Dhaka, Jun 7: Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was on Sunday conferred Award of Bangladesh Liberation War Honour for his "active role" in the country's independence struggle and consolidating India's friendship with the nation.
Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid handed over the award to Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a glittering ceremony at Bangabhaban, the President's house, which was attended by Premier Sheikh Hasina and top officials of her government.
"This day is a matter of great pride for all Indians that a great leader like Atal Bihari Vajpayee is being honoured. He dedicated his entire life to the service of the country and he fought for the rights of the common man and from a political point of view he was our inspiration for political workers like myself," Modi said after receiving the award.
Modi said that when muktijodhas (freedom fighters) of Bangladesh were shedding blood, Indians too were fighting side-by-side with them and in a way helped realise the dream of Bangladesh.
He said he was one of the young volunteers who came to Delhi to participate in a Satyagraha launched by Jana Sangh to support Bangladeshi freedom fighters in 1971.
He also recalled Vajpayee's speech in Parliament on December 6, 1971 in which he had asked government to recognise Bangladesh as a nation.
"If Atalji's health permitted and he was present here, this occasion would be very different," Modi said.
The citation of the Award hailed Vajpayee as a "highly respected political leader" and recognised his "active role" in support of the liberation war of Bangladesh.
It said that as President of Bharatiya Jana Sangh and a member of the Lok Sabha Vajpayee took various steps towards that end.
"In an editorial column of the 'Organiser' Vajpayee welcomed Bangabandu Sheikh Mujibur Rehman's historic declaration of Bangladesh's independence and called upon the government of India to recognise the government of Bangladesh and provide necessary assistance to the freedom fighters," the citation said.
It also recognised Jana Sangh's role in pressing the demand for Indian government's "expedited support" to the liberation war.
"Jana Sangh held a Jana Satyagraha during 1-11 August and their volunteers organised a huge rally in front of the Indian Parliament House on 12 August 1971," the citation said.
It mentioned Vajpayee's "firm stand at National and international levels for the cause of Bangladesh and its striving people".
"The people of Bangladesh would always remember the significant contributions made by Atal Bihari Vajpayee towards supporting the cause of Bangladesh's liberation war and consolidating friendship between Bangladesh and India," it added.
In her speech at the award ceremony, Prime Minister Hasina said Vajpayee's activities had a "significant contribution" in the struggle for liberation of Bangladesh.
She took the opportunity to describe Modi as "Vajpayee's able successor and a great friend of Bangladesh as Vajpayee."
A Bharat Ratna Awardee, 90-year-old Vajpayee could not be present at the ceremony due to poor health.
Hasina also acknowledged India's assistance in Bangladesh's freedom struggle and recalled that "Indians had given shelter to people of Bangladesh" at that time.