When Ali told Indira 'You're the Greatest'

The following is an article by journalist Ajoy Bose, published in Sunday magazine in February 1980 after Muhammad Ali visited India and met Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister

  • Published 12.06.16
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The following is an article by journalist Ajoy Bose, published in Sunday magazine in February 1980 after Muhammad Ali visited India and met Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister

The Sunday article published in February 1980

Muhammad Ali boxer spectacular, set yet another record on his first visit to India - he became the first boxer to kiss the Indian Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi. As soon as he met Mrs Gandhi, Ali jumped up, enveloped her in a bear hug and gave a loud smack on her left cheek. Blushing, an extremely flustered Mrs Gandhi yet managed to keep her cool and smiled back in acknowledgment.

Earlier at 9.50 in the morning on January 25, Muhammad Ali, his wife Veronica and the whole Ali entourage trooped into 12 Willingdon Crescent. To receive them was Sanjay Gandhi wrapped in a shawl and clad in kurta-pajama. Behind them stood Mohammed Yunus, looking extremely excited. Ali and his entourage were escorted into the living room where Rajiv, his wife Sonia and Maneka Gandhi were waiting to welcome them. Within a few minutes a beaming Mrs Gandhi emerged from an adjoining room and as soon as she appeared there was no holding back Ali.

After he kissed her the two settled down and exchanged pleasantries. Some excerpts from their dialogue.

Ali: My wife and myself have been always interested in India. We are also great fans of yours. We are really happy to have made it.

Mrs Gandhi: I hope you will enjoy your stay in India. It is a country with a lot of charm, a great tradition and even greater people. I am glad that you have come. You are very welcome. What are your plans?

Ali: I have left the boxing ring now. I spend most of my time these days trying to bring peace in the world to promote love and friendship.

Mrs Gandhi (interrupting) : This is what we in India are also trying to do.

Ali: Till now, I had a feeling that I was the greatest expert on how to win after losing. But I now find you too are as good. And I say with confidence because I have met the greatest leaders: Carter, Brezhnev, Deng Tsiaoping, you name them. But your comeback has been too spectacular - even more than mine. I have no hesitation in conceding that you are the greatest in your sphere. I only regret that in a way you have punctured my ego.

(Everybody breaks out in loud laughter and a smiling Mrs Gandhi does not reply.)

Ali: I bring you the greetings of the people of the United States and of President Jimmy Carter and his mother Mrs Lillian Carter. They asked me to convey their greetings when I come here.

Mrs Gandhi: It is very nice of them to say so. I also send them my greetings. Please convey my greetings to them when you go back.

The exchange of pleasantries between Mrs Gandhi and Ali as well as his wife continue till suddenly Ali turns serious.

Ali: I think Russia might attack you.

Mrs Gandhi: (Taken aback) I don't think so. But there is no doubt that the situation in Afghanistan is explosive and our efforts have been to see to it that it does not spread any more. We do not want it to escalate any further. And secondly we want peace in Afghanistan and we want peace in the region. Right now we want to devote all our concentration to improve our economy and for that we need peace.

Both Ali and Mrs Gandhi are in a mood to talk but Mrs Gandhi has to hurry to receive the French President Giscard d'Estaing who was arriving that morning. The meeting ended at 10.20am.

AJOY BOSE

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