The anti-apartheid icon shared a special bond for India and this was there for the world to see when he chose the land of Gandhi, whom he called his 'political guru' and a "role model", as his first destination abroad in 1990 after spending 27 years behind bars. (Agencies)
In fact when he was released from prison in 1990, India conferred him with the Bharat Ratna, the nation's highest civilian honour. This even before he got the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1993. Mandela was the first non-Indian recipient of Bharat Ratna.
An avowed Gandhian, Madiba, as Mandela was affectionately known around the world, always praised Gandhi for his principles of 'Satya and Ahimsa' and followed his philosophy.
"The Mahatma is an integral part of our history because it is here that he first experimented with truth; here that he demonstrated his characteristic firmness in pursuit of justice; here that he developed Satyagraha as a philosophy and a method of struggle," Mandela said at an unveiling of Gandhi Memorial in South Africa in 1993.
"Gandhi is most revered for his commitment to non-violence and the Congress Movement was strongly influenced by this Gandhian philosophy, it was a philosophy that achieved the mobilization of millions of South Africans during the 1952 defiance campaign, which established the ANC as a mass-based organization," Mandela had said in his address.
After his release in prison, where he spent years for his anti-apartheid efforts, Mandela often visited India and invited Indian dignitaries to South Africa. He will be remembered as much as an Indian leader and an inspirational figure in India.
As a strong follower of Gandhi's teachings, he was awarded the International Gandhi Peace Price in 2001 for his peacemaking efforts by the Indian government.
Whenever Mandela visited India he considered it a pilgrimage to the land of his political guru. He said that India had great leaders and great people, a place that he will always admire.
In one of his India trips, Mandela visited a rural settlement near Ahmedabad in 1995 where Gandhi developed many of his ideas on self-help and non-violence after returning from 20 years living in South Africa.
"I could never reach the standard of morality, simplicity and love for the poor set by the Mahatma," Mandela said.
"While Gandhi was a human without weaknesses, I am a man of many weaknesses."
A man who led his people to freedom in much the way Gandhi did, wrote in his early diaries from Robin Island about his inspiration for resistance that came from the Indian community that Gandhi had led in South Africa, a country often called the cradle of Satyagraha.
"The Indians influenced our struggle here and especially a man like Mahatma Gandhi. So we respect them, honour them," Mandela had said.
Through much of that protest movement, India supported Mandela and the African National Congress (ANC). In 1946, the then Prime Minister-in-waiting Jawaharlal Nehru announced that India would boycott South Africa until it abolished apartheid. It was a promise India kept, backing the ANC's demand at the UN and at all international forums.
As South Africa's first black President from 1994 to 1999, Mandela drove close relations with India and the two countries forged bonds over groupings like IBSA and BRICS as a result of that closeness described by Mandela himself some years ago.
"We can count today amongst our allies the most powerful countries in the world. We can however not forget for one moment those that stood by us when it was neither fashionable nor easy to do so. Amongst those India takes pride of place," he had said during his Presidency.
His work on apartheid closely parallels the freedom movement of Gandhi,
In a world that has constantly engaged itself into more violence as years went by, both Gandhi and Mandela opted for the path of non-violent political strategies. Mandela admitted being inspired by Gandhi as he called Gandhi a 'role model' in his life.
Both of them led their individual nation to international prominence by securing major political achievements merely with non-violence movements, unlike most of the other nations.
The anti-apartheid icon shared a special bond for India and this was there for the world to see when he chose the land of Gandhi, whom he called his 'political guru' and a "role model", as his first destination abroad in 1990 after spending 27 years behind bars.