Was Tipu Sultan a hero or a tyrant? Two centuries and two decades have passed since his death in 1799, but opinions remain sharply divided on the legacy of the King of Mysore. In Karnataka particularly, the 18th century ruler has remained a divisive figure with controversies in his name refusing to die down.
In the latest row, a BJP legislator had demanded the removal of a lesson on Tipu from school textbooks, saying it “contains wrong information”.
Controversies on Tipu Sultan were revived when the Siddaramaiah-led Congress government gave a stamp of approval to his birth anniversary celebrations in 2015.
BJP strongly opposed this move calling Tipu a “religious bigot” and led protests across the state. Later, the BJP boycotted celebrations and continued to do so until the B S Yediyurappa-led BJP government decided to put an end to the four-year affair when it came to power in July 2019.
While ‘Hazrat Tipu Sultan Jayanti’ has been officially celebrated on November 10 in Karnataka since 2015, widespread protests and heated debates led by leaders of Congress and BJP has become a common affair in Karnataka politics.
While those who celebrate the occasion speak highly of Tipu’s ‘secular’ views and contribution as a ‘freedom fighter,’ the protesters often point out to his alleged forced conversions and exploits in the Madikeri – Malabar region among other issues. It can also be recalled that some Kannada outfits accused Tipu of being “anti-Kannada” as he ran his administration in the Persian language.
In 2015, when the Congress government geared itself up for the celebrations to be held officially in various parts of the state, violent protests were held across the state. The protests by the BJP, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), RSS, and Bajrang Dal across Karnataka resulted in supporters of either sides clashing against each other. At least two people in Kodagu, including a VHP leader, were killed in the clashes.
In 2016, the then BJP state president Yediyurappa, along with leaders R Ashok, Shobha Karandlaje, S Suresh Kumar, and writer M Chidananda Murthy among others held a massive protest in Bengaluru even as the government went ahead with its official celebrations. Meanwhile, a grand celebration organised by the Kannada and Culture department of the state government was held in Vidhana Soudha in the presence of the Speaker, Chief Minister, and other top leaders of the then Congress government.
The following year, in 2017, days before Tipu Jayanti, President Ram Nath Kovind’s address in the Karnataka legislative assembly became a talking point after he praised the 18th-century Mysore ruler. “Tipu Sultan died a heroic death fighting the British. He was also a pioneer in the development and use of Mysore rockets in warfare,” the President said in his address.
The Karnataka BJP, which also professed Tipu of being “anti-Hindu”, then tried to cover up the same by claiming that it was the then CM Siddaramiah’s office which wrote the speech for the President. However, it was clarified that the speech was prepared by officials from the Rashtrapati Bhavan itself, with inputs from the office of the Karnataka Assembly.
Meanwhile, the then Union Minister of State for Skill Development Anantkumar Hegde termed Tipu a “brutal killer” in a tweet. This led to the descendants of Tipu Sultan in Kolkata contemplating legal action against the leader. Hegde later made news after he wrote to the Karnataka CM Secretariat and Uttara Kannada Deputy Commissioner, asking them not to include his name on the list of invitees for the programmes on November 10.
On November 10, 2017, the then CM Siddaramaiah chose to wear the Tipu headgear and hold a sword during the ceremony held in Vidhana Soudha. The pictures soon went viral on social media with mixed reactions from the citizens. Meanwhile, opposition leaders continued their protests, over 150 BJP workers were detained in Hubli. Section 144 was imposed in Kodagu then BJP leaders then said the Tipu Jayanti celebrations are “a deliberate attempt to stoke communal tensions” and “a blatant attempt at vote bank politics”.
In 2018, debates and protests broke out in Karnataka after a journalist with a Kannada daily was arrested in Tumakuru for an alleged inflammatory speech against the Tipu Jayanti celebrations.
As protests continued, some Sri Ram Sene, Bajrang Dal, and VHP were arrested by the police in Mangaluru.
However, Siddaramaiah chose to continue the celebrations in his residence in Bengaluru along with B Z Zameer Ahmed Khan, the minority welfare minister of Congress-JD(S) coalition government.
Incidentally, the then CM H D Kumaraswamy and deputy CM G Parameshwara chose to stay away from the celebrations directly citing health issues and travelling out of town as reasons, respectively. Criticising the government of continuing the celebrations even amid protests, the then BJP spokesperson Tejasvi Surya alleged the government of trying to communally divide people” over Tipu Jayanti. He added that Kumaraswamy would also see the same end as to how Siddaramaiah did “for celebrating Tipu.”
It was in July 2019 that the Yediyurappa-led BJP government chose to end the Tipu Jayanti celebration in Karnataka three days after it came to power and a day after it won the confidence motion in the state assembly.
According to the CM’s office, the decision was taken following BJP MLA KG Bopaiah’s request to cancel the Tipu Jayanti celebrations, highlighting opposition to the same, particularly in Kodagu district.
Reacting to the decision, Siddaramaiah said, “The decision to discontinue Tipu Jayanti is a big mistake. Tipu was not just recognised as he is from a minority community but also because of his contribution as a ruler. He fought bravely against the British and initiated many development works.”
The controversy continues, and pro and anti- Tipu groups are likely to get active around the November 10 Tipu Jayanti celebrations.