"Mahatma Gandhi was a champion of peace, a defender of human rights, and an advocate for the empowerment of the poor," Ban said in the message Monday on India's 66th Republic Day, adding: "These are the same values embodied in the United Nations Charter."

As the UN sets its agenda in its 70th year "to shape a new future" by adopting a fresh set of sustainable development goals and forging a new climate change agreement, "India is critical to success across this ambitious agenda", he said. "That is why I began this crucial year with a visit to India just two weeks ago."

"At the vibrant Gujarat Summit," he said, "I saw India's vision to lead on development. India's Republic Day is a chance to reflect on how a strong India-UN partnership can build a better future," he said noting that 2015 marked milestones for both India - 66th anniversary of its Constitution - and for the UN - the 70th anniversary of its founding He thanked India for its "many contributions - to peacekeeping, democracy, development and more".

Ban's message was read out by his special adviser on Myanmar, Vijay Nambiar, at a Republic Day Reception hosted by India's Permanent Mission as New York City battened down for a severe blizzard. It is rare for the Secretary General to issue a personal message for a country's national day.

Mentioning his recent visit to Mahatma Gandhi's Sabarmati Ashram, Ban said, "I also reflected on our collective responsibility to carry on his legacy."He noted that the values Gandhi stood for are shared by the UN, and said.

"It is no wonder that I feel so at home in India."Striking a personal note, he added, "Of course India used to be my home many years ago when I was posted there. I still remember my phone number from my old house. I even went during my recent trip to see my late landlord's widow in C Block, Vasant Vihar. I brought back wonderful memories."

Ban's first foreign posting in South Korea's diplomatic service was in New Delhi. His son, Woo-hyun, was born in India and his daughter, Hyun Hee, is married to an Indian, Siddharth Chatterjee.

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