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Tipu Jayanti: It’s wrong to judge historical figures using current standards

To view 18th century ruler Tipu Sultan through the binaries of good or bad, or patriot or traitor, is too simplistic a way to analyse the complexities in history. Political parties, both the ruling Congress and the Opposition BJP in Karnataka, must refrain from further politicising the issue. To judge a historical figure through a contemporary prism is incorrect

editorials Updated: Oct 28, 2017 11:07 IST
Hindustan Times
Tipu Jayanti,Tipu Sultan,Mysore king
A tableau depicting the might of Tipu Sultan during a full dress rehearsal for the Republic Day Parade, New Delhi (File Photo)(AP)

Debates and differences over the references and portrayals of men and women in history is a common feature in academia — in fact, it reflects the richness and depth of scholarship in the subject. The problem is when such debates are used to achieve political ends.

The legacy of the erstwhile ruler of the kingdom of Mysore, Tipu Sultan, is one such topic. For a majority of people in Mysuru, Karnataka, he is a mighty ruler, a legendary figure and their personal pride. About 100 km to its west in Kodagu , the sultan is seen as an evil ruler who killed people and plundered the land. In a relatively proximate geography he is both revered and despised — it is this dichotomy that makes celebrating Tipu Jayanti, the Karnataka government’s initiative to observe the birth anniversary of Tipu, a contentious issue.

Since 2015 the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government has been celebrating Tipu Jayanti and has faced stiff opposition from the BJP. This year the jayanti is on November 10; the State is preparing for the celebration while the BJP is marshalling its forces against it.

However, to view 18th century ruler Tipu Sultan through the binaries of good or bad, or patriot or traitor, is too simplistic a way to analyse the complexities in history. Political parties, both the ruling Congress and the Opposition BJP in Karnataka, must refrain from further politicising the issue. To judge a historical figure through a contemporary prism is incorrect and misleading.

Tensions in various parts of the state are slowly rising and a large number of security forces will be deployed to maintain peace. This leads to the question: Why is the government sticking its neck out on this? Some would say it is Mr Siddaramaiah’s effort to consolidate the Muslim vote-bank as state elections are due in 2018. Historians and prominent Kanadigas have called the celebrations unnecessary. Given this, Congress’ love for Tipu Sultan could be interpreted as political opportunism.

Then there is the question of whether tax payers’ money should be spent for such a celebration. It gains significance at a time when the farmer suicides are high in Karnataka. According to the NCRB report 2015, the latest year for which date is available, suicides by farmers and agriculture labourers in Karnataka saw an increase of 103% to 1,569 in a year’s time.

It’s said that ‘history is the version of past events that people have decided to agree upon’. In Tipu Sultan’s case, political consensus on his legacy is missing.

First Published: Oct 27, 2017 19:08 IST