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I.K. Gujral, Jagjivan Ram Honoured by Bangladesh
Former Prime Minister I K Gujral, late Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram and Colonel (Retd) Ashok Tara, who rescued Premier Sheikh Hasina and her kin from captivity of Pakistani troops in 1971, were among 61 "foreign friends" honoured by Bangladesh today for their remarkable contribution to its Liberation War.

Several of the elderly foreign friends appeared in wheelchairs to receive the award from President Zillur Rahman and Premier Sheikh Hasina, while some others were represented by their relatives as they were honoured posthumously under a government plan to formally acknowledge their contributions.

Former Prime Minister Gujral and ex-Nepalese Premier Girija Prasad Koirala were conferred with the "Bangladesh Liberation War Honour" while the rest were awarded "Friends of Liberation War" honour.

The then Indian Defence Minister Jagjivan Ram and a number of veterans of Indian army who fought the 1971 war, including Colonel (Retd) Ashok Tara, were among those conferred with the "Friends of Liberation War" honour at a special, third of its kind ceremony in Bangladesh.

Out of the 61 foreign friends awarded were 51 Indians. Some of these people extended their support to Bangladesh as aid-workers, politicians, journalists, artists and diplomats.

Actress and Rajya Sabha MP Shabana Azmi received the award on behalf of her late father Kaifi Azmi, while Jagjivan Ram's grandson and Lok Sabha speaker Meira Kumar's son Anshul Abhijit received the crest on his behalf.

"He (Ram) was instrumental in the creation of the joint command of Bangladesh and Indian forces for the final assault (on Pakistani troops) which led to the victory," the citation for the ex-Indian Defence Minister read.

Indian High Commissioner in Dhaka Pankaj Sharan represented several Indians at the ceremony at the Bangabandhu International Conference Centre.

70-year-old Tara, who received the award in person, is a well-known veteran who took part in and survived several deadly battles with Pakistani troops.

The retired Indian Colonel, who was a Major at that time, however, is more known for his role in rescuing Hasina, her mother Begum Fajilatunnesa Mujib, sister Sheikh Rehana and brother Sheikh Rasel from captivity of Pakistani troops at a house at the fag end of the 1971 Liberation War.

"We have an initial list of over 500 such foreign friends who made immense contribution to the birth of Bangladesh. We want to honour them all in phases," State Minister for Liberal War Affairs Captain (retd) AB Tajul Islam told PTI ahead of the ceremony.

He said more 1971 foreign friends are expected to be conferred with the honour in ceremonies at home and abroad in phases.

Foreign Ministry officials said the next such ceremony would be held in Dhaka coinciding with the Victory Day celebrations in December this year.

The then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was the first "foreign friend" to be conferred with the honour. Her daughter-in-law and Congress President Sonia Gandhi had received it on her behalf last year at a special ceremony.
Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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