Pakistani authorities have dropped a plan to revive the 'Basant' festival and kite-flying in the central province of Punjab in the wake of a warning issued by the Jamaat-ud-Dawah, which has described the event as "un-Islamic".
The interim government of Punjab headed by caretaker chief minister Najam Sethi surrendered to detractors of the festival and dropped the proposal to revive Basant.
Sethi, a journalist by profession, had recently spoken about his desire to revive Basant, which he had described as an intrinsic part of Lahori culture.
During a high-level meeting held in Lahore on Monday, officials were warned by the police about the possible negative fallout from the revival of Basant, which marks the onset of spring.
Image: A girl holds a kite after receiving it in a military handout of food and toys in Daggar, located in Buner district, about 220 km northwest of Islamabad | Photograph: Akhtar Soomro/Reuters
Police officials warned the government of possible protests and a fallout of a warning issued by the JuD, a source told PTI. After the meeting, senior officials recommended Sethi to drop any plans to mark the festival, to which the CM acted.
After taking over as chief minister, Sethi had directed government departments, including the city district government of Lahore, to devise a viable plan for Basant.
Senior government and City District Government Lahore officials initiated an extensive exercise and held discussions with stakeholders about reviving Basant.
The city district government framed an action plan and recommended that festivities, including kite flying, could be held at Safari Park on Raiwind Road and Jallo Park along Canal Road on April 14 and 15.
The city district government had discussed measures to revive Basant in December too. Even at that time, police officials said they could not guarantee that there would not be casualties during the event.
Criticising the decision to drop the plan to revive Basant, Lahore conservation society secretary Ajaz Anwar said the government should have revived the event for the sake of the people, as there was no harm in celebrating the festival in its original form.
Basant was last observed in Lahore and other parts of Punjab, the country’s most populous province, in March 2009 when the region was under the governor's rule.
Former CM Shahbaz Sharif, whose government recently completed its five-year term, was opposed to reviving the cultural event because of deaths and injuries caused by the twine used to fly kites. However, many analysts say the Pakistan Muslim League-N government banned Basant and cracked down on people making and selling kites due to pressure from hardline religious and extremist groups like the JuD, which claimed the festival had "Hindu origins" and was "un-Islamic".