Marshal of Indian Air Force Arjan Singh, who led the air operations in the 1965 war with Pakistan and was the nation's oldest serving warrior in his five star rank, died here on Saturday after suffering a massive heart attack. He was 98.
Arjan Singh, the first and the only five star rank officer with the Indian Air Force, was admitted in a critical condition on Saturday to Army Hospital (R&R) after a heart attack. The end came at 7.47 p.m.
Tributes poured in for the legendary air warrior, who was a role model and an inspiration to generations of servicemen. President Ram Nath Kovind, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and several former servicemen were among those who recalled his long and distinguished service to the nation.
Modi, Sitharaman and the three service chiefs had earlier visited the Army hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU) where he was undergoing treatment.
Appointed Chief of Air Staff on August 1, 1964, Arjan Singh, then 45, led the Indian Air Force effectively in the 1965 war with Pakistan, leading the air operations that pushed back the enemy offensive.
That was the pinnacle of the career of a pilot, who grew up in the annals of the Air Force as the first Indian chief to lead the force into a war.
He was awarded the Padma Vibhushan for his astute leadership of the Air Force during the war and was conferred the rank of Marshal of the Air Force in January 2002.
In his many firsts, one was leading the fly-past of over 100 aircraft over the Red Fort on August 15, 1947 -- on the morning of the day India got Independence.
Arjan Singh had flown over 60 different types of aircraft from pre-WW-II era biplanes to the more contemporary Gnats and Vampires besides transport aircraft like the Super Constellation and was the first Air Chief to keep flying even when heading the force.
After his retirement in 1969, he was appointed ambassador to Switzerland. He was Lt Governor of New Delhi from December 1989 to December 1990.
President Ram Nath Kovind, who is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said the late Marshal was a WW II hero and "won our nation's gratitude for his military leadership in 1965 war".
Modi, in his tributes, said India will never forget Arjan Singh's "excellent leadership" in the 1965 war.
"India mourns the unfortunate demise of Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh. We remember his outstanding service to the nation."
Modi also lauded his "determined focus on capacity building" in the IAF which "added great strength to our defence capabilities"
Sonia Gandhi described Arjan Singh as an outstanding soldier and a diplomat who led from the front.
"He will be particularly remembered for his successful operation tenure on the Burma Front during World War II. He was a jewel in the throne of our Armed Forces and his extraordinary contribution to as an Air warrior would always be a source of inspiration to us."
Sitharaman said it is very rare for any country to have a warrior of this potential and his demise was "great loss for the country".
"He was active, was present at most public functions...He never thought he was a retired soldier. He was mentally and physically all around. Generations have seen him and that was the kind of energy that he carried with him."
She said he took his achievements very lightly.
Former President Pranab Mukherjee, former Defence Minister A. K. Antony, West Bengal Chief Minister Mamta Banerjee and several Union Mministers were among those who paid tributes to Arjan Singh.
Born in Lyallpur (now Pakistan's Faislabad) on April 15, 1919, Arjan Singh hailed from a family where three generations before him had served the Army.
He was selected to the Empire Pilot training course at RAF Cranwell when he was 19. Promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader in 1944, he led the squadron against the Japanese during the Arakan Campaign and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in 1944.
Immediately after Independence, he commanded Ambala Air Force Station in the rank of Group Captain. Towards the end of the 1962 war, he was appointed as IAF's Deputy Chief and Vice Chief in 1963, before rising to head the force.
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