Controversy : Creating False Icons
There is a clear political angle as to why the Siddaramaiah Government sponsored Tipu Jayanti. It is plain even to the most obtuse mind that it was aimed at wooing the Muslims.
People in several districts of Karnataka literally stand divided on the issue whether Tipu, the self-styled Sultan of 18th century Mysore, was a Muslim bigot or a secularist. What has triggered the debate, which is so far in the hands of half baked historians and even the unlettered, is the action of the Siddaramaiah-led Congress Government of the State officially sponsoring the 265th birth anniversary of Tipu (1750-1799).
The Government has itself to blame for provoking the people leading to violence in Kodagu District and also some unseemly controversies. It was for the first time the Karnataka Government observed the Jayanti of Tipu.
The official function was held on November 10 at the seat of power, the magnificent Vidhana Soudha in Bangalore and was attended among others by Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. Thus, Tipu, who had usurped the Mysore throne ousting the Hindu rulers, the Wodeyars, was given the pride of place in republican Karnataka. Similar functions in other cities were also held with much éclat.
The left historians may claim Tipu to be 'Tiger of Mysore'. However, historians who have done extensive study on Tipu's life and times say his so-called generous image was actually a distorted one. Tipu is considered to be a bigot as he tried every attempt to convert Hindus to Muslims and wanted to rule an Islamic state. Even today, Kodagu, Kerala and Tamil Nadu have folk stories that talk about Tipu's atrocities.
There is a reason as to why the protest was organised by VHP in Kodagu which was earlier being called Coorg. It was the Hindus of the District who had faced the atrocities committed by Tipu’s soldiers in 18th century. They were either massacred or converted to Islam. At that time Coorg had a Hindu king. It was his descendant Chikaveera Raja-II who was deposed by Governor General Lord William Bentinck in 1834 and exiled to Benares. His daughter Bollamma was taken to the court of Queen Victoria and converted to Christianity. Bollamma who died young was in Victoria’s court along with Dilip Singh, son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.
It is thus that the small district of Kodagu has a large population of Muslims. Added to it is the influx of Muslims from neighbouring Kerala, many of whom work as labourers in the coffee or orange plantations, the District is famous for. The violence in Madikeri is being attributed to intruders from Kerala. The Hindu native population of Kodagu called Kodavas or Coorgis was declared a martial race by the British and has a considerable presence in the country’s armed forces. The tiny District has produced two of our Army chiefs, Field Marshal K.M. Cariappa (who was the first Indian commander in chief) and Gen. K.S. Thimayya. It was around the statue of the latter in Madikeri (formerly Mercara) that violence erupted.
Tipu Jayanti has taken a totally unexpected and theatrical turn. One of the standard bearers of the secular brigade in the country, Jnanapith award winning playwright Girish Karnad spoke at the official function. Going overboard while extolling Tipu as a great freedom fighter and a secularist, he wanted the Government to rename the Bangalore International Airport after him. The airport has already been named after the founder of Bangalore, Nadaprabhu Kempegowda. His suggestion has enraged the Vokkaliga caste and some of the pro-Kannada organisations as Kempegowda was a Vokkaliga. Curiously Kannada organisations had at first joined the chorus of lauding Tipu. Following Karnad’s impolitic suggestion, they dumped Tipu for Kempegowda! Girish Karnad is reported to have tendered an apology before a Kannada TV channel at his home and not in public about renaming the airport. Now he too has abandoned Tipu as a lost cause. His detractors have even filed a complaint against him with the police and alleged that Karnad had made the suggestion at the bidding of the Chief Minister himself.
It is no doubt a fact that Tipu’s name had been considered while naming the Bangalore international airport. He was born in Devanahalli in Bangalore Rural District, close to where the airport has come up.
Why on Nov 10 and not on Nov 20?
If the controversies surrounding Tipu Jayanti was not enough, the Siddaramiah Government landed in one more soup over the Tipu Jayanti date itself. It is said that Tipu birthday falls on November 20 but State Government 'insisted' on celebrating it on November 10. Now one wonders why there was such a hurry for November 10. BJP spokesperson Prakash Sesharaghavachar said, “November 10 was not Tipu's birthday but it was the day when Tipu had hanged 700 Iyengars from Melukote and the State Government has chosen that day. Siddaramaiah Government also chose November 10 as that day was Deepavali. It is Siddu who is pursuing hatred to further his bogus AHINDA agenda. The people of Karnataka should throw him to dustbin of history at the earliest.”
There is a clear political angle as to why the Siddaramaiah Government sponsored Tipu Jayanti. It is plain even to the most obtuse mind that it was aimed at wooing the Muslims. Moreover Siddaramaiah came to power sidelining hardcore Congress leaders calling himself the champion of the minorities, backward classes and the dalits . He is the Karnataka version of Mulayam Singh Yadav or Lalu Prasad Yadav. A newcomer to the Congress, he is more of a Janata Dal politician. While blaming the BJP as being communal and anti-secular, Siddaramaiah has not hesitated to use the name of Hindu deities to gain political mileage. For example, his Government celebrated Krishna Janmasthami at the same Vidhana Soudha venue in September last. It was for the first time the Government used the official machinery for observing the Jayanti of a Hindu god. Again, the main motive of the Government was to keep the members of the Yadava (called Gollas in Karnataka) caste in good humour.
