RIP Arjan Singh: The spirit of IAF’s 1965 war hero and its only Marshal lives on
Arjan Singh is the first and only officer to have been elevated to Marshal of the Indian Air Force. He died on Saturday. He led the IAF during the 1965 India-Pakistan conflict.opinion Updated: Sep 17, 2017 21:30 IST
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 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 5 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 08 October was graced by the sight of a ninety years 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-odd 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!
(The writer is a former Air Vice-Marshal)