India on Friday announced five-day state mourning for the late Nelson Mandela, who had an enduring bond with the land of Mahatma Gandhi.
As a mark of respect for the anti-apartheid icon, Parliament adjourned for the day after recalling his unique place in history. Plans are afoot for a high-level delegation, possibly led by President Pranab Mukherjee, to represent India at his funeral.
“He represented the conscience of the world. He was a beacon of hope for those struggling against oppression,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said at the HT Leadership Summit.
“A giant among men has passed away. This is as much India’s loss as South Africa’s. He was a true Gandhian,” his office tweeted.
Joining the tributes, Mukherjee said, “President Mandela was a statesman, world leader and icon of inspiration of humanity. He was a great friend of India and his contribution to strengthening the close ties between our two countries will always be remembered.”
“Today, I join millions of Indians in mourning his loss,” said Sonia Gandhi. “We feel bereft, as we have lost a beloved father. We will be forever grateful that such a one as he walked this Earth of ours.”
Congress working committee held special meetings to pay homage to Mandela, whom India honoured with the harat Ratna, its highest civilian honour, in 1990.
India’s emotional bond with South Africa and Mandela goes back a long way. The Mahatma had his political baptism in that country and India was also the first nation to sever trade ties with the apartheid regime in Pretoria back in the 1940s.
Within months of his release from jail after 27 years in 1990, Mandela chose India as his first destination abroad.
Currently, the Indian cricket team is on tour in South Africa and the host country’s cricket body has dedicated the ongoing one-day series to Mandela.