Tipu Sultan was not an anti-imperialist crusader, says historian M. G. S Narayanan

Eulogising medieval rulers including Tipu and Pazhassi Raja as patriots is undoubtedly an ahistorical approach. People who are making such ballyhoos fail to look at things from a historical perspective.

Vinesh Kumar

‘Considering Tipu Sultan as an anti-imperialist is utterly ahistorical’, said the renowned historian M. G. S Narayanan in a an exclusive interview with Narada News. The interests that led Tipu, Pazhassi Raja and most other Kings and feudal lords who fought against the British colonial rule were not motivated by the ideas of anti-imperialism. Instead, they were trying to protect their own kingdoms and feudal rights. Many of them gave up their fights when the British showed readiness to sign treaties and allow them to continue their rule and protect their rights even though upon certain conditions. Therefore, eulogising medieval rulers including Tipu and Pazhassi Raja as patriots is undoubtedly an ahistorical approach. People who are making such ballyhoos fail to look at things from a historical perspective.

The marauds and violence that Tipu unleashed in Kerala were horrifying. There are many historical evidences for how Tipu and his father Hyder Ali looted the Hindu temples and households in Kerala. It’s erroneous to brand Tipu as an Islamic bigot, but he was indeed a highly religious person. There are enough proofs for the atrocities he did against the Nair soldiers and Hindu community in Malabar during his invasion.  

However, for the people of Mysore, Tipu has been one of the great rulers they have ever seen. His approach to the Hindus in Mysore was very cordial. At the same time, he plundered the Christians in Mangalore, and that’s the reason behind the animosity they are showing towards Tipu now. There is still a Hindu temple inside the fort he built in Srirangapatna, the then capital of his kingdom of Mysore. He also kept a good relation with the brahmins and sought their advices while taking key decisions. That’s why I am saying that he is an adorable historical figure for the people of Mysore.

But that doesn’t mean that the campaigns taken up by the extreme Hindutva organisations and Islamic fundamentalists to brand the medieval rulers as anti-imperialist heroes or patriots can be justified. Such attempts distort the historical reality. The sole priority of those rulers was the protection of their power, and not their patriotic feelings against the foreign invaders. All other praises they are receiving now originate from the opportunism of political parties and cultural organizations who misinterpret the history and mislead the people for their own sake.

The acts of barbarity unleashed by Tipu after the collapse of the Zamorin’s rule in Malabar are still haunting the Hindus in Malabar. He looted numerous affluent Hindu households and temples in Malabar. Though it is wrong to interpret it as his bigotry, we can’t deny the fact that forceful conversion to Islam occurred in many regions in Malabar during that period. Although Nairs in Malabar fled to Travancore, people belong to lower caste were converted to Islam in large numbers. That’s how the women from the lower stratum of caste division got the right to cover their breasts which was a taboo under the feudal rule in Malabar. It’s a fact that Tipu built roads in Malabar, but he did it for his convenience in transporting his weapons and army, and not for the benefits of people in Malabar.

While the Hindutva forces have been trying to project Tipu as an Islamic bigot, it has been resisted by the Islamists’ attempt to build the image of an Indian patriot for him. However, we can understand that both the conceptions are wrong, if we study the British-French historical documents about Tipu. He was just one of the powerful kings who lived in that era. Based on the values and norms of modern democracy, talking about a king who lived in the 18th century is nothing but a stupidity.