Abuse of history

G Naga Sridhar | Updated on January 22, 2018


View Tipu Sultan in his context, not ours

After over two centuries, Mysore’s famed ruler Tipu Sultan is back in the limelight — for all the wrong reasons. His resurrection, by those who support him as well as those who oppose him, is a classic example of the use and abuse of history.

Tipu, who ruled Mysore between 1780 and 1799, lived in an age when power politics played a bigger role than religion in shaping policies.

On the one hand, he had given liberal donations to many temples including the one at Srirangam. On the other, he has been accused of destroying temples and killing hundreds of Melkote Iyengars. How do we understand this dual personality? Was he a liberal or a religious fanatic?

The answer is, he was neither. Like many rulers of his times, he was an imperialist who tried to perpetuate his own power and authority. The accusation that he killed Hindus in Malabar on religious grounds does not stand scrutiny as he also killed Muslims in his fights against the Hyderabad Nizams. So, it is inappropriate to give religious colour to his actions.

What’s the context?

As observed by historian Bipan Chandra, communalism is a modern ideology that cannot be pre-dated to the second half of the 19th century. It is historically incorrect to apply communal motives to pre-colonial times.

The first communal riots in India, as noted by British crime records and acknowledged by eminent social historian Sumit Sarkar in his work, Modern India, occurred in the 1880s in Calcutta when two communities clashed over cow protection as advocated by the Arya Samaj which has also done pioneering work in fighting for a casteless society through the promotion of inter-caste marriages. The context for the clashes was extremely limited — the spread of modern education and the divide and rule policies of the British after the 1857 revolt that created an ideological gulf between Hindus and Muslims.

But today, with 78 per cent literacy, we are again fighting on issues such as beef consumption, forgetting the multi cultural fabric of our society.

Simply irresponsible

The blame should go to politicians and intellectuals for making irresponsible statements. For instance, the comparison between Tipu and Sivaji by writer and artist Girish Karnad should not have come at a time when the country is caught up in a debate on intolerance and beef. The two historic personalities belong to different times and spaces in history and had their own strengths as leaders.

While Sivaji was a visionary who always tried to ensure caste balance in his administration, Tipu was an infant democrat who planted the Jacobin Tree of Liberty in his palace influenced by the ideals of the French Revolution.

Actually, he was the only leader who could grasp the game plan of the British for the piecemeal conquest of India. He rightly identified loopholes in warfare and trained his troops on European lines. Using the names of these two leaders for political ends is an abuse of their history.

The medieval Bhakti saint, Kabir, was the first intellectual to plead for Hindu-Muslim unity, something we are unable to realise even today.

Secularism is no longer a social necessity or political game plan for the country — it is an economic imperative as any deviation from this could hit investments and the business climate.

Published on November 15, 2015

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