In an apparent bid to promote national reconciliation, the government on Friday named freedom fighter Sutomo and former prime minister Mohammad Natsir national heroes.
The government also awarded hero status to the former chairman of the Indonesian Islamic Community (Persatuan Islam Indonesia), Abdul Halim.
Sutomo, better known as Bung Tomo, led a heroic fight against British troops in Surabaya on Nov. 10, 1945 -- a day that was eventually declared Heroes Day. A former minister and military general, Bung Tomo was jailed from 1978 to 1979 for his criticism of then president Soeharto.
Natsir, founder of the Islamic-based party Masjumi, once led a rebellion launched by the Indonesian Republic Revolutionary Government (PRRI) as disappointment settled in nationwide over the government of then president Sukarno in the late 1950s.
Sutomo died in 1981, and Natsir in 1993. There have been constant demands since their deaths that the government recognize the two prominent figures as national heroes.
Last week, hundreds of youths in Surabaya signed a petition urging the government to immediately grant Sutomo national hero status.
"The truth will always prevail, and there it is," Sutomo's widow Sulistina, 82, said after receiving the Mahaputera Adipradana Medal from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono in a ceremony at the State Palace.
Social Services Minister Bachtiar Chamsyah denied allegations the government had deliberately delayed granting the awards to Sutomo and Natsir. He said it was up to the Hero Assessment Agency, under his ministry's supervision, to nominate people for national hero status upon recommendation from provincial administrations.
Historian Anhar Gonggong said both Sutomo and Natsir deserved the awards because of their meritorious dedication to the state, regardless of their critical stand on the government.
"What the government is doing now is giving room to review history," Anhar said on the sidelines of the ceremony.
He said the awards conferred on Sutomo and Natsir were an attempt to promote national reconciliation.
President Yudhoyono also granted the Mahaputera Utama Medal to Petta Lolo La Sinrang, a freedom fighter from the former Sawitto kingdom in South Sulawesi.
Film director Wahyu Sihombing and writer Marah Rusli each received the Budaya Parama Dharma Medal.