Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman — who was captured by Pakistan in 2019 after his MiG 21 Bison aircraft was shot down by a Pakistan Air Force (PAF) jet and later returned to India — was awarded India’s third-highest gallantry medal on Monday, local media reported.
According to The Indian Express, Abhinandan received the Vir Chakra — the third-highest wartime gallantry award after Param Vir Chakra and Maha Chakra — from Indian President, Ram Nath Kovind at an investiture ceremony in the capital. Prime Minister, Narendra Modi and Defence Minister, Rajnath Singh were also present at the ceremony.
According to the report, Abhinandan, who was recently promoted from wing commander to group captain, was awarded the medal for “showing conspicuous courage” while shooting down a Pakistani F-16 aircraft in February 2019 — a claim that has been rubbished by the Pakistan military, independent observers as well as the international media.
According to the report by The Indian Express, the citation for the award stated: “Wing Commander Abhinandan showed conspicuous courage, demonstrated gallantry in the face of the enemy while disregarding personal safety and displayed exceptional sense of duty.”
In addition, Abhinandan’s unit — 51 Squadron — also received an award citation, according to India Today.
“Fantastic,” wrote Focal Person to the Prime Minister on Digital Media Arslan Khalid. “Actually, I feel for Abhinandan. Just because of @narendramodi and Indian media denial of the defeat and embarrassment they had [back] then, poor Abhinandan is reminded of the episode every second month.”
Reacting to the reports, PPP Vice President Sherry Rehman tweeted: “Is this for real? Award for drinking tea in Pakistani custody? #paralleluniverse”.