When Barack Obama paid tribute at the Gandhi Samadhi at Rajghat on Monday morning, for a moment, he ceased to be the president of the United States (read: the most powerful person in the world).
Instead, Obama stood before the memorial to the ‘half-naked fakir’ (so called by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill) as just another admirer.
As Obama later told the Parliament, “We were humbled to pay our respects at Rajghat. And I am mindful that I
might not be standing before you today as the President of the United States, had it not been for Gandhi and the message he shared with America and the world.”
Admittedly a Mahatma Gandhi fan and someone who was deeply inspired by Gandhi's message of peace, love and tolerance, Obama, accompanied by wife Michelle, spent Monday morning at Gandhi Samadhi.
When the US first couple reached Rajghat, they took off their footwear before walking towards the Samadhi, according to Rajnish Kumar, secretary of the Rajghat Samiti Committee.
After offering floral tributes at the Samadhi, they spent a minute in silence.
“Simple and very beautiful,” Obama said as Michelle nodded and said, “Very beautiful.”
Obama then went to pen down his thoughts in the Visitor’s Book.
Usually, VIP guests at Rajghat are gifted a bust of Gandhiji, some books and a khadi scroll with ‘Seven Social Sins’ (which Gandhiji had first mentioned in Young India in 1925).
However, as Kumar revealed, “In addition to these, we gave the US President a wooden charkha.”
The books gifted to the Obama couple were Gandhi’s autobiography My Experiments With Truth, The Mind of Mahatma Gandhi and Mahatma Gandhi in 100 years.
In return, Obama gifted Martin Luther King Junior’s memorabilia to Rajghat.
A piece of white stone from King Junior’s memorial at Washington DC, it is set on a small black base and has the Presidential seal and Obama’s signature embossed on it.
Later in the evening, during his address to the Parliament, Obama extensively quoted Gandhi — whom he had hailed as ‘a hero not just to India but to the world’ at Mumbai — and spoke about the latter’s lasting influence on his life.