After the violence in Kodagu, Karnataka Government should heed the sage advice of the revered Sri Vishveshvara Thirthi Swamiji of Pejawar Math in Udupi that the Government should steer clear of the birth anniversaries of controversial personalities like Tipu. He suggested that instead it could celebrate the jayantis of great personalities among Muslims such as Maulana Abu Kalam Azad and Sir Mirza Ismail, who was the Dewan of princely Mysore (and later Jaipur and Hyderabad) and is held in high esteem for developing all the three princely States. Historian Shadakshari Shettar, who is a former Chairman of Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR), has said that the Government should desist from celebrating the Jayantis of rulers and religious leaders. Identified more with the pseudo secular brigade, Prof. Shettar has said, “Tipu Sultan was an enlightened ruler and deserves to be respected for that”.
The fundamental question missed in the ongoing debate in Karnataka is as to how Tipu became the Sultan of Mysore, which was a Hindu state. His father Hyder Ali who was a better soldier and ruler. He never called himself the Sultan. He did not occupy the throne and allowed the Wodeyar Maharajas to be titular rulers from 1761 till his death in 1782. He exercised de facto authority, calling himself the fauzdar or regent of Mysore and paid obeisance to the four Maharajas from Krishnaraja Wodeyar-II (ruler from 1734 to 1766) onwards. Fortunately, for Hyder and unfortunately for the Wodeyars, three Maharajas died when they were children or adolescents- Nanjaraja Wodeyar (he was only eight when he died), Bettada Chamaraja Wodeyar (17) and Khasa Chamaraja Wodeyar (20). Tipu occupied the throne ousting the last prince who died in 1796. Even Krishnaraja Wodeyar-II died when he was only 38. When Tipu was killed in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war in May 1799 Krishnaraja Wodeyar-III, better known as Mummadi Krishnaraja Wodeyar, was only a child of five.
But there existed a woman in Mysore those days, not written about much in the annals of Indian history to oppose both Hyder and Tipu. It was Lakshammanni (1742-1810) the Maharani of Krishnaraja Wodeyar-II . She never recognised the two as rulers and took the help of their enemies, the British in particular to remove them. She had no option but to take the help of the British. Hyder Ali had humble beginnings and was only a horseman in the Mysore army. He is stated to belong to a Muslim family which had migrated to Mysore from Punjab. Historian K.N. Venkatasubba Sastry, former professor at the Maharaja’s College in Mysore named a girl’s college he founded in Bangalore after Lakshammanni.
Tipu has also divided the historians. Prof. Kalikinkar Datta who was the co-author of the popular treatise ‘An Advanced History of India’ along with Prof. R.C. Majumdar and Prof. H.C. Raychaudhuri has written “Tipu is in many respects a remarkable personality in Indian history. A man of sound moral character, free from the prevailing vices of his class, he had an intense faith in God…..A valiant soldier and a tactical general, Tipu was a diplomat of no mean order”. The book goes further to say, “He was not a fierce bigot. The discovery and study of Tipu’s Sringeri letters prove that he knew how to placate Hindu opinion and religious intolerance was not the cause of his ruin. Though a pious Muslim he did not attempt any wholesale conversion of his Hindu subjects. In one respect, he compares unfavourably with his father, politically he was less sagacious and practical than the latter”.
But much research and studies have gone in the decades since the book was written. Among the better known in recent decades is the one on Tipu by the historian, Prof. B. Sheikh Ali, a former vice-chancellor of the Mangalore University. The book is an ode and an eulogy to Tipu. Those who have painted the secular character of Tipu, refer to the way he saved the Sringeri Shankar Math, which had been attacked by the Marathas and made gifts to the famous Nanjundeshwara Temple at Nanjangud near Mysore city.
Writing history in the first two decades after the death of Tipu, some of the British historians have portrayed him as a Muslim fanatic who indulged in mass conversion of Hindus especially in Kodagu, South Kanara and in Kerala. Foremost among them is Col. Mark Wilks who was witness to the happenings in Mysore after Tipu’s death and came out with his monumental work ‘The History of Mysore’, a book which is available in reprints.
The noted scholar of Karnataka, Prof. M. Chidananda Murthy has maintained in a book published in 2013 that Tipu killed thousands of Hindus and destroyed Hindu temples. The last of the eight sons of Tipu, Prince Ghulam Mohammed in a book mentioned that his father had destroyed Hindu temples at many places and converted 84000 Hindus to Islam. Those who refused to convert were killed.
Those who call Tipu as Bharat’s first freedom fighter are unaware of the facts about this barbarious Muslim ruler. He may be among the first to form the clear perception that the British and not any Indian power was his enemy, if not that of Bharat. It is better that in future, the Karnataka Government does not repeat this year’s mistake by celebrating the Jayantis of Tipu or any other personality regarded as a tyrant by the people at large, rather than go by the views of secular historians who are swayed by today’s vitiated politics in the country.
Arakere Jayaram (The writer is a senior journalist based in Bengaluru)