The controversy surrounding Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of Mysore, has emerged in Karnataka. This happened over the state government’s decision to celebrate the ruler’s birth anniversary.
The issue flared up when playwright Girish Karnad commented that Tipu would have enjoyed the status of Shivaji had he been a Hindu. He also remarked that Bengaluru’s international airport should have been named after Tipu.
Karnad’s comments sparked an outrage from the Hindu right wing forces. He received a death threat that said the playwright “will meet the same end” as the murdered scholar MM Kalburgi.
It is a pity that the mere expression of a view on a historical figure can generate spiralling social reactions. This is because the Hindu right wing forces like to target Tipu Sultan’s secular image dubbing him as a Muslim bigot.
This view is now getting spilled on the streets. There are certain forces who are stoking fire against him and an atmosphere of hatred is being built against him.
A fresh narrative on Tipu Sultan is gaining currency painting him as a Islamic Jihadist. The allegations are made that Tipu hanged 700 Melkote Iyengars and killed or converted the people of the Coorg region into Islamic fold.
It is also alleged that Tipu unleashed a reign of terror on the Mangalorean Catholics and destroyed their churches.
Further, Tipu tried to exterminate the Nairs of Wyanad and Malabar and so on and so forth…
This new narrative on Tipu Sultan is filtering in media discourse and acquiring dangerous proposition. This is poisoning the innocent minds.
Right-wing groups seem unwilling to debate issues with civility. If this narrative is allowed to go unchecked, soon Tipu sultan will become another tyrant ruler like Aurangzeb, who too is victim of prejudiced propaganda.
Well Tipu destroyed temples in lands that he conquered but at the same time protected and generously supported those within his own domain.
Those depict Tipu as Muslim bigots are so selective in their propaganda that they forget that he constructed a temple inside his fort of Srirangaptam along with a mosque.
This temple existing inside the fort is a living testimony of Tipu’s secular outlook where devotees thronged even to this day.
The other example is of Purnaiah aka Mir Miran Purniya who was the member of Tipu's inner cabinet and the only Hindu in an all-Muslim cabinet.
When the British barged into the fort of Srirangapatam, they razed all the structures inside the fort and looted the entire artefacts and took them to England.
Many valuable items of that loot are now in private possession. Those in public domain are showcased in the British museum that has a separate chamber for the exploits from Srirangapatanam.
Historian William Dalrymple in an essay on Tipu Sultan pointed out that the British had an interest in painting him as an “intolerant bigot” to drum up a case for their conquest over him. The British tried to belittle all that Tipu stood for as they tarred the rulers achievements.
It is a pity that British propaganda about Tipu Sultan is shaping the opinion the people to think differently about him today.
It is improper to judge figures of the past by canons of the present. It would be outrageous to put pressure on today’s Muslims to pay for any such sins with the skewed understanding of that past.
Tipu Sultan has no relevance for any Muslim, except for the fact the ruler belonged to their faith. It is left to the wise people who are in knows of the things to decide his place in the history.
As per the history books, Tipu was, “one of the most innovative and far-sighted rulers of the pre-colonial period.” He understood British designs on India and, as a “modernizing technocrat” used advanced western weaponry to fight them.
As compared to Tipu no Hindu ruler of his time can match his vision of the scientific advances that was made during his reign.
Overall, Tipu’s reign was much more than what the Hindu right-wing fanatics are trying to portray about him.
It is sheer communalism to paint him as a Muslim bigot. This hidden political agenda is dangerous trend in the country.
Those doing so can be booked under the provisions of the IPC dealing with spreading animosity among the religious communities.
The real nationalist thing to do is to advance a truer understanding of Tipu as a historical figure who was a secular south Indian ruler who worked for Hindu- Muslim unity.
[Writer is a journalist based in Chennai. Can be contacted at email@example.com]