The occasion is momentous. We are honouring a friend who played the most critical role amongst all our foreign friends in our nation’s journey to Statehood. Smt. Indira Gandhi changed the course of events in the fateful months of 1971 and, with the support she gave to our embattled people, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh was born. Today, we recognise, express our gratitude and honour Smt. Indira Gandhi. And on this occasion, I pay my deepest respect to the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the four national leaders and the three million martyrs of 1971.
One of the imperatives of the present Government has been to restore the ideals and aspirations upon which the People’s Republic of Bangladesh was founded; that is, of secularism, democracy, the rule of law, human rights, the fight against injustice, oppression and intolerance; to remember our history, culture and values, and to enable a higher quality of life for our people.
Cognisant of the fact that the history of the birth of the Republic has to be portrayed in its correct perspective for the sake of future generations, the Government took the initiative to form a National Committee for Honouring Foreign Friends who contributed towards the emergence of Bangladesh as a sovereign State. Over the past fourteen months, the Committee has compiled a list of friends, each of whom had made contributions in their unique way. The Committee consulted historic records and documents, both personal and public, and numerous sources to put together a list of our Foreign Friends who stood by us in our War of Liberation. It has been an inspiring and humbling experience. Many, who could have just let the events of 1971 go by unremembered, became involved without any thought of personal gain.
When the Committee began its work, the one person who stood above every one else was Smt. Indira Gandhi. Her role was so seminal, so singular and so comprehensive that she is in a category by herself. Her role was multi-faceted. She internalized our issues. On one hand, she recognized that Bangalees were fleeing their homeland in unending numbers. There was genocide, atrocities, rape and torture. There was no foreseeable end to the misery and exodus. She represented sanctuary. On the other hand, she knew she had to “mobilise” her own people, not all of whom lived in areas bordering Bangladesh, to come to the support of the Bangalee nation. Whilst she made resources, human and material, available in infinitesimal terms within India’s borders, she drew the attention of the world to end a problem that was not Pakistan’s internal problem, but that of the world community. She foresaw the eventuality of war. She decided to stand by our most fundamental cause — the right to self determination. In order to do that, she needed to “mobilise” the world. And so she did, in the era of the Cold War.
It is no secret that, over the years, since our independence, the nation has been deliberately misled about the basic facts and processes of our own history and of our liberation. Forty years later, it is now time to rectify these wrongs and set the records straight so that our children know the facts. The National Committee for recognizing the Foreign Friends of Bangladesh is a small part of that effort. It is a matter of great satisfaction to all members of the Committee and, indeed, the entire Government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, that the First Foreign Friend to be honoured for contributions to the Bangladesh Liberation War is Smt. Indira Gandhi.
It is a great day in our own history that we are able to recognise the unequalled role played by Smt. Indira Gandhi, to be able to convey our gratitude to Smt. Indira Gandhi and to honour Smt. Indira Gandhi. We are fortunate that we are able to do so through Smt. Sonia Gandhi who is here, not only as a family member of Smt. Indira Gandhi, but also as President of the Party she had led.
Dr Dipu Moni is foreign minister and chair of the National Committee for Honouring Foreign Friends. The article is an abridged version from the speech she delivered at the July 25 Bangabhaban ceremony to confer the Bangladesh Freedom Honour, the country’s highest for a foreign national.