Why Tipu Sultan will always be remembered as a fanatic
The tales of this 18th century Muslim ruler's excesses are alive today in the region's oral history.
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So, the narrative on communal, divisive and polarising issues is here to stay in the country, it seems. After much hullabaloo on matters like church attacks, beef ban, cow slaughter and Dadri lynching, it now is Tipu Sultan. The Congress government of Siddaramaiah in Karnataka has stirred up a hornet's nest by celebrating Tipu Jayanti, for the first time ever, on November 10 in the state on the grounds that the 18th century ruler of Mysore was a "secular ruler", "a model king in the entire country" and "a section of people criticise him out of prejudice”.
The chief minister's contention has been widely contested, and rightly so. Unfortunately, the protests against the statewide celebration turned violent and a VHP leader was allegedly hacked to death and several others suffered grave injuries. In fact, Tipu was just the opposite of "a secular ruler" or "a model king" and many other things and these are the reasons why:
1. Fanatic king and unjust ruler
There are ample research works to prove beyond an iota of doubt that Tipu was "Aurangzeb of the South" who inflicted unimaginable sufferings on his non-Muslim subjects - both Hindus and Christians - in Coorg and Malabar because he considered them "kaafirs". He had launched "jihad", bringing the "infidels under his sword". He had vowed to expand his empire and convert all into Islam. He derived ultimate pleasure in capturing thousands of Hindus in his own empire, torturing them, forcing them to eat beef and circumcising the men. Communal harmony was the greatest victim during his rule. Ironically, the Muslims are supporting Tipu Jayanti celebrations despite the fact that their ancestors converted to Islam out of fear from getting butchered or to evade several taxes which were imposed only on non-Muslims. This proves the deep roots communal polarisation has taken place in the country today.
In those times, while kings fought against kings and their armies clashed with each other, subjects of the vanquished kingdom were largely left untouched. The new king would look after them irrespective of their faith. But Tipu was an exception, much like Aurangzeb in the North, who killed and tortured his subjects on sheer religious ground. So, Siddaramaiah's contention that Tipu was a secular ruler and a model king in the entire country is not only fallacious but also mischievous. It is politically motivated to divide and polarise the society for the sake of votes.
2. Tyrannical as the Britishers
Arguments have been made by historians that Tipu was a freedom fighter who used modern technology existing at that time and made innovations in the use of rocketry to fight against the British. According to Scottish historian William Dalrymple, "Tipu was one of the most innovative and far-sighted rulers of the pre-colonial period. Tipu also tried to import industrial technology through French engineers, and experimented with harnessing water-power to drive his machinery. He sent envoys to southern China to bring back silkworm eggs and established sericulture in Mysore - an innovation that still enriches the region today. More remarkably, he created what amounted to a state trading company with its own ships and factories dotted across the Gulf. British propaganda might portray Tipu as a savage barbarian, but he was something of a connoisseur, with a library of about 2,000 volumes in several languages."
However, this argument turns on its head. During their 200-year-old rule over India, the Britishers, too, modernised India and brought development to the country by way of introducing trains, modernisation of education and initiating the English language. By that logic, the British rule should not have been opposed. By Siddaramaiah's rationale, India should observe the birth anniversaries of British Queens and prime ministers. But the British rule is detested because they committed excesses over the Indians, behaved in a partisan manner and divided the people on religious lines.
Similar is the case with Tipu. He may have modernised weapon during his time but he is being opposed for unleashing terror on his own people. The ones protesting against the celebration of Tipu's birth anniversary are those whose ancestors were massacred and tortured between 1782 and 1799 when he ruled Mysore. The tales of his excesses are alive today in oral history locally. These incidents are not mythical. Having taken place just over 200 years ago, they are not old comparatively.
Having expanded the Mughal empire from North to South, East and West, even Aurangzeb as a ruler is considered quite successful. But he is remembered for his tyranny and anti-Hindu campaign - like razing temples, imposing taxes on Hindus, killing them and forcing them to convert to Islam. On the other hand, his predecessors like Akbar "the Great" and "Shah Jehan" are respected for their tolerance and attempts to maintain communal harmony.
3. No freedom fighter
To label Tipu as a freedom fighter is flawed. In fact, the opposite is true. As Sandeep Balakrishna wrote in DailyO, "Tipu’s various correspondences with the French, preserved at the India Office in London indicate how he conspired with them to drive out the British and divide India between them. Tipu also invited the Afghan ruler Zaman Shah to invade India and help the cause of Islam."
Tipu also sent emissaries to Ottoman Turkey to garner support against the Britishers. Ironically, he was opposed by Muslims inside the country. In the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War, when Tipu was killed on May 4, 1799 while defending his fort of Srirangapatna, the Britishers were supported by the the Nizam of Hyderabad besides the Marathas.
Though Siddaramaiah may be trying to build a constituency for himself and consolidate Muslim votes - first by proclaiming that he will eat beef publicly and now by having the state government to celebrate Tipu Jayanti - the 18th century Muslim ruler will remain a cruel, tyrannical king in the eyes of the people whose ancestors had come under his sword.