Remembering a Tiger.
Ever since the induction of the BJP-led NDA government, India has been mired in a conflict between bigoted and moderate Hindus. The BJP represents the former while the Congress represents the latter. Earlier, it was the UP chief minister, Adityanath taking a swipe at the Taj Mahal. Now, a controversy has been ignited by the BJP against the celebration of Tipu Jayanti, (birth anniversary) of Tipu Sultan by the Congress government in Karnataka. Tipu Jayanti, celebrated on November 10 for the last three years, has been opposed by the BJP, whose leaders have called the ruler a tyrant, murderer and rapist, among other things.
Since 2015 the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government has been celebrating Tipu Jayanti and has faced stiff opposition from the BJP. This year, before the Jayanti on November 10, a BJP-sponsored petition was filed in the Karnataka High Court, praying that the celebrations be stopped. But the High Court refused to oblige and the event was observed peacefully, amidst tight security. For most people in Mysuru, Karnataka, Tipu was a mighty ruler, a legendary figure and their personal pride. About 100 km to the 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.
Thus, while Tipu is anathema to the BJP and RSS, to others he is a hero who fought the British till his death. State leaders and former CMs, B.S. Yeddyurappa and Jagadish Shettar have earlier worn imitation costumes of Tipu in his veneration. Yeddyurappa even visited Tipu's grave and eulogized him in his short stint as the president of the regional Karnataka Janata Party in 2013. President Ram Nath Kovind praised Tipu in his speech to the joint session of the Karnataka Legislature to mark the state secretariat Vidhana Soudha's Diamond Jubilee.
According to some analysts, despite mounting tensions in various parts of the state, the government stuck to its programme, because it was Siddaramaiah's effort to consolidate the Muslim vote bank as state elections are due in 2018. No wonder, BJP national president Amit Shah attacked the Karnataka government for minority appeasement. But Muslim vote may be at best, collateral. In the wider perspective, the Jayanti observation syncs with Congress' egalitarian philosophy, which does not judge people and politics through the prism of Hindutva, like the BJP.
The Congress government of Karnataka had started celebrating Tipu Sultan's birth anniversary in 2015 terming the 18th century ruler of Mysore a freedom fighter, who was killed in the 4th Anglo-Mysore war. The BJP, RSS and others, however, call him a brutal king who persecuted Hindus and Christians in large numbers, especially those who refused to convert to Islam. Even historians and scholars are divided in judging Tipu. His supporters talk about how he fought the British and his contributions to Hindu temples. According to one historian, "Tipu's 75% cabinet comprised Hindus. And when the Marathas plundered Sringeri temple and the idol was on the road, the Swamiji wrote to Tipu and he restored the temple."
British historians, however, mention the killings of thousands of Hindus and Christians in Madikeri-Malabar region and the forced conversions that Tipu allegedly carried out. Popularly known as the Tiger of Mysore, Tipu Sultan was born on 20 November 1750 (Friday, 20th Dhul Hijjah 1163 AH) at Devanhalli, in present day Bangalore, to Fatima Fakhr-un-Nisa and Hyder Ali, the Sultan of Mysore in a Najeeb Al Tarfayn Syed family. He was named "Tipu Sultan" after the saint Tipu Mastan Aulia of Arcot. He was also called "Sultan Sayyid wal Shareef Fateh Ali Khan Tipu" after his grandfather Fateh Mohammad.
Tipu became the ruler of Mysore on Sunday, 22 December 1782 after the death of his father Haider Ali on 6 December. His reign is remembered for many technological and administrative innovations. Among them was the introduction of new coin denominations and types. He also introduced a luni-solar calendar as well as a land revenue system which boosted the Mysore silk industry and helped in establishing Mysore as a major economic power.
Tipu Sultan is revered as a pioneer in the use of rocket artillery. He expanded the use of rockets, deploying as many as 5,000 rocketeers at a time. Rocket innovation during his time used iron tubes that could hold the propellant and enabled higher thrust and longer range of missiles. He deployed rockets against advances of the British forces and their allies during the Anglo-Mysore Wars. The rockets used during the Battle of Pollilur in 1780 and Siege of Seringapatam in 1799 were said to be more advanced than the British had previously seen.
Tipu fought three wars with the British: the second, third and fourth Anglo-Mysore wars. The second and third, he won. In the fourth he was defeated and killed. In the Second Anglo-Mysore War in September 1780, Tipu Sultan decisively defeated the British in the Battle of Pollilur. Out of 360 Europeans, about 200 were captured alive and the sepoys, numbering about 3800 men, suffered very high casualties.
Tipu Sultan defeated Colonel Braithwaite at Annagudi near Tanjore on February 18, 1782. Braithwaite's forces, consisting of 100 Europeans, 300 cavalry, 1400 sepoys and 10 field pieces that was the standard size of the colonial armies. Tipu Sultan seized all the guns and took the entire detachment prisoner.
But it was not the British alone whom Tipu had to contend with. He had also to fight the Marathas and deal with the hostility of the Nizam of Hyderabad.
In the Fourth Mysore War in 1799, Tipu's forces were hugely outnumbered. Three armies, one from Bombay and two British, marched into Mysore and besieged the capital Srirangapatnam. There were over 26,000 soldiers of the British East India Company comprising about 4000 Europeans and the rest Indians. A column was supplied by the Nizam of Hyderabad consisting of ten battalions and over 16,000 cavalry. Many soldiers were also sent by the Marathas. The soldiers in the British force numbered over 50,000, whereas Tipu Sultan had only about 30,000 soldiers.
When the British broke through the city walls, French military advisers advised Tipu Sultan to escape through secret passages and live to fight another day but to their astonishment Tipu replied, "Better to live one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a lamb." Tipu Sultan died defending not only his capital but India against the British. When the fallen Tipu was identified, next to him, underneath his palanquin, lay one of his most devoted servants, Rajah Cawn, a Hindu. Whatever his shortcomings, it cannot be said that Tipu Sultan was among the bravest sons of India. To view this 18th century ruler through good or bad, or patriot or traitor, and judge a historical figure through a contemporary prism is, therefore, incorrect and misleading.