Tipu, an app to test tolerance?

Imran Qureshi | Updated on January 22, 2018 Published on November 18, 2015

Flagging of controversies: Tipu Sultan continues to create waves in the country

In an era of calibrated intolerance, Siddaramaiah has shown poor political judgment by celebrating the Mysore ruler

The propensity of the political class to imagine that going into history with an eye on the future will bring in benefits of some kind shows no sign of abating.

Equally, the penchant of anybody and everybody to jump on to the bandwagon and decide whether a ruler of the 18th century should be given any importance also matches that approach of the political class.

Everybody prefers to look at an event 267 years later with a 21st century perspective, forgetting that the world has changed and so have the norms.

The controversy over Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan being “secular’’ or a bigot falls in the category of issues that will keep popping up every few years for some people to fan passions and look for political mileage.

There cannot be a personality other than Tipu who presents himself on a platter to the political class to be taken advantage of. His style of disbursement of justice or the policies in his administration have given enough room for the political class to play its little games in the present era of calibrated intolerance.

A true ruler of yore

Some have always campaigned that Tipu was ruthless enough to kill Hindus if they did not fall in line with his diktats and forced them to convert to Islam.

Some have also provided evidence that he funded and protected a large number of temples in not only his old State of Mysore but also in the neighbouring States of Tamil Nadu and Kerala.

Indeed, one researcher has collected copies of the written orders from the district authorities in Kerala and other places in Tamil Nadu that show clearly that 228 temples in Tamil Nadu and Kerala were funded and protected by him.

Some people might be at odds to reconcile themselves to this man who, on the one side, protected and funded temples and, on the other, did not hesitate to commit “atrocities’’ against Hindus. Tipu is known to have not spared even the Moplahs or the Muslims of Kerala because they had joined hands with enemy number one, the British.

History clearly says that neither of the versions of Tipu are wrong.

It is just that he was a true ruler in a century when plunder and rape was the order of the day, something the Marathas and the British indulged in. In fact, the bond between the Sringeri math and Tipu grew stronger also because the Marathas had plundered the religious institution.

Violent implications

In this kind of situation, Karnataka has a chief minister who looks at Tipu as a folk hero. Siddaramaiah, a son of the soil from Mysore, has always believed that Tipu was a man whose life needed to be celebrated for he fought the British and brought in agrarian systems that evolved over the years into laws governing land reforms and the development of sericulture.

The ex-socialist is very well aware that sending out political messages was more important now than at any other time given that the affiliates of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) were doing everything to question the plurality of India.

That was one reason why the Karnataka tableau at the Republic Day parade during the very first year of his rule featured Tipu as the man who died fighting the British.

Siddaramaiah also knows that the advantages of the State government celebrating the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan will not fetch any additional votes from the Muslims.

It is well known that the adoration of Tipu is limited to Mysuru (the de-anglicised name of Mysore) and its neighbouring district of Chamarajanagar. The Muslims of Bengaluru or north Karnataka or the coastal districts may put him on a pedestal but that is different from adoration.

Under these circumstances when he decided to make Tipu’s birth anniversary celebrations an event of the State, Siddaramaiah, perhaps, did not foresee the implications.

That reaction got a boost when the renowned playwright, Girish Karnad, said he regretted the fact that the international airport, currently named after the founder of Bengaluru, Kempegowda, was not named after Tipu Sultan.

To be fair to him, he also said he knew very well that the names of airports cannot be changed. Karnad was never known to be politically correct but in that one statement, he put the State government, rather the host Siddaramaiah, in a difficult situation.

The chief minister, of course, had to distance himself from that statement because that would be an affront to the major caste group of Vokkaligas to which Kempegowda belonged.

As an explanation, Karnad tried to equate Tipu’s role in uniting Mysore with what Shivaji did to unite Maharashtra.

He also added one more line to say that Tipu did not enjoy the same status as Shivaji because he was Muslim.

No gain, much pain

This is a message that would have gladdened the hearts of those opposed to Tipu, not so much those who celebrate Tipu or those who supported the government in celebrating his anniversary.

But, the interesting aspect of this is that celebrations organised by a State government have never fetched the ruling party of the day any political advantage.

Take, for instance, the previous BJP government which celebrated and even declared holidays for Valmiki’s birth anniversary or Kanakadasa’s anniversary (poet-saint who belongs to the Kuruba or shepherd community like Siddaramaiah).

The Kurubas, however, voted overwhelmingly for Siddaramaiah. In fact, the Congress government of yesteryear also celebrated and declared a holiday for the anniversary of Basavanna, the social reformer who is worshipped by the Lingayat community. This major upper caste group has been the base on which BS Yeddyurappa, led the BJP to power.

In Karnataka’s political landscape, Siddaramaiah is one leader who understands this better than anybody else.

He should know that his political stock would not go up much by asking the minority welfare department to organise the event on behalf of the State government.

And, if his intention was to only convey a message to the BJP and its affiliates to learn to tolerate another stream of thought on an 18th century ruler, it would obviously raise questions about his political judgment.

It would be far better to tackle issues at the ground level in the coastal belt where students of diverse faiths are not targeted by vigilante groups for having an ice-cream together.

The writer is a senior journalist

Published on November 18, 2015
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