President Pratibha Patil on Tuesday conferred the Indira Gandhi Prize for Peace, Disarmament and Development for 2009 on Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in presence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and United Progressive Alliance chairwoman Sonia Gandhi.
Both Ms. Hasina and Ms. Gandhi went down memory lane and recalled the association between the two families since the 1970s.
Departing from her prepared speech, Ms. Hasina said: “We had nowhere to go at that time [after the massacre of her family in 1975]. Our government did not allow us to return to our homeland. It was Indira Gandhi who gave us shelter. We took political asylum and stayed in Delhi for six years. She was truly like our mother.”
Ms. Gandhi said she was fortunate to be present when Indira Gandhi greeted Shiekh Mujibur Rahman as he stopped in Delhi on January 10, 1972, while returning to his homeland. “Even today, I can sense the euphoria and excitement of that historic moment Indira Gandhi’s name is, of course, inextricably linked with the birth of Bangladesh,” she added.
“Indira Gandhi derived so much inspiration from her father. You too, followed your father’s footsteps. You have been a fighter from your student days and have experienced blood and tears, suffered and lost almost your entire family,” Ms. Gandhi told Ms. Hasina.
Before the event began, Ms. Gandhi, who was on the dais with Dr. Singh, awaiting the arrival of Ms. Patil and Ms. Hasina, spotted the Bangladesh Premier’s family sitting in the middle rows. She signalled to Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni. Soon, protocol personnel located and escorted Ms. Hasina’s family members to the front row after several Union Ministers were asked to shift to the back rows.
Ms. Patil assured that India was committed to strengthening its relationship with Bangladesh. Throughout her life, she said, Ms. Hasina personified heroic struggle against autocracy and dictatorship, the struggle for establishing democracy and pluralism.
Dr. Singh said the award was not just to honour a great daughter of Bangladesh, but a distinguished world leader. “I reiterate our commitment to work together with the government and people of Bangladesh to shape a brighter future for our people and to enhance their common prosperity and development.”
He said Bangladesh’s return to democracy owes a great deal to Ms. Hasina’s courage, sacrifice and unshakeable belief in the will of the people. “As a democracy ourselves, we know that it is a form of governance which is not easy. It requires constant nurturing. It requires the capacity to manage differences and the willingness to respect them. By championing the cause of democracy and pluralism, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has given the people of Bangladesh the means to realise their true potential and strengthen peace and harmony in the country.”