Dhaka: Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, a "true friend of Bangladesh", was Monday conferred the Liberation War Honour Award for his "outstanding contribution" to the 1971 war even as the country sees a massive youth-led uprising for "justice" for those who died in the conflict.
The youth demonstrators, mostly massed at Shahbag Square here, are demanding death for the Islamists and the 'razakar' paramilitaries who sided with Pakistan to oppose the breaking away of then East Pakistan and indulged in genocide and rape of millions.
The citation for Mukherjee said the award was being conferred in recognition of Bangladesh's "deep gratitude for his outstanding contribution to the Liberation War for his stand in national and international fora for speaking in favour of recognition to an independent Bangladesh".
The country's highest honour, the Bangladesh Freedom Honour, was conferred posthumously in 2011 on former Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, for her contribution to the creation of Bangladesh.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, in a speech at the event at the Bangabhaban, said Bangladesh is very grateful to India for the help during the 1971 war. She praised Mukherjee's "determination and courage" to extend help during times of distress to the nation and described him as a "steadfast friend".
She said both countries are bound by the same thread and should continue to work together to take forward their "maitri" (friendship).
In his acceptance speech, Mukherjee recalled the time on June 15, 1971, when he initiated a discussion on the floor of the Rajya Sabha "...when I suggested that India should accord diplomatic recognition to the government of Bangladesh in exile in Mujibnagar".
"My words are on record. When a Member sought my suggestion on how to tackle the problem, I responded by saying: 'I am talking of a political solution which means categorically recognising the sovereign democratic Government of Bangladesh. Political solution means giving material help to the democratic sovereign Government of Bangladesh'."
Recalling the times of the nine-month-long war, Mukherjee said: "The plight of millions of homeless people crossing the border, seeking refuge in the neighbouring states of India stirred the hearts of our people as they felt the anguish of that hapless multitude.
"They came forward wholeheartedly to provide succour and any assistance they could to their brethren from Bangladesh in their hour of need."
"Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi recognized what had to be done and did not lose time in courageously taking the lead and achieving the cherished dream of independence for the proud people of Bangladesh.
Assuring Bangladesh of India's continuing cooperation and friendship, he said: "As in 1971, so in 2013, the people of India stand beside the people of Bangladesh. We will walk with you as equal partners, shoulder to shoulder, arm in arm."
Addressing the gathering, President Zillur Rahman also thanked India for its invaluable help.