NEW DELHI: Marshal Arjan Singh, who led the Indian Air Force during the 1965 India-Pakistan war, died on Saturday night after a cardiac arrest. Ninety-eight-year-old Singh, the only IAF officer to be promoted to five-star rank, equal to a Field Marshal in the Army, was admitted to the Army’s Research and Referral hospital this morning, the defence ministry said.
Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and the three Service chiefs — Gen. Bipin Rawat, Admiral Sunil Lanba and Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa — visited Singh at the hospital. “Went to R&R Hospital to see Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh, who is critically ill. I also met his family members,” Modi tweeted. “We are all praying for the speedy recovery of Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh. Doctors are doing their best,” he said. An icon in the country’s military history, Singh had led a fledgling IAF in the 1965 Indo-Pak war when he was just 44 years old.
As Pakistan launched its Operation Grand Slam with an armoured thrust targeted at the vital town of Akhnoor in Jammu and Kashmir, he led the IAF with courage, determination and professional skill. The fighter pilot, who inspired the IAF despite constraints on the full-scale use of air combat power, was awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honour, in 1965. Singh was born on April 15, 1919, in Lyallpur in Punjab in undivided India. His father, grandfather and great grandfather had served in the cavalry.
Singh joined the Royal Air Force College, Cranwell, in 1938 and was commissioned as a Pilot Officer in December the following year. He led an IAF squadron into combat during the 1944 Arakan Campaign and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) that year. He was described as “a fearless and exceptional pilot”.
He was the IAF chief from August 1, 1964 to July 15, 1969. After his retirement from the air force, Singh was appointed as India’s ambassador to Switzerland in 1971 and concurrently served as ambassador to the Vatican. He was also the high commissioner to Kenya in 1974. Singh served as a member of the National Commission for Minorities and was also Lieutenant Governor of Delhi. He was made Marshal of the Air Force in January 2002.