BJP-Congress in futile battle over Tipu Sultan's 'flawed' legacy; it's time we honoured legacies of Karnataka's women warriors

Two decades after Independence, the Congress under Indira Gandhi had begun to realise that they stood to gain if the Muslim community remained backwards. And hence, instead of investing in the community's education, they resorted to a regressive form of identity politics.

Among other gimmicks, they revived the legacy of Tipu Sultan, as a part of its plan. In 1974, the government issued a postage stamp commemorating Tipu. A decade later, a wannabe historian Bhagwan S Gidwani wrote a book, The Sword Of Tipu Sultan, which was later adapted as a popular TV serial by the same name.

Now, the irony is that the same sword of Tipu which was conveniently used to project him as a patriot spews venom upon 'non-believers' or the Hindus and Christians of the time. It pledges a war outcry against the non-believers. The first couple of sentences inscribed on the sword read: My victorious sabre is lightning for the destruction of the unbelievers. Haidar, the Lord of the Faith, is victorious to my advantage. And moreover, he destroyed the wicked race who were unbelievers.

File image of Tipu Sultan figurehead on a state float. PIB

File image of Tipu Sultan figurehead on a state float during the Republic Day parade. PIB

In 1788, Tipu in letters to Syed Abdul Dulai and his officer Budruz Zaman Khan respectively wrote: '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 object.' Going by this primary evidence, thus, Tipu was a self-confessed Jihadi.

There are of course other corroborative accounts of his brutal torture upon people of Coorg and Malabar in what are regarded as two of his worst onslaughts. In Coorg, he duped the people by calling for a truce, making them believe that the threat of war was over. Tipu then unleashed a savage onslaught on an unsuspecting population, beheading many and capturing 40,000 Coorgis.

These kidnapped Coorgis were brought to his capital. They were 'awarded' Islam. Large numbers were publically circumcised. Those who resisted were subjected to worst forms of torture, reminiscent of Aurangzeb's regime and some of what the Islamic State practices today in Syria.

Hence, when the Congress party deliberately chooses to ignore or subvert primary sources of evidence (which include accounts by British and Islamic historians of the time) and goes overboard in awarding character certificate to Tipu, its mischievous propensities get exposed.

Yes, Tipu was a brave warrior who fought valiantly against the British and kept them at bay. At the same time, his intent was to set up an Islamic state by force.

Yes, Tipu gave a donation for the renovation of the Shringeri mutt as also some other temples. But that was largely a perception management gimmick to make up for his brutal excesses otherwise. Moreover, they also resulted from his political compulsions. In the latter part of his tenure, with growing antipathy against him and suspicion that even his trusted allies hated him, he wanted to buy peace with the Hindu subjects.

Tipu left behind a flawed legacy, filled with venom, hate and fear – emotions which still linger in the Coorg and Malabar regions among the descendant families of those he tortured. When the Congress decided to accord state celebrations to Tipu Jayanti on 10 November last year, it betrayed the sufferers of Tipu's legacy twice over.

Moreover, his legacy raises a very pertinent question: Can a bigot be a patriot? If so, then why don't Praveen Togadia or Bajrang Dal qualify as patriots? The Tipu legacy war only exposes the intellectual fraud of Indian liberals.

At a time when we are locked battling the ghost of Tipu, it is noteworthy that Karnataka has produced some exception women warriors over the centuries. An immediate name which comes to mind is that of Oneka Obavva, the housewife of the main guard of a watchtower in the fort of Chitradurga.

A chance sighting of the troops of Tipu's father, Hyder Ali laying siege on the fort, had Obavva single-handedly kill scores of enemy soldiers, thus inhibiting the siege. Obavva's bravery was an inspiration for women of that era who had to, in subsequent years and in neighbouring regions, face the worst forms of torture under Tipu. The women drew courage from Obavva's act and put up a brave resistance against forced conversions by Tipu's forces.

Equally impressive are the contributions of three other women warriors in Karnataka's history: Abbakka Rani, Kittur Chennamma and Keladi Chennamma. Abbakka was the first Tulu queen of Ullal, who fought against the invading Portuguese in the 16th century.

Keladi reigned efficiently over the kingdom of Keladi for a good 25 years during the latter part of the 17th century, when Aurangzeb was at his diabolic best in the North. In fact, she fought a brave war with the invading Aurangzeb's army, which ended with a treaty. She also provided shelter to Rajaram, the son of Shivaji, from Aurangzeb.

Later in 1824, Kittur Chennamma, the queen of Kittur, another princely state in the region, led a rebellion again the Britishers, even though, it ended with her getting captured and murdered.

The point here is: in Karnataka, there is no dearth of brave patriots, who have fought for the country selflessly. Sure, Tipu too fought against the Britishers but his fight was layered with a mala-fide, communal intent. His bigotry was aimed as much at the Britishers, as it was towards Hindus.

By repackaging Tipu, a bigot as the symbol of communal harmony, the Congress has only laid the seeds of communal discord for the future generations. The ghost of Tipu is best exorcised. The time is just about right to usher in the legacies of Karnataka's brave women warriors.

Tuhin A Sinha is an author and young BJP leader.

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Updated Date: May 09, 2018 15:47:58 IST

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