On Tipu trail: Four cities, four different narratives, but the Sultan is still a factor

To assess the impact that the differing tales of Tipu have left behind upon the minds of the people, indianexpress.com went on a ground reporting tour to those parts of Karnataka where the Tiger’s footsteps can still be heard.

May 11, 20184:44:42 pm

The footsteps of history rarely ever tread by without leaving their marks on the territories they once stepped on. One can hear them echo years later, in the moods, behaviour and actions of the people. Is it any surprise that the past is perhaps one of the most frequently used tools for politics in the present? Who one glorifies, what part of the story is told and what part of it is manipulated with, plays a significant role in assuring people of the backing of a certain leader. As Karnataka approaches its Assembly polls, it is interesting to note how it is the rule of a monarch who died two hundred years back, that is tugged into the electoral battle.

Tipu Sultan, the ruler of Mysore in the late eighteenth century, is one of those characters of Indian history whose story alters significantly depending on who the narrator is. To some he is a great freedom fighter and to others, a tyrant beyond words. To assess the impact that the differing tales of Tipu have left behind upon the minds of the people, indianexpress.com went on a ground reporting tour to those parts of Karnataka where the Tiger’s footsteps can still be heard.

Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace (Express photo by Adrija Roychowdhury)

In Srirangapatnam, the capital of the Sultan, Tipu is the hero of independent India. Not only is he revered as a freedom fighter, but he is also seen as a holy figure by the Muslims. They refer to him as ‘Hazrat’ ( an Arabic honorific title used to honour a person), and visit his grave as a pilgrimage site. Further, for an economy that is based significantly on tourism related to Tipu Sultan, the erstwhile Mysore ruler means a lot. Unsurprisingly, the historical favouring of Tipu manifests itself in support for any leader that valorises him. [Read More] 

Mysore Palace (Express photo by Adrija Roychowdhury)

Next we were in Mysore where the Wodeyar family lived and continues to live. Tipu’s father Hyder Ali had taken over this kingdom from the Hindu monarch and later Tipu ambitiously built upon it. For Mysore, the memories of Tipu Sultan is that of a Muslim soldier, taking over a Hindu king. Political leanings of the population varies from who one idealises – the Muslim soldier or the Hindu king. [Read More]

The Bhagandeshwara temple was built in 1790 by the local king to honour the reappearance of the Kaveri and its merger with two other rivers. (Express Photo by Adrija Roychowdhury)

Our next stop, Kodagu or Coorg, was the hilly district of Karnataka, known for its coffee plantations. As per the Kodava narrative, Tipu captured, massacred and converted a large number of them to Islam. Not only are the memories of Tipu’s brutality hurtful to their religious sentiments, but also, being part of a culture that is rooted in martial arts, Tipu Sultan personifies a lack of dignity for them. The region has seen the rule of the BJP for a significant amount of time. If the Tipu narrative held up by the Congress will result in a continuation of BJP governance or lead to an change of administration, we are yet to tell. [Read More] 

Rosario church, which is believed to be one of the 25 churches demolished by Tipu (Express Photo/Adrija Roychowdhury)

Our last stop, Mangalore, being a port city was extremely important to the Sultan. He is believed to have fought hard to retain it. But local narrative also suggests that in the process, Tipu massacred and converted a large number of Kanara Christians, whom he suspected of assisting the British. The memory of the destruction caused by Tipu sits uncomfortably in the minds of the Kanara Christian population, as they struggle to come to terms with the celebration of Tipu by a government they have supported for a long time. It remains to be seen if they will choose their loyalty towards a party they have supported since independent India took birth, or will they give in to the discomfort caused by a two hundred year old memory and change course. [Read More]  

There are several peculiarities attached to voting behaviour. While religious, caste and community related solidarity can to a large extent determine the historical narrative one chooses to subscribe to, and eventually the political leaning one might have, things might alter significantly due to several other factors. One might subscribe to a particular party’s ideology, but not to the functioning of its candidate or one might simple want a change of governance, regardless of the ideology that the leadership holds on to. As Karnataka goes to polls on May 12, we can analyse a good deal on who supports whom depending on demographics and the historical narratives and ideologies any group holds one. However, voting behaviour ultimately, is hard to generalise and even harder to predict. As of now what we know for certainty, is that regardless of who comes to power in Karnataka, the rule of the erstwhile Mysore ruler continues to make its presence felt in terms of reverence for some and hatred by others, two hundred years after his body was found after the battle for his citadel.