Hon'ble Congress President and Chairperson UPA Smt. Sonia Gandhi
receives Bangladesh Freedom Honour on behalf of Late Prime Minister
Smt. Indira Gandhi, Dhaka, Bangladesh, 25th July 2011
• Bangladesh Press Release
• Speech of Hon'ble Congress President
Bangladesh Press Release
Indian Congress leader Sonia Gandhi receiving "Bangladesh Freedom Honour" on behalf of Indira Gandhi from President Zillur Rahman at Bangabhaban
Sonia Gandhi on Monday received "Bangladesh Freedom Honour" conferred on Indira Gandhi, her mother-in-law and assassinated former Indian premier, for her immense contributions to Bangladesh's Liberation War.
President Zillur Rahman conferred the award posthumously on Indira Gandhi at a function at the Bangabhaban. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and nearly 1,000 high profile dignitaries joined the programme.
So far Gandhi is the lone recipient of the honour though the cabinet last week also decided to acknowledge the contribution of 47 other foreign friends and five international organisations to the country's 1971 independence but they would be given the awards under two other categories.
"By her (Indira Gandhi) political wisdom and vision, she influenced the course of history and the fate of generations," President Zillur Rahman said handing over the posthumous award in the form of a crest to her daughter in law.
The crest weighing three kilograms is designed on 400-year- old terracotta of a 'Kadam tree' made of gold, which was handed over to Gandhi as Cabinet Secretary Abdul Aziz read out the citation recalling Gandhi's role in 1971.
"The honour is not hers (Indira) alone, it's India's," said Sonia Gandhi receiving the crest on behalf of her assassinated mother in law.
Indira Gandhi was India's premier in 1971 when she traveled across the world to mobilise support for Bangladesh's Liberation War against Pakistan while Bangladeshi freedom fighters also received training on Indian soil alongside small weapons to fight back the occupation forces.
Her government provided food and makeshift shelter to an estimated one crore or 10 million people who fled their home to evade atrocities by the Pakistani troops.
"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," the president said.
He said Indira Gandhi had inspired millions of Bangladeshis and Indians to fight against all oppression and injustices.
"Even after forty years, she remains as a beckon 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," the president said.
UNB adds: Describing Indira Gandhi as a true and great friend of Bangladesh, its people and Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Sheikh Hasina said: “At the call of Bangabandhu, she withdrew the Indian solders within three months of the independence of Bangladesh. That was a unique and rare gesture of Indira Gandhi.”
Recalling the eventful days of Bangladesh’s liberation war in 1971, she said Gandhi traveled the world seeking support of the world community for the independence of Bangladesh as well as saving the life of father of the nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman who had been facing capital punishment in the Pakistani jail at that time.
Besides, the Prime Minister said the Indian government had not only given shelter to nearly 10 million Bangalees driven out by the atrocities of the Pakistani occupation forces, but also provided political, military, logistic, diplomatic and moraal support to the provisional government of Bangladesh based in Kolkata.
She paid deep homage to the members of the Indian soldiers of Bangladesh-India Friendship Forces who were martyred in the war of liberation.
Hasina also paid deep respect to the three million heroic Bangalees who sacrificed their lives and two hundred thousand women who lost their chastity in the liberation war.
During the post-independence period, she said the contribution and support of India in the reconstruction of the war-ravaged Bangladesh were invaluable.
The premier expressed her personal gratitude to the Indian government and Indira Gandhi for providing shelter to her younger sister Sheikh Rehana and her family after the brutal assassination of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975 along with most of his family members.
“That was really an invaluable support of Gandhi like a guardian that was extended to us during our time of distress,” she recalled. Hasina said: “We are delighted to honor her (Indira Gandhi) with our highest award.”
The award is in the form of two gold plaques encased in a wooden frame and a citation. It has been sent to Indira Gandhi Memorial Trust so that it can be displayed in the Exhibition Area of the Museum.
Speech of Hon'ble Congress President
and Chairperson UPA Smt. Sonia Gandhi
Bangladesh Swadhinata Sammanona Award Ceremony
Dhaka, Bangladesh, 25th July 2011
Your Excellency President Mr Zillur Rehman,
Your Excellency Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,
Dr Dipu Moni, M Taj ul Islam, Mr Abdul Aziz,
Ladies and Gentlemen
There are times in our lives when we wish that someone whom we have lost could come back to life to share a precious moment. This is one such moment.
If Indira Gandhi could have been with us now, I know she would have been overwhelmed by the high honour you have bestowed on her, for there can be no honour higher than the one conferred for the freedom of an oppressed people and the birth of a great nation. I feel humbled and privileged, but also proud, to accept it on her behalf. I do so with a very full heart, conscious that the honour is not hers alone, but also India’s and, in a sense, yours as well, a tribute to all those who struggled and sacrificed for the cause of freedom and human dignity.
I am very deeply touched. Thank you.
