It is the darkest day in Bangladesh's political history since the killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and his family members.
August 21, 2004.
Only those who have witnessed it will hesitate to call it gruesome, because it was something worse than that.
It was not only the worst form of devilry Bangladesh politics has ever witnessed. It was not only a genocide on a hugely popular political party, carried out by actors sponsored by the state. It was not only an outcome of pure and present hatred.
It was the culmination of a well-planned and -panned act of violence that was constructed around the ideology of atrocity, fascism, and a crude method of elimination as had been practiced by the likes of Nazi forces.
The hellscape created by the lobbing of grenades on an Awami League rally on that day not only left at least 24 lives lost and numerous others maimed instantly, it has also fashioned the political landscape in a way never expected.
It was the culmination of a perfect storm carved out by the BNP-led government over the years.
August 21 was not an isolated blip in the chain of history. It was only a link in the chain to change Bangladesh forever to the path of militancy.
But the BNP in its first term after restoration of democracy in 1991 was not a party that seemed capable of sponsoring such a grotesque crime. To many it looked like a centre right party busy with not doing much but a little of wooing donors into funding the budget.
It dealt out the usual treatment of ordering the police to wield their batons on occasional Awami League protests, and on one incident even beat up the League's veteran leader Motia Chowdhury. Nothing very deviant to suggest the ogre the party would turn into a few years down the line.
But under the shadow of the party in power, a monster in the form of Harkatul Jihad Al-Islami Bangladesh (Huji), an extreme militant outfit – was growing. Its public appearance through a formal press conference in Dhaka in 1992 strangely evoked no reaction from the BNP government. And one can easily surmise that without the state's backing such an outfit cannot appear in public domain without hindrance.
The outcome of such pandering to extremists manifested into a string of bomb blasts when the Awami League came to power in the next election in 1996.
Bombs were thrown on a function of Udichi – a left-leaning cultural forum – in Jashore, killing 10. A bomb was planted at the venue of then prime minister Sheikh Hasina's meeting in Gopalganj. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had investigated the incident and pointed fingers at Harkatul Jihad.
The dreaded name of Huji chief Mufti Hannan came to the limelight when US president Bill Clinton's trip to Manikganj in 2000 was cancelled because of threats from Islamist militants.
At the fag end of the Awami League rule, another bomb blast at a traditional programme to welcome the Bangla New Year at Ramna Park was a declaration by the militants to wipe out anything they considered 'non-Islamic'.
And when the BNP came to power again in 2001, things suddenly started changing with Tarique Rahman, the BNP chairperson's son, having supreme control of the party.
It was now clear that Tarique wanted his party to grow in a fascist manner, and banked more and more on Islamist militants to root out BNP's arch rival Awami League.
With state sponsorship, arms flowed freely into the country, not in ones or twos, but in bulk, trucks-full and in dangerous numbers. Other than the media, nobody seemed to care, while the gunrunners remained happily shielded.
Different Islamist groups popped up sporadically across the country – al Baiyenat, Harkatul Jihad, Jamiatul Mujahideen, Shahadat-e-al-Hikma, Hijbut Tawhid and so on. But their existence, except for that of Shahadat-e-al-Hikma, which was later banned, was routinely denied.
Meantime, the militants gathered even greater strength. And the country was sucked into murkier waters through a string of incendiary events all with state sponsorship.
Only four months before the August 21 grenade attack, ten truckloads of sophisticated arms were accidentally seized at the Chittagong Port. Later investigations unearthed how the very high-ups in the BNP-led government, including the home minister himself, were involved in the arms smuggle.
Only three months before the grenade attack, Huji broke its silence again by throwing bombs on the British high commissioner in Sylhet.
And then came the fateful August 21.
Twenty-four people dead, many of them on the spot – death did not come easy for them. Ivy Rahman, president of Bangladesh Mohila League, was one of the people who was blown up from down below and had a most gruesome death days later.
Then opposition leader and now Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who was the main target of the attack, survived by sheer luck, but suffered eardrum damage.
Hundreds are still bearing the festering wounds even to this day.
Today we know who were involved in the attack. It was nobody less than Tarique Rahman, then home minister Lutfozzaman Babar and many of the high-ups in the government and intelligence agencies.
But the way the BNP-led government tried to divert the grisly attack tells volumes about how its political ideology was fashioned.
In a Kafkaesque act, it had put the blame on the Awami League for the attack. It destroyed the evidence. It cooked up a story of a petty criminal named Joj Mia, claiming that he had thrown the grenades. It had initiated an eyewash one-man commission headed by a justice who 'investigated' the attack and said a foreign country was responsible.
In the end, nothing held good as power changed and a new investigation revealed how the whole plot was orchestrated from Hawa Bhaban by Tarique Rahman and his cohorts.
It was what the masterminds had codenamed the attack as "Sheikh Hasina will be served a light breakfast".
The whole affair has left a deep crevice in our national politics, probably forever. It has shown politics is not about democracy, or elections, or the people's mandate; but to go after one another's throat, bloody each other's nose in the most dangerous way. It has drawn new lines and definitions of enemies.
We can reel off a list of such inglorious attempts to embolden the militants.
For example, the creation of another sinister outfit Jama'atul Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB). Headed by the dreaded Bangla Bhai, this group openly preached Islamic revolution and started lynching people they thought were enemies of Islam. It brought out motorcades to wield its power and top BNP leaders and the administration lent support to the JMB.
Media reports on JMB atrocities were summarily dismissed as figments of the imagination of the media. The existence of Bangla Bhai was denied, although his interview - given from a public office with then prime minister Khaleda Zia's portrait hanging on the background wall - was published in the media.
Fortunately, the party that the BNP-led government had wanted to annihilate with blasts of grenades, had clawed back to strength and unity after the initial shock.
Today, if one takes a flashback at the whole scheme of things, one can hold the BNP, including its current leadership, solely responsible for failure to check and condemn the genocidal attack and the events before and after the macabre crime.
The BNP should have come clean about its inglorious past. It did not.
As a result, we bear the burden of what happened on that fateful day, even today.
While the BNP and the Awami League were political rivals fighting for the seat of power in a democratic system before August 21, in the years since, the relationship between them has transformed into a zero-sum battle for survival.
Many of the turbulent political events that followed August 21 – the cancelled elections of January 2007, military-backed caretaker government rule for two years, the political violence in 2013 in the backdrop of the war crimes trial, BNP's boycott of the 2014 elections and the subsequent arson attacks during a four-month road blockade – can all trace their roots back to the devilry that was midwifed into existence on that fateful day.