Tipu, The Common Icon of Pakistan and Congress
Why did the Congress government in Karnataka plan state-wide celebrations of 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan’s 165th birth anniversary on November 10? Resurrecting Tipu’s memory at this time has no historic significance, except that it may serve the party’s political ends.
Next year Karnataka goes to polls. And Congress Chief Minister Siddaramaiah – a lateral entrant into the party has nothing much to show the tech savvy state voter to get back to power once again. In fact, he is facing the combined opposition of several interest groups within his own party. These groups have been knocking on the doors of Congress president Sonia Gandhi and vice-president Rahul Gandhi for some time now, in hopes of showing Siddaramaiah the door.
It is under this circumstance that the Congress has resorted to its age old game of divisive politics. Reviving Tipu Sultan’s memory on November 10 has raised widespread opposition in Karnataka, and not from Hindus alone, but from many other communities, including Christians from Mangaluru and the West Coast of Karnataka.
According to news reports from Mangalore, an important Christian centre, United Christian’s Association leader Alban Menezes said that Tipu in 1784 had destroyed the Milagres Church in Mangaluru built in 1680. Menezes added: “Tipu had imprisoned 60,000 Catholics, suspected of being British spies.”
History records that the Congress’ new found ‘secular icon’, Tipu, made the captive Christians walk all the way to Mysuru without any food or water and thousands perished on the way. In 2013, the same Christian organisation had protested along with Hindu organisations against naming a central university in Srirangapatnam after Tipu.
No doubt, Tipu put up a brave fight against the British. He did so against the Marathas as well, the principal power fighting the East India Company, which was striving to colonise India. It was only in 1803, after the company forces under General Lake defeated the Maratha army in a battle at Patparganj (present day Noida), that the British captured Delhi and became the real rulers of India. The then Mughal emperor, who was a pensioner of the Marathas, happily started accepting the dole from his new masters!
Tipu’s opposition to the British did not mean he was in principal opposed to foreigners colonising India. He invited the French to invade the country. After a eunuch Ghulam Qadir blinded the then Mughal emperor Shah Alam II on August 10, 1788, Tipu had no compunction in writing to Zaman Shah Durrani, the then ruler of Afghanistan to attack India and help him finish the Marathas and the British to establish an Islamic empire.
Tipu’s ambition, no doubt, was to achieve personal power. The only ideological underpinning to his life was his commitment to Islam. And starting with Muhammad Ghazni, Muhammad Ghori, and Aurangzeb, he had many precedents available to him to follow in his conduct as a ruler. The reign of each one of them ( and several others ) is marked by wanton destruction of Hindu temples, killing of ‘infidels’ and forcible conversions of non Muslims to Islam.
Tipu’s father Hyder Ali had usurped the kingdom from the Wodyars, the Hindu ruling family of Mysuru state. Hyder who was a military officer in the state, rapidly rose to power and emerged the defacto ruler of Mysuru in 1761. He claimed descent from the Quarysh tribe of Arabs, the – tribe prophet Muhammad belonged to. In his last commandant to his son Tipu, Hyder wrote, “The Mussalmans are more united and more enterprising than the feeble Hindu. It is to them that should belong the glory of saving Hindustan....My son, combine all your efforts to make the Koran triumph. If God helps this noble endeavour, the day is not far, perhaps, when the sword of Muhmmad will place you on the throne of Tamerlane .”
Tipu tried his best to live up to the expectations and the ideals his father had laid for him and even went a few steps further in promoting the Islamic agenda and following what he perceived were his religious duties.
Colonel Mark Wilks’ Historical Sketches, K P Padmanabha Menon’s History of Cochin State and Sardar K M Panicker’s and Elamkulam Kunjan Pillai’s articles and the detailed accounts left behind by the court historians of Tipu vididly bring out the ugly reality that the 17 odd years of his regime witnessed massive persecution of non-muslims, vandalisation of their religious places and forced conversions to Islam.
One of the leading Congressmen of pre-independence days K Madhava Nair observes in Malabar Kalapam (Mappila Outrage), “ The communal Mappila outrage of 1921 in Malabar could be easily traced to the forcible mass conversions and related Islamic atrocities of Tipu Sultan. Many thousands of Hindus were forcibly converted into the Muhammadan faith.”
In a letter to Budruz Zuman Khan on 19 January 1790, Tipu himself states: “Don’t you know I have achieved a great victory recently in Malabar and over four lakh Hindus were converted to Islam? I am determined to march against that cursed Raman Nair (Rama Verma Raja of Travancore) very soon, since I am overjoyed at the prospect of converting him and his subjects to Islam, I have happily abandoned the idea of going back to Srirangapatanam now.”
Paniker cites a letter from Tipu, dated 18 January 1790, and written to Syed Abdul Dulal: “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 Jihad to achieve that objective.” Tipu tried to replace Kannada with Persian and made the latter a Court language. He changed the names of several places. The new names had Islamic colour.
Much is made out of the grants Tipu had made to some Hindu temples. In V R Parameswaran Pillai’s biography of the Dewan of Travancore, the author states: “With respect to the much-published land-grants, I had explained the reasons about 40 years back. Tipu had immense faith in astrological predictions. It was to become and Emperor (Padushah) after destroying the might of the British that Tipu resorted to land grants and other donations to Hindu temples in Mysuru, including Sringeri Mutt, as per the advice of the local Brahmin astrologers. Most of these were done after his defeat in 1791 and the humiliating Srirangapatanam Treaty in 1792. These grants were not done out of respect or love for Hindus or Hindu religion but for becoming Padushah as predicted by the astrologers.” Sadly for the Congress, it has been late in recalling what it considers the sterling role of Tipu Sultan in India’s history, for Pakistan has done it much earlier and on a far bigger scale. Till date the Pakistan Navy has named three of its war ships as ‘PNS Tipu Sultan’. The first was acquired in 1949 (in service until 1979), second in 1980 (scrapped in 1994) and the last one in 1994. It has also named its missile and several educational institutions after Tipu.
Does not the fact that Congress and Pakistan share a secular icon in Tipu say a lot?
The author is a Delhi-based commentator on political and social issues. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org