Early in 1990, the BJP, it will be remembered, sought a court injunction to prevent the screening in India of a television serial entitled The Sword of Tipu Sultan based on a novel first published in the mid-seventies authored by Bhagwan S.Gidwani. A case was made out that Tipu was not secular as was generally believed and doesn'tdeserve to be an icon.
Once again Tipu is in the news with Karnataka'sMinister of Higher Education, D.H.Shankaramurthy questioning Tipu'sKannada credentials, considering that he used Persian, and not Kannada as the language of administration. Once again a fierce controversy has been raised. And liberal, secular Hindu intellectual has demanded the dismissal of Shankaramurthy, with the leader of the Janata Dal(Secular) H.D.Deva Gowda screaming that he will not allow the secularism of the JD(S) Karnataka government being polluted. One doesn'tknow whether to laugh or cry. The deep tragedy is not the secular standing of a Tipu Sultan, an Aurangzeb or Ghazni Mohammad but the refusal of both Hindus and Muslims to come to terms with India'spast.
Let us face it: for almost a millennium, give or take a couple of hundred years India has been ruled in different parts of the country, but in one continuous stream, by Islamic conquerors and their successors, which has caused a deep psychological scab in the Hindu psyche that starts bleeding at the slightest provocation. Our liberal secularists have always failed to understand that. Primarily they refuse to face up to the past, which only worsens matters.
To seem to be secular, the Hindu liberal needs to stand by Muslim kings and nawabs like Romilla Thapar being apologetic about the destruction of Somnath Temple by Ghazni Mohammad. It is a mind-set that is hard to understand. In the North, especially, Rajput rulers would give their daughters in marriage to the Mughal rulers to buy security, which was clever, but demeaning as a tactic.
Indeed, in Tipu'slarge zenana were, in addition to purchased slaves from such places as Istambul and Georgia, two sisters of the Raja of Coorg and a niece of none other than Purnaiya, who was Tipu'sDiwan. It is a little known fact. But par for the course. We are talking of feudal times. Like many rulers, Hindu or Muslim, Tipu had his faults which are invariably glossed over by our secularists. Tipu was enigmatic, to say the least. A Karnataka MLC, Prof. B.K.Chandrashekar is reported to have said that Shankaramurthy need to know history. Indeed everyone should, including Chandrashekar himself. One can recommend to him two excellent books, one written by Praxy Fernandes, a South Kanara Roman Catholic (and a former IAS officer, 1947 cadre) entitled The Tigers of Mysore and another written by an Australian scholar, Kate Brittlebank, entitled Tipu Sultan'sSearch For Legitimacy, with the sub-title Islam and Kingship In A Hindu Domain. Both are brilliantly researched and are as objective as one can expect. Both give high marks to Tipu for his religious tolerance, for his respect for all religions, for his reverence to the head of the Shringeri Mutt, recounting how Tipu sent a silver palanquin and a pair of silver chauris to the Sarada Temple. This must be compared to reports in the Mysore Archaeological Survey quoted by Brittlebank that at least three Hindu temples within his realm had been destroyed by Tipu: The Harihareshwar Temple at Harihar which was ?apparently plundered and part of it converted into a mosque?, the Varahswami Temple in Seringapatam and the Odakaraya Temple in Hospet ?said to have been destroyed?.
Does that mean that Tipu was a Muslim fanatic? Hardly. Praxy Fernandes mentions Christians who were close to Tipu, like Father Joachim Miranda, who was a personal friend of Hyder Ali. Father Francis Xavier, a parish priest, a mysterious Kanara Roman Catholic who apparently became the chief of Tipu'sroyal household and a Salvador Pinto who was employed as Tipu'spersonal munshi and who was reported to have wielded a great influence on the Sultan. But none of them could prevent Tipu from uprooting between 60,000 to 100,000 Catholics from Kanara for their alleged support to the British, and dragging them to Seringapatam, to be imprisoned in dungeons. Hundreds are reported to have died en route.
The trouble is that Tipu, like any coin, was two-faced. One face, defended strongly by the secularists, was that of a benevolent ruler who, in the language currently in use, was a model of sarva dharma samabhav. The other, uglier face, is that of a tyrant who could treat his enemies ruthlessly by ?whipping, the cutting off of limbs, ears and nose, as well as castration, forcible circumcision and hanging?. That is feudal rule.
There was much that was detestable about Tipu. According to Brittlebank ?in the Sultan'sown dominions, his confidential servant, Raja Khan, had free access into the private apartment of any of his subjects, and could carry away any of the women, without them daring to make any opposition.? Just as detestable was Tipu'smode of giving gifts to his subordinates such as ?widows or cast-off wives and concubines? as if they were commodities and not human beings. Not a pleasant thought our liberals no doubt will say that Tipu was only helping helpless women. Tipu detested the Nairs of Kerala and especially their practice of polyandry. The Nairs refused to be brow beaten by Tipu whereupon he embarked on a jehad, and as, Fernades writes ?several thousand of captured Nairs were circumcised and admitted to Islam?. Admitted indeed!
Fernandes writes, tongue firmly in check that the ?martyrdom of Nairs was not intended to be a religious persecution but a political punishment and a drive towards social reform! Ha, ha! Social reform? A man who keeps a zenana? Who gave the right to Tipu to reform Nair ethos? Like the Nairs, the Coorgis were also punished, about 70,000 of them converted to Islam. One can only say anything about Tipu and still be correct.
The truth is that Tipu was a feudal figure whose word was law. And he had many faces, kind, tolerant, benign, patriotic, examples of which are abundantly described by Fernandes and Brittlebank but there was another Tipu who not only blatantly chose Persian as the state language, but chose to figure Caliphs, saints and Imams on his coinage, as did the British in a following era who enforced English.
One supposes that Tipu can be forgiven. Tipu was a parvenu ruler of a predominantly Hindu kingdom. He appointed Hindus to high positions just as the British did when they took over India, but for that reason, should we forget Jallianwala Bagh? His army was predominantly Muslim. Of course, he fought the British, but who wouldn'twhen one'srule is in danger? His only other option was to succumb to the British like so many princes did elsewhere in India to their shame. He declined to submit for which all credit to him. But criticising him is not being anti-Muslim as our secularists make out. He had his shortcomings, many of them too glaring to be ignored. The point is that both Hindus and Muslims have to come to terms with their past, seeing history in the context of time. And our secularists must realise that when they try to defend the indefensible, they only raise the angst of long-suffering Hindu population with memories of a thousand years of harsh Muslim rule.