The Karnataka government is going ahead with plans to celebrate Tipu Sultan’s birth anniversary on November 10 amid intense bickering among politicians and historians over whether the 18th century king deserved to be glorified.
The ruler of erstwhile Mysore kingdom is a divisive historical character. The Congress government headed by chief minister Siddaramaiah insists Tipu was a ‘true patriotic ruler’ who fought and laid down his life fighting the British.
Several opposition parties including the BJP and its affiliates such as the RSS, however, say he was a religious bigot who forcibly converted thousands to Islam.
Several historians and prominent citizens have also joined the debate. Former Infosys director TV Mohandas Pai described the plan for ‘Tipu Jayanti’ as something akin to “celebrating the anniversary of Aurangzeb”, the Mughal emperor considered a tyrant.
But chief minister Siddaramaiah alleges that only some communal elements like the RSS are opposed to it. “The government will ensure that law and order is maintained in the day of the celebrations,” he says.
The Karnataka government celebrated Tipu’s birth anniversary for the first time last year, triggering protests and violence that resulted in the deaths of two people – a VHP leader and a youth from the minority community – in Kodagu district.
The BJP has accused the Congress government of celebrating the anniversary with the sole motive of appeasing the minority community. The party will stage protests across the state on November 8 to oppose the celebrations.
Several Christian organizations have also joined the chorus of protests against the government move. The United Christian Association in the coastal district of Mangalore has opposed the event, saying Tipu forcibly converted Catholics and destroyed churches alongside temples during his reign.
Noted writer and historian Professor Chidananda Murthy compares Tipu with Hitler and says “there is enough proof in the form of documents to prove that he was a cruel bigot who mercilessly killed and converted several thousand Hindus and Christians whom he referred to as Kafirs.”
Murthy points out that Brahmins of Melkote in Mandya district still do not celebrate Diwali as Tipu had massacred a large number of them on Narka Chaturdashi – festival coinciding with Diwali - about three centuries ago.
However, there are several historians who disagree and claim Tipu had donated huge sums of money to temples in Srirangapatna, Nanjangud and Sringeri.
Dr Narendar Pani, a professor in the School of Social Sciences, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), says: “He was a trusted and honest leader to his subjects. It is a historical fact that he supported temples by giving huge grants. He also used to visit the temple located next to his palace in Srirangapatna to seek divine blessings before he embarked to the battlefield.”