Celebrating Tyrants, Denigrating Heroes
by M Pramod Kumar on 09 Nov 2016 5 Comments

The divisive legacy of Tipu Sultan has become the centre of a heated political controversy in Karnataka with the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government trying to impose a new ‘Jayanti’ day to the State’s festival calendar by celebrating Tipu’s birthday on November 10.


While a historical debate on the legacy of Tipu Sultan would be welcomed by all sections of our democratic society, the idea of spending public money on celebrating a controversial figure like Tipu Sultan, who is perceived to be a religious bigot and tyrant by many communities in Karnataka, only reveals the ulterior political motives of the Siddaramaiah government.


Even as this article was being written, the Karnataka High Court set aside a Public Interest Litigation against Tipu Jayanthi saying that it would not interfere in the Karnataka Government’s policy decision. But the Court did pass a stricture by raising objections to the proposed festival:


“What is the logic behind celebrating Tipu Jayanti? Tipu was not a freedom fighter, but a monarch who fought the opponents to safeguard his interests,” Chief Justice Subhro Kamal Mukherjee, presiding over the division bench, observed, while hearing the PIL filed by South Kodagu-based KP Manjunatha, challenging the government’s move to celebrate Tipu Jayanti.


Justice Mukherjee also questioned the logic behind celebrating Tipu Jayanti amid fears of communal tension escalating in Kodagu district and other parts of the state. He observed that last year’s celebrations had resulted in a law-and-order situation after protesters resorted to violence. However, public counsel MR Naik defended the celebrations, saying Tipu was a great warrior who fought against the British. Countering the submissions, Sajan Poovaiah, counsel for the petitioner, said Tipu was a tyrannical ruler who killed people belonging to many communities, including Kodavas, Konkanis and Christians.” (TNIE, 2nd Nov 2016)


Author Sandeep Balakrishna came to a similar conclusion in his seminal work Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore: “...what part of his freedom struggle compelled him to wage wanton wars and unleash unprovoked aggression against the hapless Hindus in the Malabar and Coorg? What part of his freedom struggle compelled him to commit genocide against those Hindus and/or convert them en masse? Indeed, the British hardly had a presence in those regions. It is eminently clear, from whatever angle one looks at it, that there is simply no way one can conclude that Tipu’s fight against the British constitutes a struggle for freedom.” (p.192)


As celebrities and liberal intellectuals like Girish Karnad throw their weight behind Tipu Sultan, it is important for us to revisit some indisputable facts about Tipu Sultan. The celebrated Kannada author SL Bhyrappa remarked in his essay, “...Karnad had completely whitewashed the Tipu Sultan I had read about and instead, had portrayed him as some kind of a valiant but tragic hero... My fundamental question concerns the freedom that a novelist can assume in depicting historical persons as characters in a work of fiction based on history.” (It is impossible to Build Nationalism on a Foundation based on Historical Falsehoods, Kannada Prabha, 24 September 2006).


Popular historical narratives fail to mention Tipu Sultan’s brutal conquests in Coorg and Malabar. In his letter to the Nawab of Kurnool, Runmust Khan, Tipu himself gloats over the fact that his troops had made prisoners of forty thousand Coorgs who were then converted to Islam and an equal number of Kodava tribals are said to have been killed in this bloody conquest.  To this day, street dogs in Coorg are contemptuously called Tipu reflecting their hatred for the ‘Tiger of Mysore’.


Tipu’s raids often left behind a trail of devastation and he took great pride in demolishing temples. The British historian Lewis Rice wrote in The Mysore Gazetteer: “...in the vast empire of Tipu Sultan on the eve of his death, there were only two Hindu temples having daily pujas.”


Tipu massacred nearly 800 Brahmins in Melkote in Mandya district on Naraka Chaturdashi day (eve of Deepavali) more than two centuries ago. All the massacred Brahmins in Melkote belonged to the community known as Mandyam Iyengars who do not celebrate Deepavali to this day in memory of that brutal massacre.


In Kerala, oral tradition remembers Tipu’s “visit” to the Malabar as the deadly padayottam or military march. Father Bartholomew, the Portu­guese missionary, records Tipu’s bloody acts in Malabar in his memoir, Voyage to East Indies, “Tipu was riding on an elephant behind which another army of 30,000 soldiers followed. Most of the men and women were hanged in Calicut; first mothers were hanged with their children tied to necks of mothers. 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.”


Little wonder then that the Christians in Mangalore joined hands with Hindu organizations in opposing the Tipu Jayanthi celebrations since last year. The representative of the United Christian Association (UCA), Alban Menezes, said Tipu had destroyed the Milagres Church in Mangalore in February 1784. Tipu had also imprisoned 60,000 Catholics, suspected of being British spies. The UCA had also joined the RSS in 2013 to oppose the naming of a central university in Srirangapatna after Tipu.


It is indeed shameful that a democratically elected government in Karnataka is trampling over the collective historical memory and sentiments of the Hindu and Christian communities in their desperation to woo the Muslim community. This practice of pandering to the fundamentalist elements of the Muslim community by celebrating icons of religious hate and persecution is dangerous because it emboldens the radical elements and provides a smokescreen for their ideological fronts.


The anti-Hindu ideological bias of the Congress government in Karnataka has created a conducive environment for vitriolic leftist intellectuals like Prof Bhagavan, Prof Arvind Malgatti, Prof Mahesh Chandraguru and Benjegere Mahesh, who advocated the burning of the Bhagavad Gita in 2015.


It is also ironic to see the callous attitude adopted by the same Siddaramaiah government to real life heroes. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah tried to hush-up the mysterious death of IAS officer Ravikumar in 2015; the latter was known for his fearless struggle against the sand mafia in Karnataka. Thus, a sickening pattern emerges where many of our politicians and left leaning liberal intellectuals take pride in denigrating heroes like Krishna and celebrating tyrants like Tipu.


(The author is an Assistant Professor at the Amrita Darshanam International Centre for Spiritual Studies at Amrita University, Coimbatore)

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