Tipu Sultan can be remembered as a freedom fighter, secularist or a religious bigot who forcibly converted many Hindus and Christians into Islam. He was also a famous warrior who built the first missile and fought the British and even today, his life is debated hotly in Karnataka by politicians, historians and prominent citizens who are divided over whether he was a patriot or a tyrant.
The Congress government thinks he’s a patriot and is preparing itself to celebrate his Jayanti on 10 November. The department of Kannada and Culture and the state budget has earmarked Rs 60 lakh towards the celebration of Tipu's anniversary. Ranged on the other side are the BJP, RSS, minority groups like the Kodavas, Konkanis and Mangalore Christians and some prominent citizens who say that Tipu was a tyrant.
What is interesting to note is that the Karnataka government is going ahead with the celebrations despite stiff opposition and violent protests last year. The Karnataka High Court questioned the state government’s logic of celebrating the Tipu Jayanti while hearing a PIL last week. It also observed, "Tipu was not a freedom fighter, but a monarch who fought the opponents to safeguard his interests."
The most vocal person against the celebration of the Tipu Sultan Jayanti has been TV Mohandas Pai. A technology investor, Padma Shri awardee, and the Chairman of the Board of Manipal Global education services, Pai had even likened the celebrations to that of celebrating Aurangzeb’s anniversary.
Talking to Firstpost, Pai explained why he is against the celebrations and also why a constitutional government should not play "divisive politics".
Last week, you likened Karnataka government's plan to celebrate 'Tipu Jayanti' to that of celebrating the anniversary of Aurangzeb. Why do you think the state government is so adamant on celebrating Tipu Jayanti despite the protests and the violence last year?
The Congress government in Karnataka is playing communal politics. I have no objection to political parties playing communal politics because that's what all parties do. Everybody plays communal and caste politics. It’s become the sign of the day.
However, I have an objection to my legitimately elected government, which has sworn to rule in the name of the Constitution, indulging in communal politics. They are honouring a tyrant, a religious bigot, and a killer – his killings, his destruction of temples, his conversion of people to Islam, and his fundamentalist thinking are well known. His call to the Afghans to come and invade India and his desire to establish a Caliphate is documented history.
Some malcontents are spreading rumours that he was secular and a freedom fighter. It’s a big joke. There was no India or even the concept of India at that point that we know of today. Tipu was fighting for his kingdom and not for anyone else. And as for him being secular is concerned, he was pushing Islam on people. He was an Islam fundamentalist. Where is secularism? These are all ridiculous statements by people that he fought against the British or that he was a freedom fighter. He only fought for his kingdom and even the High Court has said the same thing. So, what is the difference between Aurangzeb and Tipu – none.
Can you elaborate on your reasons for speaking against Tipu?
There were three minorities who suffered under Tipu and were deeply offended by him. The first were the Kodavas. Tipu invaded Coorg, killed many Kodavas, converted people and spread terror.
Then there were the Mangalore Catholics. Tipu marched against them, took 20,000 of them as prisoners to Srirangapatna and put them in dungeons. Only about 10,000 returned. He also destroyed many churches.
The third are the Konkanis in Manjeswar, Kasargod, and North Karnataka. In the Malabar area, the temples were all destroyed by Tipu and his troops. In the Sultan Battery area as well, he destroyed temples and he killed people.
Now, a government sworn to rule under the Constitution cannot honour a person who killed its state's citizens. This is unconstitutional, unethical and immoral. That’s why all of us should oppose this.
The government should not spread lies that he’s a freedom fighter or a secular person. The government should not do this. I don’t know whether it has already been done or not – but some people are spreading lies and the government should not fall in that trap.
Would you say that Tipu Sultan is best forgotten by history?
No, Tipu Sultan is a part of history just like Aurangzeb. All of us are entitled to know the good things that he did and the bad things as well in a very dispassionate manner. We cannot have hatred for anybody in history because that is all over. But, we should learn lessons from history so that such bad things don’t happen again.
You had also said that Kaarnataka should be celebrating other legends from history like Wodeyars, Mysore Dewan Mirza Ismail and Sir Visveswaraya. Is this a flaw in our political system that leaders only pick controversial rulers to celebrate?
If the government wants to celebrate the jayantis of great figures in Karnataka, they should celebrate Sir Mirza Ismail. He was the Dewan of Mysore, a modern person and did many good things for our state.
Let’s celebrate the Wodeyars, who were benevolent rulers. The Mysore kingdom was one of the top three kingdoms in India.
We can also celebrate the life of Sir Visveswaraya, who is now forgotten. Visveswaraya is India’s greatest engineer. Bharat Ratna - we must celebrate his life, he’s a role model for all of us, Tipu is not a role model, but Visveswaraya is.
Would you say this is pure vote bank politics with an eye on the upcoming elections next year?
The government should not indulge in divisive or vote bank politics. Let the political parties party do that. Let Congress do it. Let the BJP do it. These politics are not for constitutional governments. They are sworn to uphold the Constitution, which is sacred for us.
However, opinion is divided over Tipu’s role in Indian history. He is also known as a brave warrior. He built the first missile, faced the British rulers and fought for Indian freedom. He laid down his life for India.
Let me explain. It is a fact that Tipu is a brave warrior. But, it is also true that he fought for himself. He did use technology for rockets for the first time in warfare.
Let's also consider the other known facts. Tipu had diplomatic relations with Napoleon. He gave some gold coins to Sringeri temple. But, that was after he lost two wars and wanted the support of the people. These do not take away the fact that he was brutal and a killer. He was also a religious bigot. He did all the wrong things.
It’s like Adolf Hitler - he built Germany, gave full employment to people, built the autobahns, invested in technology, but people still don’t like him because of the Holocaust, the killings, the mass murders. It’s the same thing.
But, Tipu is also known for his work on our famous lung space Lalbagh? We all go to Lalbagh
Look Tipu was known for Lalbagh, but Lalbagh was a royal garden. It was not for you or me. He was a feudal lord and Lalbagh was only for himself.
The British built the residencies and the vice-regal lodges. We took over after India became independent. By this logic, should we also give them credit and say “oh, they did so much for us.”
Do you think, from a larger perspective, the government should be celebrating any jayantis at all?
I don’t think the government should celebrate any jayanti and give legitimacy to anybody, specially a historical figure. The government definitely shouldn't do it.
Instead of spending Rs 60 lakhs for the Jayanti, shouldn't the government be spending on education?
The Karnataka state budget is Rs 170,000 crore and of that Rs 60 lakhs doesn’t really matter. It’s not the money, it’s the attitude that matters. They can spend on education or roads, that’s not a valid point. My point is a legitimately elected government, sworn under the Constitution, should not do divisive politics in the name of a tyrant and a killer.
So, your message is very simple and clear – no divisive politics, right?
Yes, very simple and clear, it’s got nothing else. It’s got nothing to do with Muslims or Hindus or anything else for that matter. It’s a limited point. It’s the constitutional principle.
Living in a liberal democracy, we must insist that the government follows the Constitution. And not play divisive politics. Under the Constitution, every citizen is equal, they must not do anything that divides people. The three minorities of Karnataka are upset, angry and hurt – they’re also minorities as much as Muslims are. They also voted the government to power, please understand the context.