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Bangladesh confers highest honour to Indira Gandhi

Last updated on: July 25, 2011 21:40 IST

Former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was on Monday honoured posthumously with Bangladesh's highest state award for her outstanding contribution to the country's 1971 'Liberation War'.

Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, the daughter-in-law of the assassinated prime minister, received the 'Bangladesh Swadhinata Sanmanona' from President Zillur Rahman at a grand ceremony attended by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and nearly 1,000 top dignitaries.

"By her (Indira Gandhi) political wisdom and vision, she influenced the course of history and the fate of generations," Rahman said while handing over the posthumous award.

"I recall with highest gratitude her strong support for the independence of Bangladesh... by honouring Srimati Indira Gandhi for her noble contribution for our freedom, we honour ourselves and revisit the epic of our war of liberation," he said.

The crest weighing three kilograms is designed on 400-year-old terracotta of a Kadam tree made of gold.

Sonia, who arrived in Dhaka on Sunday on a 24-hour visit, said the award bestowed on the former Indian premier was an honour for India too.

"The honour is not hers (Indira Gandhi) alone, it's India's," Sonia said while receiving the award.

Sonia ended her brief statement on the occasion with: "Joy Bangla", the slogan during the historic 1971 independence struggle.

President Rahman said Indira Gandhi had inspired millions of Bangladeshis and Indians to fight against oppression and injustices.

"Even after forty years, she remains as a beacon of hope and strength to all of us who aspire to make Bangladesh a true Sonar Bangla, dreamt by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman," he said.

So far, the former Indian premier is the lone recipient of the honour.

The cabinet last week also decided to acknowledge the contribution of 47 other "foreign friends" and five international organisations, which would be honoured in December.

The government also plans to rechristen an important road in the memory of the assassinated Indian prime minister.

A separate monument would also be built to honour Indian defence personnel martyred in the 1971 war.

India had to face a huge refugee crisis as an estimated one crore people fled their homes to evade atrocities by the Pakistani troops.

On March 26, 1971, Bangladesh -- then East Pakistan -- declared its independence from West Pakistan. The Pakistan Army surrendered to the allied forces of the Indian army and the Mukti Bahini on 16 December 1971, which resulted in Bangladesh becoming an independent nation.

Ahead of the grand ceremony, Sonia had a 25-minute meeting with the President Rahman where Prime Minister Hasina joined them.

Later, they walked through the hallway of the presidential palace which was decorated with rare pictures of Indira Gandhi with Sheikh Mujib when she visited Bangladesh in 1972, months after its independence.

The three were then ceremonially escorted to the Darbar Hall of the presidential palace for the award ceremony.

The dignitaries witnessed a video documentary with rare footages of Sheikh Mujib and Indira Gandhi, at the end of which Sonia was handed over the award.

Anisur Rahman In Dhaka
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