IAF Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who shot down Pakistani F-16, gets Vir Chakra
Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman has been awarded the Vir Chakra for his role in thwarting a Pakistani offensive a day after the Balakot strikes in February 2019. Vir Chakra is the third highest gallantry award in the military after the Param Vir Chakra and the Mahavir Chakra.
Apart from Varthaman, 15 Army personnel, including Sapper Prakash Jhadav who got Kirti Chakra, have received gallantry awards (posthumous).
Top defence sources said the government has accepted the recommendation of the IAF for the award to Varthaman for his actions over the Nowshera sector, including shooting down an F-16 fighter aircraft of Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
In the past, during wars, pilots who shot down enemy fighters, were all awarded Vir Chakra medals.
Varthaman received praise within the military for not just shooting down a PAF fighter, but also because of “his demeanor in the custody of the Pakistan army and how he behaved despite the torture that was inflicted on him is a matter of pride for the entire Indian military,” a top official said.
Varthaman was captured on 27 February by Pakistan following a dogfight between the two countries’ air forces in which his MIG-21 was shot down. Since his radio was jammed, he could not hear the Control Room asking him to turn back. He flew across the Line of Control, locked on to an enemy aircraft and shot it down using an air-to-air missile R 73 on his ageing MiG-21 Bison.
Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan announced a day later on 28 February that they would release him — seen as a major step towards defusing a near-war situation triggered by India’s retaliation over Pakistan’s continued support to terrorism.
Not yet given medical clearance to fly
Contrary to reports in the media, Wing Commander Varthaman has not been given medical clearance to fly again. Top sources said the officer, who is now posted to a different station in Rajasthan after being moved out of Srinagar due to security concerns, is still to get the clearance to fly again.
He had suffered injuries to his spine after landing following a successful ejection. He also suffered a crack in the ribs, which the IAF believes happened when an ISI officer punched him in custody.
TEJASWINI PAGADALA is an independent communications consultant. She has previously worked with the Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister’s Office as the Communications Officer where she has written English speeches for the CM, managed English media communication from the CMO and handled social media accounts of Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister and the Government.