General Arunkumar Sridhar Vaidya assumed charge of the Indian Army, as the 13th Chief of Army Staff, on 31 July 1983. Born on 27 January 1926, he was commissioned into the Indian Armoured Corps in 1945 and saw battle during the Second World War. He was the seventh post-independence commander of the 9th Deccan Horse, one of the oldest armoured regiments in the Indian Army.
During the 1965 Indo-Pak War, then Lieutenant Colonel Vaidya was in command of the Deccan Horse. From September 6th to 11th, his unit fought a series of actions in Asal Uttar and Cheema, both in Punjab. He showed inspiring leadership and remarkable resourcefulness in organising his unit and fighting against heavy odds and inflicted severe casualties on the Pakistan Army’s Patton tanks. For his exceptional bravery he was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (India’s second highest medal for gallantry).
During the 1971 Indo-Pak conflict, then Brigadier Vaidya was commander of an armoured brigade in the Zafarwal sector on the western front. He moved his brigade swiftly to get to grips with the Pakistan Army and took the enemy tanks by surprise. He employed his tanks relentlessly & aggressively and helped the division to maintain constant pressure & momentum of advance against the Pakistan Army. In the battle of Chakra and Dahira, the going was difficult due to hostile terrain combined with minefields. In a cool and confident manner, he undertook the crossing through the minefield and moved forward, disregarding his own personal safety. Through his inspiring leadership, the entire squadron pushed through the lane and quickly deployed itself to meet the Pakistan Army’s counter-attacks.
During the Battle of Basantar in the Shakargarh sector, also during the 1971 Indo-Pak conflict, Brigadier Vaidya again displayed his professional skill and superb leadership. He got his tanks through one of the deepest minefields, expanded the bridgehead and repulsed a strong enemy counter-attack. In this battle, 62 Pakistan Army tanks were destroyed. Throughout, he displayed outstanding courage, great professional skill, indomitable will, foresight and imagination in fighting against the enemy in keeping with the best traditions of the Indian Army. For this he was awarded a second Maha Vir Chakra (known as the Bar to MVC).
He was elevated to various ranks and he proved his mettle in all such ranks. His tackling of the insurgency problems in his command has been particularly praiseworthy. He was awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM) in 1983 for distinguished service of the most exceptional order.
General Vaidya took over as the Chief of the Army Staff from 01 August 1983 to 31 January 1985. During his tenure as Army Chief, he planned Operation Bluestar in 1984 – a controversial military action against militant Khalistan separatists who barricaded themselves in the Sikh’s most holiest shrine – the Golden Temple in Punjab. He described the operation as the most difficult and painful decision of his career. He retired on 31 January 1986 after completing more than 40 years of service and retired to a quiet life in Pune.
Shortly before he retired, his staff had warned him of the danger to his life from Sikh militants who, in several letters that landed in South Block almost every day, threatened to assassinate him for leading Operation Bluestar. His response was straightforward and soldier like: “After seeing two wars I can’t run away from danger. If a bullet is destined to get me it will come with my name written on it.”
As predicted, he was assassinated by Khalistan separatists on 10 August 1986, in retaliation for the Indian Army’s attack on the Golden Temple. He was posthumously awarded the Padma Vibhushan – India’s second highest civilian honour – for his tireless service to the nation.
An outstanding military leader, General Vaidya gave the Indian Army a very sound leadership and brought with him an aura of gallantry, valour and remarkable reservoir of combat experience befitting the head of the army. He had the distinction of being among the most decorated soldiers in the defence services.