The almost choked celebration of the Bangla New Year this year amply spoke of the meticulous preparations for attaining a mean goal --- spoiling the festival by spreading the seeds of panic and anarchy in all its segments. Those who have hatched the plot tasted a semblance of success this time. In their task of staving off attacks from the obscurantist forces, the law enforcement agencies concerned, in fact, unwittingly dampened the spirit of the festival. People felt stifled. Some had the feeling of being under fretters.
Overly stringent measures taken to prevent untoward incidents have detracted significantly from the beauty of the eagerly awaited pageantry. The direct victim was the normally festive Mangal Shobhajatra (procession championing goodness). Many refrained from joining the carnival this year thanks to the enforcement of a raft of restrictions. The procession thus lacked its usual vibrancy and fervour. Participation was low. Controls on movement and assemblage of jubilating people were in place on the day in Dhaka. Other metropolises, cities and towns were not spared. As a result, it was spontaneity that became the casualty. That preparations for obstructing the Noboborsho (New Year) festival were under way could be guessed from the menacing gestures made by some quarters in the last couple of years. All of them took aim at the essentially innocuous celebration of the Bangla New Year. The campaigns against the celebration laced with sinister insinuations kept heightening public tension and foreboding before reaching an alarming level. As part of their duty, the law enforcement agencies have not taken a chance. With a view to averting any deliberately sparked pandemonium, they swung into action apparently leaving no loophole. That's where the problem lurked. As is normally observed, too much control and restraining steps do not complement with the spirit and mood of jubilations. What they result in is mass disapproval and disillusionment. In the meantime, the elements with ulterior motive have the last laugh. The murky developments at this year's Mangal Shobhajatra, recognised by UNESCO as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, have shown that no terror tactic is always required to spoil a celebration. A little dislocation and clever feints serve the purpose.
The way the festivities were cunningly made to get marred this year might leave a dampening impact on the future Bangla New Year celebrations. The forces of discord and dread have insidiously pervaded the whole show by taking a long time. They moved surreptitiously, spread falsehood and misinformation to confuse the gullible people. Upon being assured that the time was ripe to announce their presence boldly, they mustered the temerity to throw a challenge of sorts to whom they deemed to be their adversaries. There is a catch, though. This nation has passed through series of such times of confusion and miasmic haze during the days of Pakistani neo-colonial rule. Finally, they came out triumphant. What is worrying, an agonisingly longer time of cultural anarchy takes its toll on the general people's inherent patience. Awareness of this reality can help the relevant activists to embark on pragmatic ventures, leaving aside digressive rhetoric.
That the whole episode of demeaning the people's cultural zeitgeist is part of long-drawn-out plan is implied. It began with the deadly bomb blasts at Chayanaut's Noboborsho function at Dhaka's Ramna in 2001. However, despite the dastardly attack, people remained unfazed which came to be coupled with a noticeable defiance. The general carefree ambience and spontaneity remained in place during the Noboborsho and the other celebrations in the following years. However, to the great worries of the conscious sections of society, the threats to culture, the arts and the finer sensibilities eventually adopted an insidious shape.
The experience of bomb assaults on a musical session welcoming Bangla New Year at Ramna Botomool was one of great shock. The people had to struggle a lot to come to grips with the mindless violence. At one point, shock was replaced with incredulity. In 2001, the event of songs and dance marked its 35th year. The fact that stunned the nation was, in its three and half decades' history since 1967 few could think of such a barbaric attack on this musical session; it was based on a theme wishing people everything auspicious and unalloyed peace. Even the Islamic Republic of Pakistan left the celebration undisturbed.
Many even in 2001 found reasons to believe that the bomb blasts carried the dreadful potential for future damages to the Bangla New Year celebrations. It did not take long for the people to absorb the shock of the Ramna incident. But the impact of a shocking incident begins afflicting people after a gap. This was what happened with the Ramna violence. The perpetrators too did not find it necessary to go ahead with their agenda through tangible violence. They had already released the creepy bugs on the enlightened masses to gnaw away at their weary nerves. That's how the great plan of erasing the vestiges of the age-old Bengali nationalistic landmark had been put to work. It was the same cabalistic group that let loose the forces of feud and inter-community disharmony in the country. These forces bragged about their opposition to the symbols and expressions representing the Bengali identity. By then they had already struck the nation. Prior to the Noboborsho assault at Ramna, bomb attacks had already killed 10 and injured around 100 at a function organised by Udichi, a cultural platform, in Jessore in 1999. The nation's bracing for further attacks became a natural hunch. In just two years, the Chayanaut musical soiree became the target.
No visibly untoward incidents marred the Bangla New Year's joyous mood in the following years. Rather, apparently undaunted and jubilant masses began joining the Pahela Baishakh (first day of the Bangla month of Baishakh) festivities in larger numbers. Alongside, as part of their stratagem to smear the event, a major component of the centuries-old Bangla heritage and culture, occasional threats kept coming from unscrupulous quarters. Those ominous gestures materialised in 2015 in the form of sexual harassment of women on a road near the Suhrawardy Udyan in Dhaka. The incident was publicised as a normal criminal behaviour. Many, however, realised that the 'harassment drama' was acted out to create panic among the festival-goers. The objective was clear: deterring people from joining the Noboborsho festivities in the future. A smokescreen was spun around the whole depressing episode. Fingers were pointed at the compulsive eve-teasers. Different probe committees were formed. The real culprits still remain out of law's dragnet.
This year marked the 50th anniversary of the Pahela Baishakh celebration at the Ramna Botomol. The occasion thus carried a historic significance. The campaign to spoil the Bangla New Year festivities was perhaps orchestrated with the anniversary celebrations to belittle its significance. Given the subdued and fraught atmosphere this year, a sense of unease may have begun haunting the celebration. But it's too early to call Pahela Baishakh's future star-crossed. This nation has voyaged through many turbulent seas in the past. They finally reached their cherished goals in victory. People's unflinching resolve shall place Noboborsho in its position of undying glory.