Marshal Arjan Singh, who led the Indian Air Force (IAF) during the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict, died Saturday at the Army Research and Referral hospital in New Delhi. He had been hospitalised in critical condition after he suffered a cardiac arrest, the defence ministry said.
Born on April 15, 1919, in Lyallpur now in Pakistan to a family of soldiers, Arjan Singh joined the nascent IAF in 1938 after completing his education from the Government College at Lahore. He was commissioned from the Royal Air Force College at Cranwell in the UK in December 1939. As a Pilot Officer posted in Karachi, he participated in operations against the tribals in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).
Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh, was an Indian Air Force Officer who served as Chief of the air Staff from 1964 to 1969. In 2002, he became the first and only officer of the Indian Air Force to be promoted to five star rank as Marshal of the Indian Air Force, equal to the army rank of Field Marshal.
He was the first Indian Air Chief to be elevated to the rank of Air Chief Marshal on January 16, 1966.
Arjan Singh, an officer who shaped the IAF in its early years as well as during some of its most difficult junctures, Arjan Singh had the honour of leading the fly-past of more than a hundred IAF aircraft over the Red Fort on India’s first Independence Day, August 15, 1947.
‘A testing time came in September 1965 when Pakistan launched 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. When asked how quickly the IAF will be ready for operations,he replied with his characteristic nonchalance, in an hour. And true to his word, the Air Force struck the Pakistani offensive in an hour. He led the IAF through the war showing unparalleled leadership,’ a government release said.
After his retirement from the air force, he served as a diplomat, politician and advisor to the Indian government. Singh was appointed as India’s ambassador to Switzerland in 1971 and concurrently served as the ambassador to the Vatican. He was the high commissioner to Kenya in 1974. Singh also served as a member of the National Commission for Minorities and as the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi. He was made Marshal of the Air Force in January 2002.
The fighter aircraft base at Panagarh in West Bengal was named in his honour on his birthday last year.
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.
‘India mourns the unfortunate demise of Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh. We remember his outstanding service to the nation. Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh’s determined focus on capacity building in the IAF added great strength to our defence capabilities. India will never forget the excellent leadership of Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh in 1965, when the IAF saw substantial action,’ said Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a series of tweets.
‘Sometime back I met him, who despite his ill health tried to get up to salute even though I said no. Such was his soldier discipline. My thoughts are with his family & those mourning the demise of a distinguished air warrior & fine human, Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh. RIP,’ Narendra Modi added.
Narendra Modi said that Marshal of Indian Air Force Arjan Singh was a distinguished air warrior. The Prime Minister, who visited Arjan Singh in hospital on Saturday, mourned his death. ‘We remember his outstanding service to the nation,’ he said.
President Ram Nath Kovind, BJP president Amit Shah, Union ministers Rajnath Singh, Arun Jaitley and Ravi Shankar Prasad and Congress chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala also condoled Singh’s death.