CHANDIGRAH: Legendary Indian sprinter Milkha Singh was on Saturday cremated with full state honours here, marking the end of an era in which his pioneering accomplishments on the track galvanised a newly-independent India. Milkha, who was 91, was bid a tearful adieu in the presence of his family members and several dignitaries, including sports minister Kiren Rijiju.
‘The Flying Sikh’, as he was fondly called, died on Friday night due to COVID-19 related complications. His son and ace golfer Jeev Milkha Singh lit the funeral pyre. The 91-year-old sprinter died at a hospital in Chandigarh after a month-long battle with COVID-19, during which he lost his wife and former national volleyball captain Nirmal Kaur to the same ailment. He had contracted COVID-19 last month and his 85-year-old wife Nirmal Kaur, who had also been infected by the virus, passed away at a private hospital in Mohali on Sunday. Nirmal Kaur was a former national women’s volleyball team captain.
Milkha was admitted to PGIMER on June 3 after his oxygen levels dipped at home following treatment at the Fortis hospital in Mohali for a week. The legendary athlete is a four-time Asian Games gold medallist and 1958 Commonwealth Games champion but his greatest performance remains the fourth-place finish in the 400m final of the 1960 Rome Olympics. He also represented India in the 1956 and 1964 Olympics and was bestowed the Padma Shri in 1959.
Punjab Governor V P Singh Badnore, Punjab Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal, Haryana’s Sports Minister Sandeep Singh were among the other dignitaries who attended the last rites. Prof Jagat Ram, Director of PGIMER where Milkha was admitted, was also present. A police contingent reversed arms and sounded the last post in the sprinter’s honour. Milkha was also given a gun salute.
The Punjab government had declared a one-day state mourning and a holiday as a mark of respect to the legend. Earlier, a wreath was also laid on behalf of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Wreaths were also laid on behalf of the Army. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh had earlier in the day said the Punjab government will accord state funeral to Milkha Singh.
His body was carried in a bedecked vehicle, with common people turning up along the short route to the Sector 25 cremation ground to pay their last respects to the legend. Interacting with reporters after the cremation, Rijiju spoke about Milkha’s last wish was to see India win an Olympic gold in athletics. “Today, Milkha ji is not among us, but we will fulfil his wish. He has given a big message,” he said.
When asked if any award would be instituted in his name, Rijiju said these things will be discussed with family at an appropriate time and whatever needs to be done by the Sports Ministry in this regard will be done. “We have told the family that right from the Prime Minister to Governor Sahab, who is present here, we are with them in their hour of grief. Entire nation is with them,” he said. He said he was also carrying the message of Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the family.
(Bureau Report with Agency Inputs).