While 18th century Mysore king Tipu Sultan’s legacy has run into controversy, with the ruling BJP in the state refusing to celebrate his birth anniversary and readying to remove flattering references in textbooks, his descendants are growing increasingly dismayed. Speaking up in his defence, Sahebzada Syed Mansoor Ali, a seventh generation descendant of the ruler, who has for long been on a mission to correct the negative notions about Tipu, says Tippu is now being used as an instrument of votebank politics and made a strong case for restoring a “responsible religious ecosystem” instead. He gives Vishaka V. Warrier, an insight into his journey of discovering the ‘real Tipu.’
Like many legends, he has his share of critics and fans. Tipu Sultan, the 18th century Mysore king, who has always attracted interest for his battles with the British and his rocket artillery demonstrated in warfare, has now become embroiled in a battle of a different kind between the securalists and the Bharatiya Janata Party, which sees him more as a tyrant than a patriot and is refusing to celebrate his birth anniversary that falls on November 10.
The ruling party in the state also appears keen on removing references glorying him in the primary school textbooks, setting off a row with the Congress accusing it of trying to distort history.
As the controversy rages, the “Tiger of Mysore’s” descendants are growing increasingly restive over the “votebank politics” being played over his birth anniversary celebrations, commonly referred to as Tipu Jayanti. The family’s secretary from Kolkata has written to the heads of political parties to avoid such controversies as they hurt their sentiments.
Closer to home, a member of the family, Sahebzada Syed Mansoor Ali , who is married to Tipu's great granddaughter, Sahebzadi Raheemunnisa and has named his six-year-old son Hyder Ali, has made it his mission for years to undo some of the negativity surrounding the Mysuru ruler despite his role in fighting the British in India.
“It’s up to the government to decide if it wants to celebrate Tipu Jayanti or not. Whether it does or not, our family will pay tribute, as it always has, to our fearless forefather at his birthplace in Devanahalli. I don’t want any controversy over this,” he says firmly.
The British, who rounded up Tipu’s family after his death, shifted them to Kolkata and made sure they did not return to the south. And after independence, although descendants of other royal families received their due from the government, Tipu’s progeny didn’t, he recalls. Even today while some members of the family have moved to the south through marriage, most still live in Kolkata.
Raised in a family that can best be called middle class today , Mr Sahebzada calls himself a self-made businessman and a passionate researcher, who has spent years trying to correct the wrongs done to Tipu’s memory. His research, he tells you, has to do with his love for his ancestry and not politics. “I am not a politician and I don’t belong to any political party,” he stresses. But that doesn’t stop him from being disturbed by Tipu being used by political parties for their own ends.
“One of the first announcements of Chief Minister B S Yedyurappa on assuming office was to say no to Tipu Jayanti. A couple of years ago I had appealed to the then government to officially celebrate Tipu’s birth anniversary and it agreed. At the first celebrations, he was given the title of ‘Tipu Sultan Shaheed,’ in recognition of his role in history. But I didn’t expect this issue to become politicised,” he admits ruefully.
Mr Sahebzada began researching Tipu’s life soon after his schooling and continued with it after his graduation in management studies. In 2007, he started the Tehrik -e -Khudaadd movement,under which he collaborated with historians to collect evidence to counter the negativity around the Mysuru king.
Calling Tipu’s era as one of religious harmony, he recalls that he described his kingdom as “Sultanat- e- Khudaadd,” or “Government for the people.” “Khuda is the Hindi word for God. If he was intolerant of other religions, he could have called it as “Allah- e- Sultanate,” but he didn’t,” he notes. There is also evidence of him giving preference to skills and not religion when appointing officials like Purnaiah Pandit, Unnikrishnan, and others, he points out. “Moreover, there is proof of Tipu giving donations to temples and maths. And his three daughters and 12 sons were not only educated in the principles of Islam but also the Bhagvad Gita and other Hindu scriptures, besides economics, administration and taxation,” he elaborates.
His children were also introduced to the art of warfare after they turned ten and joined the army as soldiers, rising in the ranks based only on their calibre, Mr Sahebzada recalls, while dwelling on Tipu’s fair conduct .
It was after he found that there wasn’t enough information on the Mysore king in the archaeological department and libraries, that he reached out to researchers to gather information on his art of warfare, arms and ammunition, scientific engagements and so on. Later, determind to share his information with the world, he launched a website in 2017 dedicated to Tipu Sultan, ‘www.tippusultans.com,’ which refers to the work of historians, researchers and writers like Girish Karnad and has references to Mahatma Gandhi and B R Ambedkar too.
Mr Sahebzada’ work has seen him speak on Tipu Sultan at various universities and he has been instrumental in setting up a library on him at the Marathawada University, which will be inaugurated on May 4 , his death anniversary.
But Mr Sahebzada’s fight is not only for correcting the wrongs done to Tipu memory, but also to his descendants, who have got a shoddy deal from the government, according to him.
For years now he has appealed to the state government to contribute a portion of the revenue collected from Tipu Sultan’s legacy to support the health and education of his descendants , who are struggling to eke out a living. But so far his plea has gone unheard and they continue to live in conditions that are a far cry from their royal heritage.
Mr Sahebzada's parting comments , however, centre on the need for creating a responsible religious ecosystem to maintain communal harmony in society establish a multi-specialty government hospital in every taluk and provide uniform and holistic education for all. After all, nothing less can be expected from a descendant of a leader committed to social progress, as he calls himself....