On the eve of the 50th anniversary of India's win over Pakistan in the 1971 war and the liberation of Bangladesh, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday recalled Indira Gandhi's leadership during that period and asserted that the former prime minister remains an inspiration to crores of Indians for her 'boldness' and 'resilience'.
Addressing the closing ceremony of the party's celebrations of the Bangladesh Liberation War of 1971, Sonia Gandhi said it was an extraordinary convergence of a well-planned and perfectly-executed political, diplomatic and military strategy that gave 1971 a distinctive place in the history of the sub-continent.
It was a history that reshaped geography as well, she said and hailed the valour of the Indian armed forces.
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The Congress chief said it was a remarkable group of individuals who made this truly historic effort possible and so tremendously impactful, adding that it was a gigantic collective enterprise.
'Listening to them, guiding and being guided by them, leading them in a clear, purposeful and decisive manner was a remarkable woman. Today we recall Indira Gandhi with great pride. She remains an inspiration to crores of Indians for her boldness and for her resilience,' she said.
'She (Indira Gandhi) continues to evoke admiration for her fierce determination to make India self-reliant, especially in agriculture, nuclear energy and space technology, for her commitment to the cause of ecological protection, and for her sensitivity to the concerns of far-flung areas of our country and for its disadvantaged sections,' Sonia Gandhi said.
But it will not be an exaggeration to say that 1971 was, in many ways, Indira Gandhi's 'finest year', starting with the massive mandate she received in March, she said.
'When the Bangladesh crisis erupted with the brutal crackdown in Dhaka and other places, she immediately understood its implications and swung into action,' Sonia Gandhi said.
Indira Gandhi reached out to all political parties and public figures, wrote to presidents and prime ministers, dispatched emissaries abroad, ensured that the USSR was with India, travelled tirelessly to Western capitals and sensitised the entire world community to the cause of the people of Bangladesh with personal interviews, meetings and appeals, the Congress chief said.
'And how can we ever forget the manner in which she stood up with the greatest fortitude to the crass insensitivity and crude bullying of the then President of the United States and some of his advisers, and did India proud,' she said.
Those were tension-filled days, weeks and months, but she remained supremely composed and confident drawing upon her immense reserve of inner strength, Sonia Gandhi said.
She noted that Indira Gandhi was also incidentally Home Minister right through this turbulent period and her cabinet had a distinguished galaxy of stalwarts like Jagjivan Ram, Defence Minister; Sardar Swaran Singh, Minister of Foreign Affairs; Y B Chavan and so many others.
'So, today, we celebrate a magnificent accomplishment. But I think, Indira Gandhi would have wanted us to do so, not in a boastful spirit or in a spirit of self-glorification, but in a spirit of reflection and resolve,' Sonia Gandhi said.
'Let us therefore recall and celebrate that glorious occasion reaffirming our steadfast commitment to the values she cherished, the ideals she espoused and the causes she fought forand ultimately sacrificed her life for,' she said.
Congratulating the people of Bangladesh, Sonia Gandhi said the country has developed significantly in the face of great challenges.
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'Very recently the United Nations graduated it from, I quote least developed country to the developing country category'. It is only appropriate that Bangladesh's achievements are recognised as it celebrates the golden jubilee of its liberation,' Sonia Gandhi said.
'India, as you all know, shares a very warm relationship with it and bears a special responsibility to sustain and deepen that relationship,' she said.
Undoubtedly, individuals played a pivotal and defining role and 'we owe so much to each and every one of them', she asserted.
'But it was in reality the triumph of the will of the people of the Bangladesh and a fulfilment of their aspirations. It was also a victory of the people of India under the leadership of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi,' Sonia Gandhi said.
She said that 50 years ago, the brave and courageous people of Bangladesh gave themselves a new future and India stood by their side in solidarity to assist them in diverse ways.
'It provided a home to some 10 million refugees. It extended humanitarian support. It mobilised international backing. It raised its voice in regional and global forums. Ultimately, when attacked it mounted a hugely successful military operation,' she noted.
The intrepid freedom fighters of Bangladesh must be recalled and cheered, the Congress chief said.
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The fine Indian civil servants and intelligence agencies of that time must also be recalled and applauded, she added.
'All those in different countries of the world who stood by Bangladesh and India must be recalled and appreciated.
Most of all, the discipline, dedication, valour and sacrifices of the Indian armed forces must be recalled and saluted,' Sonia Gandhi said.
Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, former defence minister AK Antony, Leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge, former Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, Lieutenant General ARK Reddy, Vice Admiral SK Bhasin, Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak, Captain Praveen Davar, among others, were present on the occasion.