Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Friday said India, the largest country in the region, needs to play a pioneering role in building a stable and politically-economically vibrant South Asia.
“If we move forward hand in hand, the development of our people is inevitable,” she said while chairing the closing ceremony of the 10-day festival in presence of her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi as the guest of honour.
President Abdul Hamid attended the concluding ceremony in the city’s National Parade Square as the Chief Guest.
The 10-day nationwide programme started on March 17 with the theme ‘Mujib Eternal’, marking the birth centenary of Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Golden Jubilee of the country’s Independence in the Mujib Year.
Sheikh Hasina said South Asia is the most densely-populated area but there are huge resources in this region. “If we all utilise the resources, we’ll be able to build it as a hunger-poverty-free region,” she noted.
She urged all to make a vow to work together forgetting all differences for the welfare of the peoples in South Asia.
“At this auspicious moment of celebrating the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation and the Golden Jubilee of independence of Bangladesh, let us pledge to forget all differences and work together for the welfare of our peoples,” she said.
“Our foreign policy formulated by the Father of the Nation is that ‘Friendship to All and Malice towards None’. We’re determined to establish South Asia a developed and prosperous region,” the Prime Minister said.
Relations with India reaches new heights
Sheikh Hasina said the bilateral relations between Bangladesh and India have escalated to new heights. “Our relations with India have now escalated to new heights,” she added.
Lauding Narendra Modi’s ‘neighbourhood first’ policy, she said, “He sent coronavirus vaccines as gift to the neighbouring countries, including Bangladesh, which was a reflection of that policy of Modiji.”
She said Bangladesh has increased cooperation with India in various sectors including trade and commerce, communication, power, energy, and agriculture during the last few years. “India has now become one of our development partners,” she added.
The Maitree Bridge over Feni River has recently been inaugurated to increase connectivity between the North-Eastern Indian states and Bangladesh. These Indian states are now able to use the Seaport and Airport of Chattogram, she said adding that India can also use the Mongla port.
Hasina said Bangladesh has graduated from the status of least developed country to a developing country due to her government’s relentless efforts in the last 12 years. “We’re taking Bangladesh on the track of prosperity by overcoming multiple obstacles,” she added.
She said her government wants to make Bangladesh an upper-middle-income country by 2031 and a developed and prosperous one by 2041.
Sheikh Hasina, Bangabandhu’s eldest daughter, said Bangabandhu was a great believer in regional cooperation. “In addition to the political freedom of the oppressed people of the world, he dreamed of economic emancipation. That made him emphasise regional cooperation based on mutual trust, confidence, and equality,” she added.
She expressed gratitude to the Indian government and the Prime Minister for awarding the prestigious ‘Gandhi Peace Prize-2020’ to Bangabandhu at this very auspicious moment.
“I must say, India indeed honoured a worthy leader in South Asia as well as a real fellow of Gandhiji through this award,” she said.
She also thanked the government and the people of India as India is providing 109 ambulances to Bangladesh this time as a gift of their amicable gesture for the people of Bangladesh.
Noting that Indian government always remains beside Bangladesh, she said every Indian political party and the people of India, irrespective of their creed and views, become united regarding any issue of Bangladesh and stand beside the people of Bangladesh.
“India is not only our next-door neighbour, we’ve historical, social, cultural, heritage, and geographical rapports with this country,” she said.
Recollecting that the people and the Government of India were immensely involved in the evolution process of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina said, “The self-sacrifice (of a notable number of Indian soldiers), support, and cooperation of the people of India during our Liberation War will never be forgotten. We gratefully recollect that contribution.”
In recognition of outstanding contribution to the Liberation War, Bangladesh dedicated the ‘Independence Award’ to late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, the ‘Liberation War Friendship Award’ to 225 Indian citizens including the ‘Liberation War Award’ to former President Pranab Mukherjee and former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, she said.
On the occasion of the birth centenary of Father of the Nation, the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh’s Independence, and 50 years of Bangladesh-India diplomatic relations, the two countries have decided to hold several joint programmes, she said.
Besides, the Indian government has taken the initiative of the Bangabandhu-Bapu Digital Exhibition commemorating the two most-reputed leaders of this subcontinent Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib and Mahatma Gandhi, she continued.
Sheikh Hasina extended her sincere thanks to the Indian Prime Minister for attending this festival amid the Covid-19 pandemic. “We always recall with respect the contribution of India to our liberation. So, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi glorified our event attending it as the guest of honour,” she said.
At the event, Bangabandhu’s youngest daughter Sheikh Rehana accompanied by Sheikh Hasina received the prestigious ‘Gandhi Peace Prize-2020’ from Narendra Modi, which was conferred on Bangabandhu.
The Indian Prime Minister was honoured with ‘Eternal Mujib Memento’. Sheikh Rehana handed over the memento to Modi.
The video messages of UN Secretary General António Guterres and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson were also screened.
Congratulatory messages from Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, USA President Joe Biden and Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan read out by the heads of their respective diplomatic missions stationed in Dhaka.
Earlier, Sheikh Hasina along with her younger sister Sheikh Hasina received Modi when he reached the venue at 4:30pm. Later, both the prime ministers witnessed a cultural programme there.