Former Indian prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was yesterday conferred the Bangladesh Liberation War Honour for his active role in the country's struggle for independence in 1971.
Visiting Indian PM Narendra Modi received the award from President Abdul Hamid on Vajpayee's behalf at a ceremony held at Bangabhaban in the capital.
Addressing the programme, Modi said, “The entire life of Atal Bihari Vajpayee was for the country and general people. Today, Bangladesh is honouring Vajpayee, a great leader, for his contribution to Bangladesh Liberation War.”
He expressed gratitude to Bangladesh for conferring the honour on Vajpayee saying, “During the Liberation War when freedom fighters were shedding blood, Indian citizens were also fighting side by side with them.
“Thus, they helped realise the dream of Bangladesh. Even though he (Vajpayee) was in the opposition, he was able to give India direction in this regard.”
Modi also said he was delighted to see Vajpayee was being honoured by the President of Bangladesh, an illustrious freedom fighter, and in the presence of Bangabandhu's daughter Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
Quoting a paragraph of Vajpayee's speech delivered at the Indian Parliament on December 6, 1971, the Indian PM said, “We've taken steps in the right direction. The process of changing history is unfolding before our eyes.
“The friendship between India and Bangladesh was like a bond which would not break under any pressure, and would never be the victim of any diplomacy.”
The visiting PM said it would have been wonderful if Shri Vajpayee had been present to receive this honour himself. He expressed hope that Vajpayee would soon become well and guide everyone once again.
Modi also said though he had entered politics quite late, he had been one of the many youth activists who had come to Delhi in response to Shri Vajpayee's call for Satyagraha for the liberation of Bangladesh in 1971.
Cabinet Secretary M Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan read out the citation of the award.
In his speech, President Abdul Hamid said, “We all know what Shri Vajpayee did for Bangladesh when we were fighting our Liberation War at the call of our Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.
“Despite being in the opposition, he had the political pragmatism to lend his strong support to the government of Shrimati Indira Gandhi for the cause of Bangladesh.”
“Awarding Shri Vajpayee with Bangladesh Liberation War Honour is just a humble expression of our gratitude and appreciation,” the President added.
Hamid also said, “On this solemn occasion, with great pleasure, I would like to announce that we have decided to honour each Indian soldier who had made supreme sacrifice in our Liberation War in 1971. This is a humble and token expression of our gratefulness.”
Speaking on the occasion, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said, “In 1971 when the entire Bangladesh, under the leadership of Bangabandhu, waged the Liberation War against the occupation forces, we were fortunate to have India beside us. The whole of Indian nation stood by their brothers and sisters across the border.”
She went on saying, “As a politician, Shri Vajpayee's unstinting support for Bangladesh played an important role in mobilising support for our cause in the Indian political arena. The programmes and activities he had undertaken at that time were instrumental in this regard.”
“His love for Bangladesh continued which was demonstrated during his tenure as the external affairs minister and later as the prime minister of India,” Hasina added.
Bangladesh has introduced the award in various categories to recognise the contributions of foreign friends during the Liberation War, and has so far awarded several hundred foreigners.
Former Indian PM Indira Gandhi was posthumously awarded on July 25, 2012, while President Pranab Mukherjee on March 5, 2013.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee became prime minister for the first time for 13 days in 1996 and then again for the second term from 1998 to 2004.