Tipu Sultan: Diverse Narratives

Ram Puniyani

From couple of years around 10th November, BJP has been undertaking the smearing campaign against Tipu Sultan. Incidentally from last 3 years Government of Karnataka has been celebrating the anniversary of Tipu. As such he is the only King, who laid down his life while fighting against the British. This year around as November 10 approached, Mr. Anantkumar, the Union Minister and a major BJP leader from Karnataka, turned down the invitation of Karnataka Government to be part of the Tipu anniversary celebration. His argument was that Tipu was a mass murderer, wretched fanatic and rapist. At places there were protests organized by BJP.

Certain sections of the society also consider him a tyrant who engaged in forced conversions. He is also accused of promoting Persian at the cost of Kannada. It is also alleged that his letters to his Generals, claimed to be in British possession now, show that he believed that kafirs should be decimated. There is no dearth of such periodic controversies being raked up around his name. What is being propagated on the basis of some flimsy sources is that he destroyed hundreds of temples and killed thousands of Brahmins!

Incidentally just a month ago, Ramnath Kovind, the President of India, who has a RSS background, was on a different trip. He praised Tipu by saying that “Tipu Sultan died a heroic death fighting the British. He was also a pioneer in the development and use of Mysore rockets in warfare.” Many BJP spokespersons, uncomfortable with this statement, undermined the President by saying that false inputs were provided to Rashtrapati Bhavan by Karnataka Government.

As such there are diverse attitude towards Tipu from within RSS-BJP stable itself. In 2010, B.S. Yeddyyurappa, the BJP leader adorned Tipu’s headgear and held a mock sword, on the eve of elections. In 1970s RSS had published a book praising Tipu, calling him patriotic, this book was part of Bharat Bharati series.

On the other side noted Kannada playwright Girish Karnad is all praise for Tipu to the extent that he supported the demand to name Bangaluru airport in his name. Karnad has also been stating that had Tipu been Hindu, he would have been accorded the same status in Karnataka, which Shivaji has in Maharashtra.

One recalls that Tipu has been made popular through the 60 episode serial based on Bhagwan Gidwani’s script, the ‘Sword of Tipu Sultan’, which also focuses on the fight of Tipu against East India Company. Tipu had corresponded with the Marathas and Nizam of Hyderabad to dissociate themselves from the British forces, the intrusion of which he saw particularly harmful for this region. This policy of his led to various battles against British. It was in the fourth Anglo Mysore war of 1799 battle that he lost his life. He has been immortalized in the popular memory of Karnataka people through folk songs. This is very much akin to iconization of Shivaji in popular memory in Maharashtra.

Why did Tipu use Persian as the Court language? It is important to recognize that Persian was the court language in the sub-continent at that time. Even Shivaji of Maharashtra was using Persian in his correspondence and had had Maulana Hyder Ali as his Chief Secretary, for doing this. Tipu was not a religious fanatic as he is being projected by them today. Tipu’s policies were not driven by religion. In fact, in his letter to Shankaracharya of Kamkoti Peetham, he refers to the Acharya as Jagatguru (World Teacher). He also donated rich offerings to his shrine.

When the Maratha army of Patwardhan plundered the Sringeri monastery, Tipu Sultan respectfully restored the monastery to its glory. During his reign, ten-day Dushehara celebrations were an integral part of the social life of Mysore. Sarfaraz Shaikh in his book ‘Sultan-E-Khudad’ has reproduced the ‘Manifesto of Tipu Sultan’. In it, he declares that he would not discriminate on religious grounds and would protect his empire until his last breath.

There is a charge that he persecuted certain communities. It is true. The reason for this persecution was purely political not religious. About these persecutions historian Kate Brittlebank comments, “This was not a religious policy but one of chastisement”. The communities targeted by him were seen as disloyal to the state. The communities he targeted did not just belong to Hindu stream he also acted against some Muslim communities like the Mahdavis. The reason was that these communities were in support of British and were employed as horsemen in the East India Company’s armies. Another historian Susan Bayly says that his attacking Hindus and Christians outside his state is to be seen on political grounds as he at the same time had developed close relations with these communities within Mysore.

As such the alleged letters in possession of British, where he is supposed to have talked of killing Kafirs and converting them, needs to be seen rationally, their genuineness apart. We have to see the person in his totality. When he has Purnaiyya, a Hindu Brahmin, as his Chief Advisor, when he is all respectful to Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamkotipeetham, it is unlikely that he could have been on a murderous spree of Hindus. British have been harsh against Tipu on purpose as he was the one to oppose the advance of British in India and wrote to Marathas and Nizam that we should settle things among ourselves and keep British out. Due to this he was singled out by British; who vehemently demonized their opponents. There is a need to have a balanced picture of this warrior king, who took on the might of British and could foresee that British are a different power, different cup of tea; so to say, to be shunned at all the cost. In that sense he is the pioneer in Anti British resistance on this soil.

The vacillations of communalists, from praising him to presenting him as an evil character are motivated attempts to uphold their communal ideology, nothing else!

