New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) Thursday observed the second death anniversary of Air Chief Marshal (ACM) Idris Hassan Latif, the man who chose India over Pakistan and went on to become the 10th chief of the IAF.
A highly-respected officer in the military circles, Latif was the pilot who led India’s first fly-past over New Delhi after India turned republic on 26 January 1950.
A World War II veteran, he also went on to become the governor of a state and a diplomat after retirement.
He even played a key role in the procurement of the Jaguar strike aircraft, still in use with the IAF, and the fleet of the now-retired MiG-23 and MiG-25.
‘He was very clear that his future lay with India’
Born on 9 June 1923 in Hyderabad in the erstwhile Deccan, Latif joined the Royal Indian Air Force in 1941 at the age of 18 and was commissioned in 1942.
During 1943-44, the officer was one of the few Indian pilots to be seconded to the Royal Air Force in the United Kingdom where he underwent training with modern aircraft like the Hurricane and Spitfire.
On his return to India in 1944, the young officer took part in the Burma campaign, flying the Hawker Hurricane for Number 3 Squadron.
Though later posted to Madras, Latif joined the Number 9 Squadron in Burma, again flying the Hawker Hurricane.
He was good friends with his Commanding Officer Squadron Leader Asghar Khan and another flamboyant pilot, Flight Lieutenant Noor Khan.
Both the Khans later went on to become chiefs of the Pakistan Air Force.
“When Partition bought with it the division of the armed forces, Latif as a Muslim officer was faced with the choice of joining both India or Pakistan, but there was no making up of minds for him,” the IAF wrote in his official profile.
“He was very clear that his future lay with India. Even though both Asghar as well as Noor Khan called him up to persuade Latif to join them in the fledgling Pakistan Air Force, Latif made it clear that for him, religion and country were not interlinked. It was no surprise that Latif made his way to become the first Muslim chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force,” it added.
Awarded Param Vishisht Seva Medal in 1971
In 1961, Latif was sent as the Air Attache to the United States and he returned in 1965 just before the India-Pakistan war broke out.
Latif eventually moved to the Air headquarters as the Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Plans), a newly created post, in the rank of Air Vice Marshal in-charge of modernisation plans.
He was awarded with the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM) in 1971 for his work as the ACAS (Plans).
During the 1971 war, Latif was still the ACAS (Plans) and was involved with the monitoring of the air assets and their best utilisation.
He later became the vice chief of Air Staff, a post he held until 1978, when he took over as chief of Air Staff.
“As the first Muslim chief of Air Staff of the IAF, Latif was involved fully in the re-equipment and modernisation plans of the air force. He convinced the government to approve the procurement of the Jaguar strike aircraft, a proposal which was lying dormant for over 8 years,” according to Latif’s official profile.
As the IAF chief, he also held negotiations with the Russians, and inducted MiG-23 and later, the MiG-25 aircraft into the IAF.
After his retirement in 1981, Latif held posts of the governor of Maharashtra and Indian ambassador to France.