India mourns first & only five-star officer of IAF
New Delhi: Condolence messages poured in from all over, including the government and top political leaders, after marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh passed away here on Saturday.
“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 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 is very rare,” said defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
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 described Arjan Singh as an “outstanding soldier and a diplomat who led from the front”.
Singh, the original “air warrior”, inspired the 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.
The IAF’s history of its operations acknowledges it “suffered disproportionately higher losses” than the Pakistan air force in 1965. But the force, under Singh, showed “resilience and determination” to gradually turn the tables with effective counterstrikes till the ceasefire came into effect on September 22.
Singh oversaw the transition of the IAF from propeller craft to a jet fleet, and was given diplomatic assignments after he retired at the early age of 50 years.
The Indian armed forces have had only three Marshal- rank 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, in December 1965, became the first one to be promoted to the rank of Air Chief Marshal 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 strik-
longest tenure as the AOC of Operational Command,
ing. 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 was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by Louis Mountbatten, then supreme Allied commander, Southeast Asia, who described him as “a fearless and exceptional pilot”.
In 1971, he became India’s ambassador to Switzerland, and then the high commissioner in Kenya in 1974. He has also served as India’s ambassador to the Vatican.
Later on, he returned to India and served as the lieutenant-governor of Delhi in 1989-90. In 2002, Arjan Singh became the only IAF veteran to be given the five-star rank.