Dhaka: Former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was on Monday honoured posthumously with Bangladesh's highest state award for her outstanding contribution to the country's 1971 'Liberation War'.

Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi, the daughter -in-law of the assassinated prime minister, received the "Bangladesh Swadhinata Sanmanona" from President Zillur Rahman at a grand ceremony attended by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and nearly 1,000 top dignitaries.

"By her (Indira Gandhi) political wisdom and vision, she influenced the course of history and the fate of generations," Rahman said while handing over the posthumous award.

"I recall with highest gratitude her strong support for the independence of Bangladesh... by honoring Srimati Indira Gandhi for her noble contribution for our freedom, we honor ourselves and revisit the epic of our war of liberation," he said.

The crest weighing three kilograms is designed on 400-year-old terracotta of a 'Kadam tree' made of gold.

Sonia, who arrived here on Sunday on a 24-hour visit, said the award bestowed on the former Indian premier was an honour for India too.

"The honour is not hers (Indira Gandhi) alone, it's India's," Sonia said receiving the award.

Indira Gandhi made crucial contribution to the independence of Bangladesh. She traveled across the world to mobilise support for the people of East Pakistan, which later became Bangladesh, amid a massive crackdown on civilians by the Pakistan Army. Sonia ended her brief statement on the occasion with: "Joy Bangla", the Bangladeshi slogan during the historic 1971 independence struggle.

President Rahman said Indira Gandhi had inspired millions of Bangladeshis and Indians to fight against oppression and injustices.

"Even after forty years, she remains as a beckon of hope and strength to all of us who aspire to make Bangladesh a true Sonar Bangla, dreamt by Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman," he said.

So far the former Indian premier is the lone recipient of the honour.

The cabinet last week also decided to acknowledge the contribution of 47 other "foreign friends" and five international organisations who would be honoured in December.

The government also plans to rechristen an important road in the memory of the assassinated Indian prime minister.

A separate monument would also be built to honour Indian defence personnel martyred in the 1971 war.

India had to face a huge refugee crisis as an estimated one crore people fled their homes to evade atrocities by the Pakistani troops.

On March 26, 1971, Bangladesh - then East Pakistan - declared its independence from West Pakistan. The Pakistan Army surrendered to the allied forces of the Indian army and the Mukti Bahini on 16 December 1971, which resulted in Bangladesh becoming an independent nation.

Sonia for South Asian partnership on autism

Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi praised Bangladesh's "path breaking innovations" in micro-finance, education, women's empowerment and public health as she underlined the need for a partnership in South Asia to provide affordable services to millions of autistic children.

"Bangladesh has been such a fertile source of social innovation," Sonia said while inaugurating an international conference on autism here.

"We applaud your achievements," she told the two-day conference, which was attended by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and global experts on autism.

Sonia, who arrived here yesterday, said Bangladesh was admired worldwide for its "path-breaking innovations" in micro-finance, education, women's empowerment, public health and sanitation and "we applaud your achievements".

"India has held together as one nation, deepened its democracy and accelerated its economic growth (while) Bangladesh has achieved economic and social success beyond anything thought possible at the time of its birth," she said in her 15-minute speech.

The UPA chairperson proposed a partnership in South Asia so that autistic children have an easy access to services on affordable expenses.

"On crucial issues like the fertility rate, proportion of underweight children, immunization, number of mean years of schooling, child and infant mortality rates, and life expectancy, you are ahead of us," she noted.

JPN/Agencies