Tipu Sultan Jayanti – Nationalism or bigotry

The mood in Karnataka on Tipu Sultan Jayanti is so polarised that people both supporting and opposing the government move are being threatened for voicing their views

Tipu Sultan Jayanti – Nationalism or bigotry

Tension is brewing up in Karnataka as the day fixed by the state government to celebrate the birth anniversary of 18th century Mysuru ruler Tipu Sultan approaches fast.

Despite opposition from the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the state government has decided to celebrate Tipu Sultan Jayanti on November 10.

The Kannada and culture department will be spending Rs. 69 lakh for the celebration and a circular has been sent to the local administration in all districts.

The mood in the state is so polarised that people both supporting and opposing the government move are being threatened for voicing their views. Recently playwright Girish Karnad got death threat over the Twitter that he would “meet the same end” as MM Kalburgi, the rationalist Sahitya Akademi winner who was shot dead at his residence in August that year.

Karnad had said that if Tipu Sultan was a Hindu, he would have enjoyed the same status of Shivaji, and that the Bengaluru airport have been named after the Mysuru Sultan.

Sultan Fateh Ali Khan Padsha, renowned as Tipu Sultan, belonged to the Chisti/Bande Nawaz tradition of Sufism. The section of people celebrating the Mysuru sultan and seeking to revive his glory claims that he was a radical ruler and a ‘freedom fighter’ who fought against the British. They claim he used to give grants to temples and his army was largely composed of the Shudras (Untouchables). He is believed to be the first ruler to have banned alcohol in the state on moral and health grounds and is credited to have introduced rocket and missile technology in war.

However, the opposition BJP bills Tipu Sultan as a bigot and a violent Sultan who converted, massacred Hindus and Christians in large numbers. The RSS and its affiliated organisations have decided to hold agitation across the state which will culminate in a mega rally in Bengaluru on November 8.

In 2013, Francois Gautier, a renowned researcher and historian had published an article in Outlook magazine
titled The Tyrant Diaries, providing ‘details’ of Tipu’s atrocities in Kerala and Karnataka, using a Portuguese traveler, Father Bartholomew.

The article read: “After this interval, we find another diary entry in which Ripaud is appalled at what he witnessed in Calicut (Kozhikode): “Most of the Hindu men and women were hanged...first mothers were hanged with their children tied to their necks. That barbarian Tipu Sultan tied the naked Christians and Hindus to the legs of elephants and made the elephants move around till the bodies of the helpless victims were torn to pieces.  Temples and churches were ordered to be burned down, desecrated and des­troyed. Christian and Hindu women were forced to marry Mohammedans, and similarly, their men (after conversion to Islam) were forced to marry Moha­mm­edan women. Christians who refused to be honoured with Islam were ordered to be killed by hanging immediately.” These events were corroborated by Father Bartholomew, a famous Portu­guese traveller, in his memoir, V
oyage to East Indies

In another paragraph, it mentioned that over 2,000 Brahmin families perished as a result of Tipu Sultan’s Islamic cruelties.

Several Christian organisations, especially from the coastal belt of Karnataka, too, have already expressed their displeasure over the government decision as he had allegedly forcibly converted many Christians too and put some 26,000 Catholics in dungeons.

Last year, on Tipu Sultan Jayanti day, two men were killed in violent clashes in the state.

It is being alleged by the opposition that the state government is playing divisive politics in the name of Tipu Sultan.

While history is written by the victor, it must be remembered that nothing is ever black and white, there are various shades of grey. As a ruler, Tipu Sultan must have had his own bright and dark sides. To celebrate or to deplore a historical figure from a contemporary point of view is very difficult and is a task better left to the historians.