By Nithin Sridhar
Two people, including a member of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), have been killed during clashes in Coorg district over the celebration of ‘Tipu Jayanti’- the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan on November 10.
The Karnataka government had organized the celebration of the 265th birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan amid protests by opposition parties and many other organizations. Though, the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan falls on November 20, the government had organized the celebration on November 10 itself.
Following this, a bandh was called in Coorg district. The silent protest turned violent when a clash between protesters and the supporters of Tipu Sultan resulted in the death of two people. The incident has again put the controversial life of Tipu Sultan, often called as ‘Tiger of Mysore’, under the spotlight.
NewsGram spoke to Sandeep Balakrishna, the author of “Tipu Sultan: The Tyrant of Mysore” and Chief Editor of IndiaFacts- in a written interview, about Tipu’s life, his legacy, and the current protests in Coorg district against the celebration of his Jayanti.
Nithin Sridhar: Can you shed some light regarding why the government decided to celebrate the birth anniversary of controversial Tipu Sultan amid such opposition?
Sandeep Balakrishna: Because it is entirely in line with the Congress’ tried and tested brand of the politics of appeasing Muslims at any cost. However, this is not new. The decision to celebrate Tipu’s birth anniversary was taken in 2014. This year, the Siddaramaiah government has merely put the decision into action.
NS: Why have the Kodavas (people of Coorg) raised their voice against this celebration? What was Tipu Sultan’s relationship with Kodavas?
SB: Kodavas are protesting because of history. Even after around two hundred years, the barbaric wounds that Tipu inflicted on Kodavas remain as fresh and painful as before.
Around 1770, Hyder Ali launched a raid on Coorg and butchered thousands of Kodavas. As British historian Lewin Bowring notes, “Haidar offered a reward of five rupees for the head of every Coorg [Kodava] which was brought to him, and that 700 heads were in consequence delivered.”
He couldn’t hold on to it for long but was finally able to bring Coorg under his control in 1780. After his death, Coorg briefly slipped from the control of Mysore. However, in 1788, Tipu Sultan reduced Coorg to a wasteland. In a letter to the Nawab of Kurnool Runmust Khan, Tipu gloats about how gloriously he accomplished this vicious task:
“…the exciters of sedition in the Coorg country, not looking to the consequences [of such conduct]… raised their heads, one and all, in tumult. Immediately on our hearing of this circumstance, we proceeded with the utmost speed, and, at once, made prisoners of forty thousand…Coorgs, who, alarmed at the approach of our victorious army, had slunk into the woods, and concealed themselves in the lofty mountains, inaccessible even to birds. Then carrying them away from their native country we raised them to the honor of Islam, and incorporated them with our Ahmadi corps. As these happy tidings are calculated, at once, to convey a warning to hypocrites…”
He razed and burnt down entire villages and towns, destroyed temples, and forcibly converted the Kodavas to Islam.
Additionally, Tipu resettled about 7000 Muslim families from elsewhere in Coorg thereby altering its religious demography. When his savagery was done, Coorg was largely depopulated of its original inhabitants.
Remnants of his brutality against the hapless Kodavas are visible even today in the form of ruined temples, original Kodava surnames of (forcibly converted) today’s Muslims among other things. Even today, stray dogs in Coorg are contemptuously called “Tipu,” a measure of how intensely he is reviled there.
NS: It is being alleged that, hundreds of Tipu’s supporters entered Coorg yesterday, in tempos and trucks, that triggered clashes between the protestors and supporters of Tipu in which 2 people died. Do you have any information regarding this? Who were these supporters who entered Coorg?
SB: According to ground reports that reached IndiaFacts–phone calls and emails–it appears that the violence that erupted was preplanned. Local people told IndiaFacts that about three days ago, a substantial contingent of Kerala Muslims was camped in Napoklu, about 40 Kms from Madikeri, and yesterday, about 1000 vehicles carrying pro-Tipu supporters entered Madikeri and started unprovoked aggression against the peaceful protestors who were protesting against the celebration of Tipu Jayanti.
Second, it is inaccurate to use the word “clashes” because, pro-Tipu supporters initiated the attacks against peaceful protesters. The clashes happened as a result of this attack. Local people also suspect the hand of SDPI and PFI–both based out of Kerala–behind this preplanned and organized attack.
Incidentally, Napoklu is also the site where Tipu Sultan destroyed temples–in the surrounding villages of Betu and Kolakeri. He also set fire to the house of Biddatanda family burning them alive. Those who survived were captured as prisoners and transported to Ganjam, near Srirangapattana.
NS: Tipu Sultan has been a controversial figure. On the one hand, he is portrayed by certain section of intellectuals as being tolerant and secular. As evidence his donations and correspondence with a few Hindu temples are put forward. On the other hand, some brand Tipu Sultan as communal and intolerant. What is your assessment? Can you elaborate regarding Tipu Sultan’s rule, especially with respect to his treatment of Hindus and other non-Muslims?
