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‘Realpolitik dictated Tipu’s decisions’

Published Nov 12, 2015, 12:03 pm IST
Updated Mar 27, 2019, 3:50 am IST
Supporters claim that ‘The Tiger of Mysuru’ was a true son of the soil

The Karnataka government’s decision to celebrate the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan has riled a few sections of people in the state. Supporters claim that ‘The Tiger of Mysuru’ was a true son of the soil who sacrificed his life fighting the British, others say he was a religious zealot who massacred innocents and imposed Islam upon them.

he ghost of Tipu Sultan keeps resurfacing every now and then to divide the polity and society. He returned this week due to the foolish and misguided initiative of the Karnataka Government to celebrate his birth anniversary. For starters, the Government did not even care to check historical facts. Tipu was born on 20 November 1750. Yet the Government decided that his birthday was to be 10 November! It coincided with Deepavali and the cruel irony is the fact that on this very day Tipu had hanged about 700 men, women and children of the Mandyam Iyengar community in Melukote for no fault of theirs. To this day, the community commemorates Deepavali as a day or mourning. Tipu is an enigma and a historian’s puzzle, eluding straightjacket definitions.


While he adopted several progressive measures including introducing cooperative banking, land reforms, agricultural loans, rocket technology, horticulture and sericulture and creating a market for Mysurean products internationally, his social report card is abysmal. Documented evidences through his own letters and reports of his court historians, British and French records point to a ruthless tyrant who indulged in mass murders and conversions of Hindus, Syrian Christians and the Nairs in Coorg, Malabar, Mangalore and other places. The Mysore Gazetteer mentions the destruction of nearly 8,000 temples across South India during his reign. The protests too have been most active in those regions where he is still a hated figure after two centuries.

The question naturally arises- should a democratically elected state government lend its official legitimacy to a monarch whose legacy is so divisive? Isn’t this with narrow vote bank politics in mind? The beef issue in recent times that sought to divide people is being replayed in Karnataka by both the Government, and naturally its opponents, to create unnecessary situations of law and order which has even led to the sad loss of a life in the firing on a day of festivity.

Appropriating characters of the past and defining them by today’s yardstick and definitions is criminal. One cannot call Tipu Sultan or Shivaji a freedom fighter of “India” as there was no concept of a nation state in the 18th century. He was a brave solider undoubtedly but he colluded with the French who were no less colonial and even invited Zaman Shah of Afghanistan to invade India and defeat the British.

These monarchs were products of their time and circumstances and their actions were determined by realpolitik of their times. We cannot use them to create social harmony among communities today. The excesses they committed must be acknowledged and not whitewashed just to appeal to any particular community. Likewise, the albatross of guilt of the crimes perpetrated from the times of Mohammad Ghazni, Tughlaks, Mughals to Aurangazeb and Tipu Sultan does not hang around the necks of any community of a modern, democratic and secular India.

Identification of a ruler’s legacy with any community is lethal especially when fragile sensitivities are involved. Instead of fighting over whose name the Bangalore International Airport must take, the Government might be well advised to reduce people’s hardships of reaching the airport through better connectivity of roads, expressways and metro rail. Historical characters and their legacies must be left to historians and academicians to dissect and analyse and politicians with their half-baked knowledge of history should leave the arena and not ferment further social tensions.

Historian Pieter Geyl had rightly said: “History is an argument without an end.” Nothing could be truer in the case of Tipu Sultan as his tumultuous legacy continues to invade modern Indian political discourse every now and then.
(Vikram Sampath is a Sahitya Akademi award winner and author of Splendours of Royal Mysore: the untold story of the Wodeyars)

Don’t compare Tipu with Kempegowda, say experts

The skewed nature of our state government's priorities has reached a head, with the Tipu Sultan controversy reaching what experts call “ridiculous” proportions. Playwright Girish Karnad's statement about BIAL being named after Tipu Sultan, a freedom fighter, and not Kempe Gowda has ruffled feathers all over the state. The government, which celebrated Tipu Jayanti on November 10, has only added to the general ire, arising largely from areas like Mangalore and Kodagu where people believe Tipu Sultan was a tyrant, not a great king.

