NEW DELHI — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Oct. 25 visited the iconic memorial of Mahatma Gandhi here and hailed him as one of the few global leaders to have changed the world.
During his brief visit, Tillerson was given a tour of the Birla House room where Gandhi spent his last 144 days.
Dressed in a grey suit, the U.S. secretary of state later paid tribute to Gandhi at the Martyr's Column, a monument erected on the lawns of the sprawling Birla House at the spot where he was killed Jan. 30, 1948, by Nathuram Godse, when he was on a stroll.
Birla House was converted into a memorial after his assassination. A museum, an art gallery, a library and bookstore are housed in its well-kept white bungalow.
A statue of Mahatma sculpted by noted artist Ram Sutar welcomes visitors near the main entrance of the premises, which includes a manicured lawn at the back and a large world peace gong in the front of the building.
Dipanker Shri Gyan, director of the memorial, accompanied Tillerson during his visit.
"The U.S. secretary of state spent about 10 minutes at the memorial. He first visited the room in which Gandhiji had stayed before his assassination and was struck by its aura," he said.
"His immediate reaction after seeing the room was – 'Such a simple man.' Gandhiji's life, indeed was simple and inspiring, two rare qualities," Gyan told PTI.
While walking to the Martyr's Column, Tillerson stopped mid-way to enquire about the stone-made footsteps, which were covered with rose petals.
"He asked me about the footsteps, and I told him they symbolized the last steps taken by the Mahatma before he was shot dead. Tillerson then remarked – 'Gandhi was one of the ten global leaders who changed the world.' He then paid homage to him at the Martyr's Column," Gyan said.
The U.S. secretary of state also circumambulated the column as a mark of respect.
Charge d'Affaires at the U.S. Embassy MaryKay Carlson and various other senior officials of the American mission were also present at the memorial.
Tillerson was to visit the Gandhi memorial around 11:00 a.m.
His visit was, however, delayed a bit owing to his busy schedule, and he finally arrived around 11:20 a.m..
A senior official at the Embassy initially told the press there that "The U.S. secretary of state would not be able to make it, as he has another meeting to attend."
However, within minutes, the official communicated to the journalists and cameramen, from both domestic and foreign media houses, that he was coming.
The list of visitors to the memorial located on Tees January Marg, includes the who's who of the world.
Duke and Duchess of Cambridge Prince William and Kate Middleton visited in April last year.
The royal couple spent about 45 minutes there. They also saw the exhibits and came to know that Gandhi had learned to wear a tie and play violin during his stay in London as a student.
Lord Mountbatten, the last viceroy of India, was related to the British royal family. Gandhi and Mountbatten were known to have shared bonhomie and the last viceroy even attended his funeral.
Gandhi stayed at Birla House several times between 1939-1948, according to a plaque installed on one of the memorial’s walls.