HAD there been a genuine attempt at reviving the kite-flying festival, by this time, in the run-up to Basant, Lahore would have been awash with colours. As it turns out, the PTI has tried to move forward on its objective — without possessing, much less submitting, a roadmap. In the first phase, a minister in Punjab declared that Basant would return to Lahore in February. In the second phase, a committee was set up to come up with a ‘safe Basant’ blueprint, adding to similar but unsuccessful get-togethers of culturally-inclined personalities in the past. Now in the third phase, there are concerns that the committee will turn out to be ineffective. More seriously for the party in power, the popular jury could well rule against the PTI government in Punjab for being unprepared, despite suggesting that it knew how to resurrect the Basant festival. Before raising the public’s hopes, it should have understood and actively sought to overcome the hurdles in the way of holding the spring celebration, tackling both safety concerns and conservative sentiments.
Now, the developments — or rather the lack of them — suggest that the reasons behind the PTI’s announcement of bringing back Basant this spring were hardly laudatory: it had wanted to prove itself as more sympathetic to the public than the previous PML-N administration, which was heavily criticised for depriving the people of a festival that was an integral part of Lahore and its residents. At the same time, the proposed revival was bound to be challenged legally, and this is exactly what happened. The Lahore High Court has since taken up cases in which Basant has been opposed on the grounds that kite-flying, with its accompanying dangers, is against the rights of the citizens. There is little that the Punjab government has done to indicate during the hearing of these cases that it will show the necessary urgency to resolve the issue and to ensure that the festivities resume. On Tuesday last, the government told the court that the revival committee was working on a proposal and was likely to submit recommendations in a fortnight — whereas according to the PTI’s original plan, Basant would be celebrated on the second Sunday of February. Time is fast running out, and given the complexity of the topic, the debate may continue into the next season, and the next. Clearly, the PTI’s Basant entry has not been very convincing.
Published in Dawn, January 18th, 2019