Author Girish Karnad and BJP MP Pratap Simha received death threats on social media on Thursday amid a raging controversy in Karnataka over 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan’s birth anniversary celebrations that have inflamed communal tensions across the state.
A Twitter handle called ‘Intolerant Chandra’ hit out at Karnad for his comment that the Bengaluru international airport should have been named after Tipu rather than the city’s founder, Kempe Gowda, saying he would meet the same fate as well-known Karnataka writer MM Kalburgi, who was killed in August.
Karnad later apologised, saying he “didn’t mean to hurt anybody’s feelings”, but maintained his admiration for Tipu as a freedom fighter remained firm. He also said he didn’t want Kempegowda International Airport to be renamed after Tipu.
As anger mounted, Simha, who has been leading the agitation against the Tipu Sultan anniversary celebrations, also received a threat on Facebook from a person who signed off as ‘Indian Muslim’ and said, “Pratap, I don’t think your death should come like this.”
The crisis snowballed as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad called a state-wide bandh on Friday to protest the Congress government’s decision to honour Tipu Sultan, who according to them was a tyrant who persecuted Hindus and Christians.
Chief minister Siddaramaiah’s decision to celebrate Tipu’s 265th birth anniversary as a state festival is seen as a big political blunder that has put him on a collision course with the Sangh Parivar and and alienated Vokkaligas, who are not even a traditional BJP vote bank.
The BJP called for the chief minister’s resignation as tensions mounted two
days after clashes in the south Karnataka town of Madikeri between supporters of the event and Vishwa Hindu Parishad workers who opposed the celebrations, left two people dead, including a VHP activist.
The activist’s death has become a rallying point for the BJP and RSS as the state remains on edge even after the Tipu Jayanti celebrations with hardline Hindu groups launching spontaneous protests across Karnataka.
The flare-up comes in the middle of growing outrage over growing intolerance that has prompted more than 50 writers, thinkers and filmmakers to return top government awards.
Sectarian tensions have risen in the past few months following the killing of rationalist thinkers, the mob lynching of a Muslim man in Uttar Pradesh merely over cow slaughter rumours and the burning alive of two Dalit children in Faridabad.
The Shiv Sena also jumped in and accused the Congress government in Karnataka of following a “divisive policy”.
Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant objected to parallels being drawn between Tipu Sultan and Maratha king Chhatrapati Shivaji.
“Tipu Sultan was a ruthless ruler who massacred Hindus and did not believe in the existence of any other religion except Islam. He had demolished temples and churches. And they say he was a good ruler?” Sawant told PTI.