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Gentleman with wings

Editorial |

Few persons have more merited the accolade of “Officer and Gentleman” than Marshal of the Indian Air Force, Arjan Singh. Comparisons are never pleasant and he would have been somewhat uncomfortable with the palpable contrast between the way the government has acknowledged his contribution to the nation, and the tepid response of the government of the day when Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw passed away in 2008.

A state funeral, and flags flying at half-mast in the national capital etc have been ordered ~ there was even talk of a flypast at the cremation of the man who led the flypast over the Red Fort on 15 August 1947. Poor Sam, even the then defence minister did not proceed to Wellington (Nilgiris) when he was being laid to rest. Arjan Singh was too much of a gentleman to appreciate the comparison that lesser mortals would be prone to make ~ he would have been in severe discomfort over any suggestion that the present “honour” from the government was a bid to reach out to the armed forces’ constituency.

A great soldier has left us, it is incumbent upon all of us to bid him goodbye with due decorum and without unnecessary chest thumping. Some might seek to highlight that Arjan Singh was among those who protested to the President about the sinister inaction of the Delhi Police, and deliberate delay in calling out the Army when Sikhs were being targeted in November 1984: Those who knew the man said he did what he believed to be right ~ without any political angle.

That noble attitude has been underscored by Sonia Gandhi following the President, Prime Minister and defence minister in mourning Arjan Singh’s passing. Nobody who interacted with Arjan Singh discerned any negativity in thought or deed. Sure as a commanding officer he did occasionally take others to task, but always with a professional grace that testified to his leadership qualities. Every subsequent Chief of Staff, including those of the Army and Navy, held him in exemplary esteem. He loved his golf, but unlike a subsequent Chief (of another Service) never sported four/five stars on his golf buggy.

Propriety was his guiding star, and he and his wife Teji (their relationship could become the theme of a romantic biopic) never compromised on high standards. It would appear unbelievable in today’s ambience of “empire building”, that even when a fleet of staff cars were at Arjan’s disposal, Teji drove their children to school and back in the family Fiat.

At their Diamond Jubilee wedding anniversary celebrations they went from table to tablet o ask after their guests’ comfort. And though a leading restaurant had ceased to undertake outdoor catering, a single phone call from Teji sufficed for the proprietor to change his mind ~ “how could I decline a request from that elegant lady?”