For me, to come to Bangladesh is not just to visit another country. Memories and emotions flood my mind. If I may share with you a cherished personal memory, my husband and I were present at the airport along with Indiraji, her colleagues and the massive crowds on that historic morning of January 10, 1972 when Bongobondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was welcomed in Delhi on his way home to his newly free country. The tumultuous excitement, the sense of optimism, indeed the knowledge that history was being made - I can never forget. I pay tribute to the Father of your Nation - for his vision and leadership, his extraordinary courage and sacrifice.
Much has been written and said about Indira Gandhi. The quality she prized above all else was fearlessness. This was a quality which her father Jawaharlal Nehru and the father of our nation, Mahatma Gandhi had also inculcated and cherished. Throughout her life, courage and Indira Gandhi were synonymous : the courage of a young girl separated for long periods from her imprisoned father and enduring the loss of her beloved mother; of a young woman, facing up to police lathi blows and imprisonment; and of a leader, dealing with the many crises of her long Prime Ministership.
Never was this courage more manifest, never was it more tested, than in the months from March to December 1971 when Bangladesh was being born. In the face of threats and pressures, she held her nerve and extended a hand of friendship to your heroic struggle for freedom. Throughout that difficult time, I was struck by her inner calm even as storms raged around her. It was a calm which could only have been born out of immense courage and conviction. A free Bangladesh was your victory, but also her finest hour.
Courage and sensitivity do not always go hand in hand, yet Indira Gandhi embodied them both. Her policies reflected these qualities. She was sensitive to the plight of the poor and the imperative of combating poverty; sensitive to nature, to the environment, to wildlife; sensitive to the arts, to music, to dance, to literature, and to the quest for new knowledge; sensitive to enriching the human spirit beyond material goods and avarice; sensitive to nurturing wholeness in the human person.
Much of this came from her time in Santiniketan, one of the most formative periods of her life. It was at Santiniketan that her soul blossomed. Sitting at the feet of Gurudev Rabindra Nath Tagore, she imbibed something of his world view, the mingling of eastern and western values. If I may say so, Santiniketan also made her something of a Bengali at heart, a lover of the Bengali language, of good conversation, of the creativity, colour and liveliness of Bengal’s composite culture.
The emergence of Bangladesh, therefore, meant something much deeper to her than its geopolitical implications. She saw in it a renewal of the spirit of the Bengal she knew and loved. She would have rejoiced that you have kept that flame alive.
Our two countries have much in common, not only in terms of history and culture, but in the challenges we face and, no less important, in the values we believe in. Foremost among them is the challenge of eradicating poverty and destitution, and providing our peoples - the opportunity to lead lives of dignity and fulfilment. Indira Gandhi was clear - that this must be the true burden of politics. The progress we have each made so far, highlights how much more needs to be done, and how unremittingly we must work in this direction.
As you perhaps know, India’s rate of economic growth is now on a high track, but its benefits have yet to reach millions of our poor. Growth has, however, generated resources - which we are using in a purposeful manner - in scores of large national programmes to blunt the edge of mass poverty. Let me just mention a few. Our free mid-day meal scheme now feeds 150 million children in government run schools. All rural families - are now legally entitled to one hundred days of employment on local works in the countryside. A Food Security Bill - shortly to be introduced in Parliament will hopefully end malnutrition and hunger.
In areas critical to the quality of life, your country is ahead of us. You have achieved almost universal immunization of infants; a smaller proportion of underweight children; significantly lower infant and child mortality; more mean years of schooling; a higher level of female secondary education; and a longer life expectancy. I am particularly impressed - that you have achieved parity in male and female enrolments - at both primary and secondary levels through innovative interventions and a pluralistic approach. Women’s empowerment has clearly been a key factor in your success. Your NGOs and government have worked together most effectively for the better delivery of services.
We each have something to teach the other and must continue to do so in a spirit of mutual respect and equality. Of course, our countries will follow their own chosen paths of development, but to the extent that we are able to cooperate and learn from each other’s experiences, it will redound to the greater common good of both our peoples. That is what Indira Gandhi would have wanted and that is what I hope we will constantly endeavour to do.
Indira Gandhi rightly believed that nations are built on the strength of their determination in facing problems, no matter how immense. The people of Bangladesh and its leaders; its freedom fighters, have given ample evidence of such courage in the face of innumerable odds and difficulties. You, Madam Prime Minister, exemplify this through your inspiring and enlightened leadership. You have endured hardships, made many sacrifices and stood steadfast by your principles in the course of your long public life. Indira Gandhi who had known you in your younger years, would have been proud of you.
Mr President, Madam Prime Minister, we in India, wholeheartedly subscribe to building the closest friendship and co-operation with Bangladesh. You can be sure that as Bangladesh moves from success to success, there will be no louder cheer than that from us in India.
Once again, I thank you for the honour of conferring on Indira Gandhi - the Bangladesh Freedom Honour.
I give to you and all the people of Bangladesh my heartfelt greetings, good wishes and thanks. Joy Bangla. Joy Bangladesh-India friendship.