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED

Earlier in the year (2017) BJP President Amit Shah had launched ‘Jan Suraksha Yatra’, a two-week program to highlight the death of RSS workers in Kerala. Many BJP dignitaries (twelve Union Ministers and five Chief ministers) participated in this. The one who made big news was Yogi Aditya Nath. The slogan of Amit Shah was that CPM has been indulging in political violence, which has led to the death of RSS workers in Kannur- Kerala. He wanted to draw the attention of people to Jihadi-red terror in Kerala. Yogi Aditya Nath, Chief Minister of UP was offering advises to Kerala about health care and administration. This did reflect his audacity as we have recently seen the death of number of children in Gorakhpur hospital due to lack of Oxygen in Hospital. The Chief minister of such a state offering advice to Kerala is one among the many ludicrous acts of Yogi, as Kerala tops in the welfare indices in the whole country.

The whole propaganda unleashed by the BJP is reflective of the pattern of their politics. The statistics shows that during last seventeen years, the number of political deaths in Kerala are as follows: those dying from CPM-85, RSS-65, Muslim League and Congress-11 each. Kannur has seen the rivalry between CPM and RSS, in which on frequent intervals the political workers have been killed from both the sections. Shah’s attempt to show that it is RSS workers alone who are being killed is a fake breast beating. He knows well that CPM workers have also been killed. RSS cabal as such has built itself up around identity issues which have led to massive killings. Leave apart the earlier issues raised by RSS-BJP, the latest such have been Ram Temple and Holy Cow. Both these issues have led to violence and killings. The RSS combine has been deflecting the blame on the victims in a clever manner. It delves on selective presentation of facts, raising of emotions and consequent violence.

In MP it tried to consolidate it’s position by raising the issue of Kamaal Maula Masjid (Bhoj Shala), in Karnataka it raised the issue of Baba Budan Giri, calling it Datta Peetham). Capitalisation of issues around identity is the speciality of RSS combine. Can their ploy succeed in Kerala? Kerala is one place where the representation of different religious communities is matching. The first Christian community begins on the Malabar Coast, with coming of St. Thomas in AD 52, establishment of series of Churches and the beginning of Christian community. The Arab traders have been coming for trade all through and from Seventh Century onwards Islam comes. The first mosque, Cheraman Jumma Mosque also came up in Kerala. While Amit Shah thrives on dividing the communities along religious lines, Kerala has been the place of inter-community harmony from ages.

Also, Kerala is a place where social reform has been in the forefront. It’s here that great social reformer Narayan Guru preached for casteless society, equal respect for all castes by establishing temples where people from all castes were welcome. Same Narayan Guru also organized the first Parliament of religions, breaking the religious divides to build one Humanity. The latter Communist Government of Namboodripad brought in land reforms, rare in other parts of the country, to bring in economic succour for the landless peasants. This is what led the foundation for other changes making Kerala number one state in social development indices. 

The attempt to communalise Kerala has been very intense on the part of BJP-RSS, it has been raising the issue of love Jihad on regular basis. Many investigations by police authorities have concluded that there is no organized attempt to woo over Hindu-Christian girls to convert them to Islam. It is an occasional case of inter-religious marriage. It is the harmony and bonding of intercommunity relations to which Amit Shah tribe is opposed, leading to harassment of girls and torture of the boys, who happen to choose their life partners on their free will.

Amit Shah has not only been sowing the divisive seeds through his efforts, he has also been highlighting the Brahmanical nature of his politics. On Pongal, the biggest festival of Kerala, he brought out posters celebrating Waman, calling the festival as Waman Jayanti, wished the people of Kerala happy Waman Jayanti. The legend is that King Mahabali was killed through deceit by Waman, the Avatar of Lord Vishnu. Pongal as such is regarded as King Mahabali visiting his subject one’s in a year. The legend goes that the king belonged to low caste, and treated all the castes with same respect.

While BJP has been going strong guns in different parts of the country by its tactics of promoting sectarianism and subtle Brahmanism, it is unlikely that Kerala, the very enlightened state, with better social welfare and amity, will fall prey to Shah’s tactics. He has been labelling the violence as Red-Jihadi violence, by calling it so he wants to kill two birds in a single stone. Kerala has a large Muslim population; Jihadi word is to demonize them. It is likely that this time around these tactics will boomerang on the saffron party as Kerala is the bastion of social reform and political awareness. While RSS has been coming up here from last many decades, its political child BJP has not been able to make any headway barring one seat in Assembly. One knows that there is a rise in the electoral votes lately, can that trend grow is a matter of conjecture and depends on how CPM and other parties respond to these attempts by BJP and company.

It is heartening to know that Left parties have kicked off yatras, Jan Jagrata Yatra (People’s awareness), to promote the democratic values. Also, it seems Congress (UDF) is also planning Yatras. Time for these elements to wake up to the fact, that they need to coordinate their efforts to save communal amity, their coordination on this will help the matters to a great deal.

Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / OPED