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Who Is Afraid of Tipu Sultan ?

By Subhash Gatade

26 January, 2013

Ravi said the state government is not ready to name the university after Tipu Sultan. If they are going to set up a non-religious university then the name should be non-controversial.... Like British, Tipu is also a foreigner for us and we will not accept his name.

CT Ravi, higher education minister, Karnataka
(Quoted in Jan 25, 2013, 16:38 IST , By DNA)

The fast changing political developments in Karnataka has rather overshadowed the manner in which Tipu Sultan- who died fighting the Britishers at Srirangapatna (4 th May 1799) - is being denigrated by people owing allegiance to Sangh Parivar. The latest in series happens to be the higher education minister of Karnataka Mr C T Ravi, who claimed that for them 'Tipu is also a foreigner' like the British.

The immediate context of this Tipu bashing is the decision by the central ministry of minority affairs to set up 'Tipu Sultan University' at Srirangapatna. In fact, it’s the name which has raised the hackles of them, though they are not averse to another university being set up in Karnataka. As a recap of the unfolding events it may be underlined here that two months back the ministry decided to set up such universities under 'public-private partnership' in five different states - Karnataka, Jammu Kashmir, Bihar, Bengal and Madhya Pradesh - under article 31 of the constitution (rights to minorities to start educational institutions) where fifty per cent seats would be reserved for religious minorities - Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists etc. A panel was also constituted to prepare a feasibility report for the five universities, draw up the syllabus and submit it to the ministry by February.

A section of the media has also faithfully joined this denigration of Tipu Sultan 'Tiger of Mysore' - as he is widely known - who was a ruler much ahead of his times. A sample of this bias could be had from a recent incident on a Kannada TV channel which held panel discussion on the Tipu University issue. While Pramod Muthalik - of the SriRam Sene fame, Chidananda Murthy and advocate Devaraju spoke on behalf of Sangh Parivar, C S Dwarakanath and Murulasiddappa spoke in favour of Tipu Sultan. The TV show anchor was so partial that he did not give any opportunity to Dwarakanath and Murulasiddappa to speak at all and he ended the programme by letting Muthalik and Chidananda Murthy have the last word. It was a different matter that Dwarakanath and Murulasiddappa stated in the end that no matter who opposes the proposal, the said University will come up.

People conversant with Karnataka politics can recall that it is not for the first time that Sangh people are doing this. Few years back when BJP was sharing power with JD(S) in the state, the then higher education minister D.H. Shankarmurthy - a RSS Swayamsevak from his school days - had similarly tried to recast Karnataka history books in the Sangh Parivar's mould and had announced his move to obliterate the great Tipu Sultan's name from the pages of Kannada history. Under the false pretext that Tipu did not give due importance to the Kannada language and rather promoted Persian language he had asserted that Tipu Sultan should not be glorified. 'Most of the history text books in the country depict Tipu Sultan, Akbar, Aurangazeb Alexander and others as patriots but the real ones are never brought to light,' Murthy had observed then. For him the alleged neglect of Kannada language by Tipu Sultan was reason enough that the great warrior of all times who even sacrificed his children to end colonial rule be obliterated from Karnataka's history. The pretext of anti-Kannada bias in Tipu Sultan ran hollow when one knew that the Archeaological Department of Mysore State is in possession of over thirty letters by Tipu to the Shankaracharya of Shringeri Math. These letters are written in the Kannada characters.

For C.T. Ravi today or for Shankarurthy few years back it was minor matter that Tipu sensed the designs of the British and tried to forge broader unity with the domestic rulers and even tried to connect with French and the Turks and the Afghans to give a fitting reply to the hegemonic designs of the British. Definitely the Sangh Swayamsevaks do not want the future generations to even know that Tipu defeated the British army twice with his superior planning and better techniques and who died in the battlefield itself fighting the Britishers again with his sword in his hand.

It may be recalled here that Tipu was an apostle of Hindu-Muslim unity, was fond of new inventions, and is called innovator of the world’s first war rocket, who felt inspired by the French Revolution and despite being a ruler called himself Citizen and even planted the tree of 'Liberty' in his palace. As an aside it may be mentioned here that Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the then President of India, in his Tipu Sultan Shaheed Memorial Lecture in Bangalore called Tipu Sultan the innovator of the world's first war rocket. Two of these rockets, captured by the British at Srirangapatna, are displayed in the Royal Artillery Museum in London.

Of course the move to declare him a 'foreigner' or a failed attempt to obliterate the name of the warrior from history books, whose martyrdom fighting the Britishers preceded the historic revolt of the 1857 by around 50 years does not appear surprising as far as the whole trajectory of the RSS is concerned. The eighty plus year old history of the 'cultural organisation' is replete with facts which show how they have discovered cowardice as a virtue. Thousands of pages have been written about the way they kept themselves aloof from the historic anti-colonial struggle of the Indian people under the excuse that they want to unify the Hindus. Enough has been written on the way they tried to break the wider anti-colonial unity by pitting Hindus against Muslims. Perhaps it is high time to emphasise the fact the ideologues of the Hindutva brigade were 'pioneers' as far as claiming that Hindus and Muslims were two nations.

At times it is baffling to know the extent to which the falsification of history has been attempted to suit the 'divide' and 'rule policy of the Britishers. In one of his speeches given in 1977 in the Rajya Sabha, titled 'History in the Service of Imperialism' Professor B. N. Pandey, Professor of History in Allahabad University, who later became Governor of Orissa, had narrated his experience. In his speech he mentioned how way back in 1928 "..[w]hen he was a Professor of History in Allahabad University some students came to him with a book written by one Professor Harprasad Shastri, Professor of Sanskrit of Calcutta University in which it was mentioned that Tipu Sultan told 3000 Brahmins to convert to Islam otherwise they will be killed, and those 3000 Brahmins committed suicide rather than becoming Muslims. On reading this Professor B. N. Pandey wrote to Professor Harprasad Shastri asking him on what basis have you written this? What is the source of your information? Prof. Harprasad Shastri wrote back that the source of information is the Mysore Gazetteer. Then Prof. Pandey wrote to Prof. Shrikantia, Professor of History in Mysore University asking him whether it is correct that in Mysore Gazetteer it is mentioned that Tipu Sultan told 3000 Brahmins to convert to Islam. Prof. Shrikantia wrote back that this is totally false, he had worked in this field and there is no such mention in the Mysore Gazetteer, rather the correct version was just the reverse, namely, that Tipu Sultan used to give annual grants to 156 Hindu Temples, he used to send grants to the Shankaracharya of Shringheri, etc."

It is now history how the colonials distorted our history to suit their imperial interests. One very well knows they called our uprisings as mutinies, our heroes as villains, and our freedom fighters as usurpers and terrorists. It is understandable why the colonialists reviled Tipu, who proved to be a formidable rival who refused to become a tributary of the British Company. The move to declare him a 'foreigner' and refusing to honour the sacrifices he made fighting the Britishers is just another indication that Sangh Parivar has taken it upon themselves the task left unfinished by the colonialists.

Subhash Gatade is a Writer and social activist based in New delhi. Subhash also edits a Hindi Journal Sandhan. His most recent book is "Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India" Email. : subhash.gatade@gmail.com




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