According to historian Suresh Moona, comparing Kempegowda with Tipu Sultan is an absurd notion. “There is a gap of nearly two centuries between the two and they shouldn't be put on the same pedestal. Again, there are so many burning issues in the city like garbage, electricity, potholes. For the common man, these are the issues that matter. Instead, the government focuses on these celebrations. I'm not saying they shouldn't happen, but celebrating a historical figure can be kept low-key. Somehow, there seems to be a diversion from the real issues at hand.”

Architect Naresh Narasimhan, who has proposed a heritage walk that covers Tipu's Summer Palace amid a host of other heritage buildings, says, “Nobody can be held responsible for either the good or the bad committed by their ancestors. Who knows what the situation was when Tipu took those decisions - he has done a lot of positive things as well. It's called realpolitik and has nothing to do with religion. It's impossible, really, for us to judge the situation on the ground at that time. The controversy has been sparked off by the usual vested interests.”

Tipu Sultan has been widely regarded as one of the forefathers of India's freedom movement and Girish Karnad's statement, which was purely personal, should be treated as such, said reputed filmmaker Suresh Heblikar. “The Muslims had ruled India for over 500 years before the British arrived and South Indian kingdoms had more or less been untouched by raiders until that point. Tipu was trying to show his own might and protect his territory, which is why he established diplomatic relations with the French and Napoleon Bonaparte.” There are many atrocities associated with Tipu Sultan, but those should be seen in context, he believes. “He came from a time when there was no democracy and torture was the norm, not just in India, but all over the world. Which war has been fought without a single atrocity? The controversy raised today is irrelevant. Tipu Sultan should be looked at from within a historical context, never without.”

A look at Tipu’s armoury and palaces

Tipu Sultan, the Sher-e-Mysore, was born in 1750 to Hyder Ali, a prominent military officer. In 1761, Ali, whose career had progressed rapidly over the years, became the ruler of Mysore. Tipu spent his childhood among some of the best tutors available at the time, learning shooting, equestrianism and swordsmanship. At the age of 15, he captured the family of the Malabar chief with a paltry army of about 3,000 men. In 1782, Tipu ascended the throne of Mysore, with the First and the Second Anglo-Mysore wars under his belt already. Tipu brought with him a deep interest in military advances, in particular, the Mysorean rockets which were successfully used by his father.

Tipu's Armoury:

The Mysore Rockets
Mysorean missiles were iron-cased rockets with swords embedded within them. The rockets could remain airborne for several kilometers and plummeted, sword tip first, onto the enemy. Tipu even wrote the military manual, Fathul Mujahidin, in which he explained the operation of the Mysore rockets.

Tipu's Sword
In April 2015, Bonhams, a reputed auction house in London auctioned off a rare gem-set sword with a tiger's head pommel for a whopping Rs 204,364,706. The Sword of Tipu Sultan was taken away as a trophy, along with his ring, by the British forces after their victory. They remained in the British Museum till 2004, until liquor baron Vijay Mallya bought the sword in an auction.  

Pistols and guns
Flintlock pistols and sporting guns were also a prominent feature in Tipu's famous armoury. Tipu's personal flintlock came with a left-hand lock, made especially for him at the royal workshop. A number of canons used by Tipu Sultan were recovered here in Bengaluru during the excavation work for the Namma Metro. Tipu Sultan was one of the first Indian kings to be martyred on the battlefield while defending his territory from the British forces. Historians usually take a favourable view of his role in the freedom struggle, while others say he was a Muslim fanatic.

The fort of Tipu Sultan remains, to this day, near KR Market in Bengaluru. It is best known for its teak pillars and ornamental frescoes. Built according to Islamic architectural traditions, the palace contains a Ganapati temple within its walls. The Tipu Sultan palace lies within the fort.

Summer Palace
Located in Sriran gapatnam, Tipu's Summer Palace is a popular tourist sport.



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Location: Karnataka