She will attend conference on autism, receive first Bangladesh Freedom Honour for Indira Gandhi today
Sonia Gandhi was given a red carpet welcome last night on her first-ever visit to Bangladesh to attend a conference on autism.
She will receive the posthumous award to be given by Bangladesh to Indira Gandhi for her contributions to the 1971 Liberation War.
A special aircraft of Indian Air Force carrying Sonia, president of India’s ruling Congress Party, landed at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport amid tight security.
She was greeted by Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam, Health Minister Ruhal Haque, PM’s Health Adviser Syed Modasser Ali, State Minister for Liberation War Affairs Tajul Islam, Sheikh Hasina’s daughter and an organiser of the conference Saima Wazed Hossain and BSMMU Vice Chancellor Pran Gopal Datta.
Sonia is in Dhaka at Sheikh Hasina’s invitation to attend a conference on “Autism Spectrum Disorder and Developmental Disabilities in Bangladesh and South Asia” as the chief guest. She is expected to meet the foreign minister and call on the prime minister and the president during her 24-hour stay.
She will also attend a special ceremony at Bangabhaban where President Zillur Rahman will confer “Bangladesh Freedom Honour” posthumously to former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi. Sonia will receive the award, the highest Bangladesh honour for any foreign national, on behalf of her assassinated mother-in-law.
The award includes a 200 tola gold medal and a three-page citation that reads “Mrs Indira Gandhi stood by the side of the people of Bangladesh from the beginning of the Liberation War despite various adversities.
She provided shelter to about one crore Bangladeshi refugees. She provided courage in the Liberation War by facing different diplomatic hurdles. She played a great role in freeing Bangabandhu from Pakistani jail. Her contribution to Bangladesh’s Liberation War will be remembered forever.”
Noted artists Qayyum Chowdhury and Hashem Khan designed the medal symbolising fraternity, peace and achievement.
The award’s teak frame contains two plates on both sides of a folded box where the medal is kept. Fifty-year-old teak, preserved by the Department of Forest, was used for the frame.
The plate on the left side contains the name of Sreemati Indira Gandhi, statesman and former prime minister of India, inscribed in gold in Bangla and English while the plate on the right has the signatures of Bangladesh President Zillur Rahman and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina.
The plate on the left mentions that the award was conferred as the highest token of respect and gratitude of Bangalee nation for Indira Gandhi’s immense contribution to Bangladesh’s War of Independence.
Sonia visits Bangladesh ahead of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s trip to Dhaka scheduled for September.
Diplomatic sources termed Sonia’s visit a “wonderful idea” that will strengthen the ties between India and Bangladesh. India has a special relationship with Bangladesh, and particularly the Nehru-Gandhi family had been very close to Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and is also close to Sheikh Hasina.
Sonia will speak at the conference on autism alongside Sri Lanka’s First Lady Shiranthi Rajapaksa and Maldives vice-president’s wife Ilham Hussain. Fehmida Mirza, speaker of the National Assembly of Pakistan, was due to attend the conference, but could not come for pre-occupation at home.
-With The Daily Star input