The Karnataka High Court on Thursday rejected a public interest suit filed by KP Manjunatha of Coorg, challenging the state government’s move to celebrate Tipu Jayanti. The court observed that it is the policy of a government and cannot be challenged. Tipu Jayanti celebrations will proceed as planned by the state government.
The rejection of the PIL came even after the HC Chief Justice Subhro Kamal Mukherjee himself said, “Tipu Sultan was a monarch who fought to safeguard his own interests”. He said, “What is the logic behind celebrating Tipu Jayanti? Tipu was not a freedom fighter.”
The Karnataka government led by Chief Minister S. Siddaramaiah decided to celebrate Tipu Jayanti on November 10 from last year leading to unrest in Kodagu (the name for Coorg now) district.
Given the question raised by the Chief Justice, let’s look at other monarchs who are celebrated by the Central government for being freedom fighters: Maharana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shivaji.
The 475th birth anniversary of Maharana Pratap aka Pratap Singh, who ruled Mewar in the 16th century in present-day Rajasthan, was celebrated by the state government with a grand event at Gogunda near Udaipur in June this year. Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh unveiled a statue of Pratap and announced a new India Reserve Battalion named after the Rajput ruler. Mahesh Sharma, the Minister of State for Culture and Tourism, released a commemorative Rs 100 coin and a circulation coin of Rs 10 on the Rajput ruler’s birth anniversary which falls on May 9. The Culture Ministry also agreed to give Rs 9.50 crore to the state government for a multi-purpose indoor stadium at Khel Gaon, Udaipur, in memory of the monarch.
The Maharashtra government celebrated the 389th birth anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji, on February 19 this year at Shivneri Fort in Pune district. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who was at the event, said, “I feel blessed after visiting the birthplace of warrior king Shivaji. The warrior king always has remained a great inspiration.” Later in June, he said his government will make efforts to get Unesco world heritage status for the Raigad Fort, the erstwhile capital of Chhatrapati Shivaji. In Mumbai, Governor C Vidyasagar Rao paid floral tributes at Shivaji Park and garlanded the statue.
In the case of the monarchs above, the Central and state governments have celebrated the n-th anniversaries of kings “who fought to safeguard their own interests”. Shivaji is always referred to as “Hindu Dharma Rakshak” whereas Maharana Pratap is known to be a ruler who fought the Mughals and other Muslim rulers to “protect Hindus”.
If Tipu Sultan, who died fighting the British, is painted a “Muslim” fanatic and criticised for being a selfish monarch, the Chhatrapati and the Maharana can also be blamed for being themselves. As the reader may well know, this is not about democracy or of monarchy but it involves the religion of Tipu.
If Mewar in Rajasthan can boast the legacy of Maharana Pratap, and the Marathas can celebrate Shivaji, the Karnataka government should have the right to commemorate Tipu as a ruler who has a significant role in the history of the state and the country.
During his reign from 1782 AD to 1799 AD, Tipu introduced many administrative innovations like coins, a new calendar involving lunar and solar alignments, and a new land revenue system which led to the growth of the Mysore silk industry. But not for the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The Sangh said recently that it opposed the celebration as Tipu was a “religious bigot and a violent sultan”.