People of Assam have already missed celebrating Bihu this year owing to the outbreak of Coronavirus. Ganesh Chaturthi was a low-key affair too. All eyes are now at the upcoming festive season that includes Durga Puja, Diwali and Kali Puja and will go on till Christmas.
Though Sharodustav is a religious festival where Hindus worship Goddess Durga, it plays a larger role by creating employment opportunities. That is why economists across the country are expecting the festive season to nudge the country’s economy towards a road to recovery. The central government is also loosening strict guidelines to encourage economic activities. The Assam government accordingly has announced that it would lift the weekend lockdowns and night curfew today.
However, the United Liberation Front of Assam – Independent, (ULFA-I) has issued a press release demanding a ban on the upcoming Sharodutsav. The press statement from the outfit that was heavily linked in the brutal murder of Bengalis in Dhola, Tinsukia, states that the Assam Government is acting like a “puppet to appease Narendra Modi” and that is why it is allowing Puja committees to host Durga Pujas in Assam.
“When Bihu was banned, how dare this government allows Durga Puja,” the statement questions Sarbananda Sonowal’s government. It goes on to warn the government and asks to revisit the decision to allow Durga Puja.
The think tanks in Assam see this statement from ULFA(I) as an attempt to fuel the Assamese-Bengali debate further. “First of all, ULFA(I) is inconsequential in Assam,” says Silchar MLA, Dilip Paul. “They are facing an existential crisis in the state and that is why making these attempts to get some attention,” Paul insists there is no merit in taking ULFA(I)’s demand to impose a ban on Durga Puja seriously.
“The government will vet all scenarios and decide what is best for the people of Assam. ULFA(I) will not play any role in deciding how Durga Puja must be celebrated in the state. There are officers who are best informed and they will make an informed decision. Puja committees themselves have decided to keep it a low-key affair, so, there is no point paying attention to ULFA(I)’s statement,” asserts Dilip Paul.
Former Silchar MP, Sushmita Dev echoes Paul’s views. “The chief secretary of the state will decide whatever he feels it’s necessary for the larger interest of the Public. Who is ULFA(I) to interfere in this matter?” Dev questions. Adding, “What should be the guidelines during Durga Puja is something that can be decided on October 10, or later depending on the situation at that point in time.”
The national president of the Mahila Congress points out that the ULFA (I)’s demand to ban the Puja is actually the opposite of what the government of India is suggesting. “At a time when the chief secretary is lifting weekend lockdowns and night curfews, the government is talking about by-elections, ULFA (I) is demanding a ban on Durga Puja. Such decisions must be let for the officers to decide and ULFA (I) should stay away,” Dev adds.
Many students’ bodies in Barak Valley got irked by ULFA(I)’s demands and planning a protest on Mahalaya morning. “We, from Hindu Chatra Sangha shall protest against this stand of ULFA(I) and burn the effigy of Paresh Barua in Silchar on the morning of Mahalaya,” says Subashish Choudhuruy, a member of the student’s organisation.
He adds, “The leaders of ULFA(I), who themselves have taken shelter in Bangladesh, are very much expected to give up such anti-Hindu statements. Hiding in Bangladesh, they can’t and should not be allowed to have any say in state politics. Durga Puja will be celebrated, with all precautionary measures and no ULFA(I) can ever dictate to us, about how we should deal with our festivals.”
All Puja committees in Silchar have also made it clear that they will follow the guidelines that the administration will share with them. What the administration decides on the celebration remains to be seen.