‘Fear­less & ex­cep­tional pi­lot’

The Times of India (Mumbai edition) - - TIMES NA­TION -

The IAF his­tory of its op­er­a­tions ac­knowl­edges that it “suf­fered dis­pro­por­tion­ately higher losses” than PAF dur­ing the 1965 war, but says the force showed “re­silience and de­ter­mi­na­tion” to grad­u­ally turn the ta­bles with ef­fec­tive counter-strikes till the cease­fire came into ef­fect on Septem­ber 22. Ar­jan Singh, who was IAF’s third chief, over­saw the tran­si­tion of the force from pro­pel­ler craft to a jet fleet and was given di­plo­matic as­sign­ments af­ter he re­tired at the early age of 50.

Ar­jan Singh, the orig­i­nal “air war­rior”, in­spired IAF to achieve great heights dur­ing his ser­vice. Af­ter re­tire­ment, he re­mained an awe-in­spir­ing fig­ure for the armed forces as a whole and was a highly re­spected public fig­ure. Asked by TOI what the se­cret of his life was when he turned 90, he said, “Mod­er­ate habits and a very happy fam­ily life.” And then, he added, with a mis­chievous twin­kle, “My wife Teji...she is be­ing more help­ful than usual now.” His life­long com­pan­ion Teji passed away in 2011. The In­dian de­fence forces have had only three Mar­shal­rank of­fi­cers, the high­est hon­orary rank pos­si­ble, till now.

The first, Field Mar­shal Sam Manek­shaw, re­garded as the ar­chi­tect of the swift mil­i­tary oper­a­tion to lib­er­ate Bangladesh in 1971, died in 2008 at the age of 94. Field Mar­shal K M Cari­appa, the first com­man­der in chief of the Army, died in 1993 at the age of 94. Ar­jan Singh was IAF chief from 1964 to 1969 and the first one to be promoted to the Air Chief Mar­shal rank in De­cem­ber 1965 af­ter he suc­cess­fully steered his force dur­ing the Indo-Pak war.

Com­mis­sioned into the Royal In­dian Air Force in De­cem­ber 1939, sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween Manek­shaw and Singh, in fact, are quite striking. Both won their mil­i­tary spurs dur­ing the Burma cam­paign of World War II. If Manek­shaw won a Mil­i­tary Cross, Singh was awarded a Dis­tin­guished Fly­ing Cross.

Later, con­duct­ing them­selves with rare elan, both reached the very top in their ser­vice. Singh later also served as In­dia’s en­voy to Switzer­land and Kenya in the 1970s. He was also the Lt Gov­er­nor of Delhi in 1989-90.

He was awarded the dis­tin­guished fly­ing cross by the Lord Louis Mount­bat­ten, then Supreme Al­lied Com­man­der, South East Asia, who de­scribed him as “a fear­less and ex­cep­tional pi­lot”. He has also served as In­dia’s am­bas­sador to the Vatican. In 2002, Ar­jan Singh be­came the only IAF vet­eran to be given the five-star rank.

Soon af­ter his demise, con­do­lence mes­sages poured in from all over. “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. RIP,” tweeted PM Naren­dra Modi. Pres­i­dent Ram Nath Kovind said, “Sad at the demise of a great air war­rior and Mar­shal of the Air Force Ar­jan Singh.”

“He was an ex­cep­tional per­son. He was in­spi­ra­tional. He main­tained the dig­nity of a sol­dier. His po­si­tions and the work he has done are very rare,” de­fence min­is­ter Nir­mala Sithara­man said. BJP pres­i­dent Amit Shah tweeted, “Mar­shal of IAF Ar­jan Singhji led the In­dian Air Force through his ex­em­plary lead­er­ship. His rich con­tri­bu­tion to moth­er­land is ven­er­a­ble.” Congress pres­i­dent So­nia Gandhi said Ar­jan Singh was an “out­stand­ing sol­dier and a diplo­mat who led from the front”.

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