Iconic sprinter Milkha Singh, who died late last night of COVID-19 complications, was cremated in Chandigarh on Saturday evening with full state honours.Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju, Punjab Governor and Chandigarh Union Territory Administrator VP Singh Badnore and Haryana Sports Minister Sandeep Singh were among those present at the cremation ground to bid a final adieu to the legend. His son and ace golfer Jeev Milkha Singh lit the funeral pyre.
The Punjab government, earlier in the day, announced a state holiday as a mark of respect to the Olympian. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh also announced a Milkha Singh Chair at Sports University in Patiala in memory of the great athlete.
The Chief Minister, who had gone to the Padma Shri recipient’s Chandigarh residence, recalled the declaration of a national holiday in 1960 when Milkha Singh defeated Pakistan champion Abdul Khaliq in Lahore. An emotional Amarinder Singh said that he wished “he could have also declared a national holiday today”. “But Punjab would mourn the legend with a state holiday, with flags flying at half mast,” he added.
It was after the 1960 victory that then Pakistan President General Ayub Khan had nicknamed Milkha Singh as “Flying Sikh”, he said.
Milkha Singh, who had tested positive for COVID-19 last month, died on Friday night. He was in isolation at his home before he was admitted to the Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER) hospital in Chandigarh on June 3 due to dipping oxygen levels. Even though he tested negative on Thursday, his condition deteriorated on Friday evening. The former athlete was 91.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the tributes for Mr Singh, writing that India had “lost a colossal sportsperson, who captured the nation’s imagination and had a special place in the hearts of countless Indians.”
The four-time Asian Games gold medallist had lost his wife Nirmal Kaur, a former national volleyball captain to the same ailment. Mr Singh is survived by his golfer son Jeev Milkha Singh and three daughters.