The day Milkha Singh became ‘Flying Sikh’! Real story of Pandit Nehru’s request and stunning race in Pakistan

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(Credit: The Indian Express)

Much has been written about ‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh’s memorable Pakistan trip in the year 1960 when he defeated Pakistani ace athlete Abdul Khaliq on his home turf but not many are aware of the back-story to the runoff of the event. After defeating Khaliq in the Asian Games, Milkha Singh was invited by Pakistan to participate in a race with Khaliq along with other notable athletes from the two countries. While the eventual victory of Milkha Singh against Khaliq remains etched in the collective memory of the country, there are other noteworthy events including then PM Nehru convincing the athlete to participate in the race event. In an exclusive interview to the Indian Express, Singh recollected the invitation he had received from Pakistan and how he had initially refused to participate in the race owing to his tragic past during the partition. Singh said that he could never forget the night his parents had been killed in communal violence in Pakistan and outrightly refused to go to the Pakistan race event.

However, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru called Milkha Singh to his residence and convinced the athlete to go to Pakistan. Recalling the incident, Singh said that he could not refuse Pandit Nehru and left for Pakistan the next day. True to the India-Pakistan sports rivalry, when Singh entered into Pakistan from the Wagah border, he was welcomed profusely in an open jeep decorated with flowers and banners that mentioned “Milkha Singh aur Abdul Khaliq ki takkar,India-Pakistan ki takkar.” Milkha Singh recalled that he soon realised that the Pakistanis wanted to see if he was better than their ace athlete Abdul Khaliq.

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The stadium on the next day was packed with more than 7,000 people with then Pakistan President General Ayub Khan present in the stands. The heart of Indian contingent pounded when Khaliq took the initial lead but 50 metre to the finish line, Singh caught up and defeated Khaliq with a margin. The defeat of their ace athlete for the second time in a row at the hands of Milkha Singh left the stadium in mourning and General Khan remarked that Singh did not run that day, he flew. If I am called Flying Sikh, then the credit goes to Pakistan, Singh had remarked in the interview.

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