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Remembering a gentleman officer

 Editorial |  2017-09-17 15:51:38.0

Remembering a gentleman officer

India lost a gallant soldier on Saturday evening, as Marshal of the IAF Arjan Singh succumbed to a cardiac arrest at the Army's Research and Referral hospital. At 98, he breathed his last, and India lost its five-star officer. Singh is most fondly remembered for his leadership during the 1965 Indo-Pak war when he led the IAF at the age of only 44 years. As Pakistan had launched its Operation Grand Slam targeting Akhnoor in Jammu and Kashmir, Singh had led the IAF with utmost grit and professionalism. The IAF notes that Singh had displayed "resilience and determination" to gradually turn the fight in India's favour until the ceasefire came into effect on September 22. Serving as the IAF Chief from 1964-1969, Singh had been a benchmark of perfection for several young fliers, who fondly remembered him till his last day.

Not only was he a distinguished Chief of the IAF, Marshal Singh had held several important bureaucratic positions. In 1971, he served as India's Ambassador to Switzerland while also concurrently serving as the Ambassador to the Vatican. Singh was also positioned in Kenya as High Commissioner in 1974. His most poignant contribution to Indian society was at the time of the Sikh riots when Punjab was being torn by differences between Hindus and Sikhs. He was a part of a five-member team that would visit families, door to door, communicating with them to bridge the provocating gap between Hindus and Sikhs. Previously, his experience with the National Commission of Minorities had brought him close to lives of people at the margins. Singh is fondly remembered for his work in both defending India's national sovereignty while also protecting the citizens of our country from homegrown perils. The pinnacle of Singh's glory came in 2002 when he was made Marshal of the Air Force.

He was the only non-army person who was given the five-star rank. Field Marshals Sam Manekshaw and KM Cariappa were the only two other holders of the prestigious title. Born in the Punjab of pre-partitioned India, Singh's life trajectory ran parallel to India's story since Independence. Serving from British India at the time of World War II he went on to conduct the most prestigious task of leading the fly-past of over a hundred IAF aircraft over the Red Fort on August 15, 1947. Marshal Arjan Singh was also awarded the Padma Vibhushan, the second highest civilian honour in 1965. Singh now rests after a lifetime of service which has kept the tricolour swaying with pride.

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