SB: The first question one needs to ask relates to the approximate period when the myth of Tipu as a tolerant and secular king–even freedom fighter–was created. We can trace this back to the early-to-mid 1970s. One also needs to remember the fact that until that time, almost no Muslim in Karnataka would name his son as “Tipu.”
This myth-making got a huge boost with Bhagwan S Gidwani’s ahistorical and spurious novel, Tipu Sultan: The Tiger of Mysore, which turned an Islamist bigot of unmatched fanaticism and cruelty into a glorious hero, freedom fighter, and some kind of a sacrificing patriot.
Regarding his donations to Hindu temples, etc. one can go through a piece I wrote for dailyo where I have dealt in detail about this. It is suffice to say that, it was motivated by both political expediency and his urgent need to recover his lost territory, fortune and pride.
His record of 17 years of rule indisputably shows how he regarded Hindus as Kaffirs (infidels) who deserved to be killed or converted to Islam. His raids in Coorg and the Malabar region in Kerala give us ample testimony: how, for example, he literally burnt down the thriving, prosperous and spice-trade rich Calicut and made it into a ghost city. For nearly 40 years, Calicut was ruined and impoverished, its spice cultivation etc. completely destroyed.
As Tipu notes in a letter to his deputy, Abdul Dulai: “With the grace of Prophet Mohammed and Allah, almost all Hindus in Calicut are converted to Islam. Only on the borders of Cochin State a few are still not converted. I am determined to convert them also very soon. I consider this as Jehad to achieve that object.”
He also changed the original Hindu names of cities and towns to Muslim ones: Brahmapuri became Sultanpet, Kallikote became Farookabad, Chitradurga became Farook yab Hissar, Coorg became Zafarabad, Devanahalli became Yusufabad, Dinigul became Khaleelabad, Gutti became Faiz Hissar, Krishnagiri became Phalk-il-azam, Mysore became Nazarabad, etc.
In his administration, he changed the official language from Kannada to Farsi. This is reflected even today in Karnataka’s official administrative documents which has a significant usage of Farsi and Urdu words: Khirdi, Khata, Pahani, Banjaru, Ahavalu, Jamabandi, and so on. Equally, he appointed only Muslims–even illiterate and incompetent–to the highest positions in his administration and military with the result that Mysore’s economy was wrecked, and the vast army that his father had left behind was reduced to nearly half. Historian and economist Prof. S. Gopal Rao’s study leaves us a comprehensive record of this fact. The only reason (behind this) was his determination to Islamize all aspects of his administration.
The list of Tipu’s atrocities against Hindus in South India is endless and includes oppressive and discriminatory taxation against Hindus, tax exemptions to Muslims, large scale destruction of Hindu temples, and closure of rituals etc. in existing temples.
There’s actually nothing controversial about Tipu Sultan. He was a semi-shrewd politician, an imperialist, and a religious bigot who inflicted widespread atrocities against both Hindus and Christians. The controversy has been created thanks to the ideologically-motivated fashion of writing Indian history, especially in the matter of Muslim rulers. This is also why Arun Shourie’s Eminent Historians must be made mandatory reading.
NS: Tipu Sultan is also portrayed in certain sections of academia as a patriot and freedom fighter who strived hard to free India from the clutches of the British. What is your view regarding this? What do historical accounts say about this?
SB: This portrayal can be attributed to two things: 1. The aforementioned project of ideology-driven whitewashing the sordid record of medieval (and late medieval) Muslim rule. 2. Utter ignorance of history.
First, in Tipu Sultan’s time, India was not a nation, both politically and administratively, held together and controlled by a single central rule/ruler. There was no (British-controlled) Indian Army, or Indian Navy, no Indian Civil Services, etc.
This being the case, it’s only logical that there was no British rule over all of India. A fact that’s carefully concealed is that it was the East India Company, a private business outfit with its own militia fighting for economic and political control in various parts of India. The French were the other powerful contenders for said control.
Where then does the question of fighting for India’s freedom arise? If this was the case, we can also consider Siraj-ud-Daula in Bengal as a freedom fighter. But in the history written by these eminences, Siraj-ud-Daula–Tipu’s older contemporary–isn’t regarded as such. Or for that matter, neither are the Marathas who, too, fought the British.
If anything, Tipu too was only fighting for a slice of the territorial pie, trying constantly to expand his dominions by launching savage military and religious campaigns against his neighbors. If that was not the case, why would Tipu attack his co-religionist, the Nizam of Hyderabad and other Nawabs in South India?
NS: If you were to describe the life and legacy of Tipu Sultan in one word or a phrase, how would you describe him?
SB: I would say, Tipu Sultan was Aurangzeb of South India. As I have observed in my book: If Aurangzeb was the most fanatical Muslim king who reigned on the Mughal throne in Delhi at the start of the 18th century, his counterpart who matched him in both bigotry and cruelty in South India at the close of the same century was Tipu Sultan.
Aurangzeb inflicted untold atrocities on Hindus, their way of life, their traditions, and their places of worship over a long period of 50 years. However, when we recall that Tipu inflicted the same – if not greater – kind of barbarism on Hindus in just 17 years, we realize the breadth and depth of his religious zealotry.