plicit faith in his sub­or­di­nates; and ones ef­forts should be hon­est and sin­cere. He feels that if one ad­heres to these four prin­ci­ples, one can never go wrong.

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