Editorial: Royal salute

Chennai: It is a fitting honour that Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who downed an enemy jet in an aerial combat with Pakistan in February and was held captive for three days, has been conferred the Vir Chakra, India’s third-highest war time gallantry medal, on the eve of Independence Day celebrations.

While this is a moment of pride for every Indian, it is doubly so for the people of Tamilnadu, for Abhinandan hails from this part of the country.

At least five IAF pilots who were part of the mission to strike a Jaish-e-Mohammad camp inside Pakistan, and Minty Agarwal, a lady officer who played a key role as flight controller during the Pakistani retaliation, were also among the military awardees.

The Defence Ministry announced the military awards on the eve of Independence Day celebrations this year. From the Army, Sapper Prakash Jadhav of the Rashtriya Rifles will be posthumously awarded Kirti Chakra, the second highest peacetime gallantry award.

Agarwal, who played a key role as a ground staff during the dog-fight between India and Pakistan on 27 February, has been awarded Yudh Seva medal. The IAF received a total of 13 awards including five Yudh Seva medals and seven Vayu Sena mesdal.

rThe Vayu Sena medal winners are Group Captain Saumitra Tamaskar, Wing Commander Pranav Raj, Wing Commander Amit Ranjan, Sq Ldr Rahul Basoya, Sq Ldr Pankaj Arvind Bhujade, Sq Ldr B Karthik Narayan Reddy, Sq Ldr Shashank Singh.

Besides Agarwal, the Yudh Seva medal winners are Air Commodore Sunil Kashinath Vidhate, Group Captain Yeshpal Singh Negi, Goup Captain Hemant Kumar, Group Captain Hansel Joseph Seqeira. The Army also got eight Shaurya Chakra awards and 98 Sena medals.

The Navy got one Shaurya Chakra award. “We are very happy that Wing Comm Varthaman has been conferred with Vir Chakra,” said an IAF official. Abhinandan, 36, was captured by the Pakistani Army on 27 February after his MiG-21 Bison jet was shot down in a dogfight with Pakistani jets during aerial combat. Before his jet was hit, he downed an F-16 fighter of Pakistan. Abhinandan was released on the night of 1 March by Pakistan. Abhinandan had suffered injuries while ejecting from his MiG-21 Bison during the aerial combat.

A high-level medical board of the Indian Air Force has already cleared Abhinandan to return to the fighter cockpit. Now with the medal adding to his glory, we can expect more Abhinandans from various parts of the country, especially Tamilnadu.

NT Bureau