Close on the heels of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj’s “successful” visit to Dhaka, Bangladesh is considering presenting the ‘friends of Bangladesh liberation war award’ to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.
So far, about 300 Indians have been honoured by the Bangladesh government in the past three years for their contribution to the liberation war. All of them had travelled to Bangladesh personally or sent their family members to receive the award in Dhaka. However, Vajpayee is likely to be honoured in New Delhi.
“Vajpayee is one of those Indian friends of Bangladesh who are not keeping well, and cannot come to receive the award in Dhaka. So, the proposal is to present it when Bangladesh prime minister or foreign minister travels to the country,” said Shahriar Kabir, member of the Bangladesh government’s national-level committee on bestowing the honour to “foreign friends”.
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“We are going to take a decision on this proposal in the next meeting of the committee,” said Kabir.
According to the Bangladesh government, Vajpayee, who was then an MP from Jan Sangh, had been vocal in lending support to the liberation war in the 1970s and had also campaigned for the recognition of Bangladesh as a separate country. He is the only BJP leader in the list of Indians named for the honour.
Bangladesh government sources said the High Commission in New Delhi had approached Vajpayee’s office twice and extended an invitation for the award, but they were told he cannot travel due to his health.
If this proposal is approved, singer Lata Mangeshkar would also be presented the award by a Bangladesh leader during their visit. She, according to Kabir, contributed Rs 1 lakh in cash and royalties from her songs in the 1970s on hearing about the plight of Bangladesh refugees. She, too, said she cannot travel because of health reasons.
In the past, Indira Gandhi’s award has been received by Sonia Gandhi, while former PM I K Gujral, former defence minister Jagjivan Ram and former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed were represented by family members.
The change in thinking, sources said, is a result of Pandit Ravi Shankar’s death. The sitar maestro was to be honoured with the award in 2011 onwards, but could not travel because he was unwell. The Bangladesh government waited for him to recover but he died in 2012 and his daughter Anoushka Shankar had to receive the award.