It's political: Apology of little help for Girish Karnad as politicians kick in to milk his 'Tipu' comment

By Aravind S Kamal 

It was a suggestion, not a demand by any yardstick. Yet that didn't stop people from going hammer and tongs against noted playwright and Jnanapith laureate Girish Karnad. He had only observed that it would have been better had Karnataka named Bengaluru International Airport after the erstwhile rule of Mysuru, Tipu Sultan; and that was enough to make him target of threats, even a death threat. Has Karnataka become too prickly about suggestions from well-known personalities?

Within hours of his remarks at the official birth anniversary celebrations of Tipu in Bengaluru, Karnataka witness a wave of outrage. Today, Karnad is living under heavy police security after fringe groups threatened retaliation. Two police complaints have been lodged against him while an unknown person has issued death threat on social media network. Though Karnad has apologised for his statements, the protests haven't stopped.

The BJP, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), and other groups were quick to object to Karnad’s statement two days ago because the same day a VHP activist died in Madikeri while protesting against the birth anniversary celebrations of Tipu Sultan.

To make matters worse, BJP leader and former deputy chief minister R Ashoka, who has projected himself as the champion of the Vokkaligas (second largest community in Karnataka and a major vote-bank), even gave the issue a communal twist by portraying Karnad as an anti-Vokkaliga (Kempe Gowda, the erstwhile ruler of Bengaluru after whom the international airport has been named – Kempe Gowda International Airport – is a Vokkaliga). It is a different matter that Karnad has always been the target of the Hindu fringe groups, particularly when he supported beef consumption.

Jnanpith laureate Girish Karnad. Image courtesy: IBNLive

Jnanpith laureate Girish Karnad. Image courtesy: IBNLive

The Janata Dal (secular) too tried to take political advantage of his statement. It saw a good opportunity to consolidate its position as a defender of the rights of the Vokkaligas. But it is a fact that Karnad nowhere demanded that the Kempe Gowda International Airport be renamed as Tipu Sultan International Airport. He has admitted that he could not imagine making such a demand, as it would not make any sense.

Now, let us get to the source of this controversy. While commenting on Tipu’s exploits, Karnad had said, "In our country, airports have been named after freedom fighters… such as, Subhash Chandra Bose, and in Mumbai it is named after Shivaji Maharaj, but the Bengaluru airport is named after Kempe Gowda. While Kempe Fowda deserves all respect as the founder of Bengaluru, he was not a freedom fighter. It would have been better had the Bengaluru airport been named after Tipu Sultan. Besides, the airport is located in Devanahalli where Tipu was born."

So was it wrong on the part of Karnad to have made a suggestion that may not be liked by the majority? A situation has been created as if Karnad has committed a blunder by making such a suggestion. The word Tipu has often been used and misused for political gains by various political parties and groups in the past. For instance, the ruling Congress suddenly woke up to realise that Tipu was a great king and hastily organised his birth anniversary celebrations without realising the repercussions.

One of the main reasons for anyone associated with Tipu to receive flak in Karnataka is the controversial ruler’s regime between 1782 and 1799. He is disliked by the Hindus because he is accused of enforcing mass conversions. He is hated by a section of the Kannadigas because he reportedly replaced Kannada with Persian vocabulary as the official language of of his administration. He is disliked by the Kodavas (from the Kodava district in Karnataka) and costal Karnataka Christians (Mangaluru Catholics), as he persecuted them allegedly fearing that they supported the British.

At the same time, Tipu is known for his generosity towards Hindu temples (156 temples received annual grants); he financially supported the Sringeri Mutt set up by the Sankaracharya; he appointed prominent Hindus in his court and moreover made Srirangapatna, a Hindu pilgrimage centre as the capital of his kingdom. All his deeds and misdeeds have been recorded, but the term “religious bigot”, which is often used to describe Tipu, has to be viewed from historical context and the political circumstances prevailing during his rule.

Nevertheless, Girish Karnad has tendered an apology to all those who viewed his suggestion with contempt. So, that should end the matter there. But it looks like the political parties want to keep the issue alive for some more time.

Updated Date: Nov 13, 2015 11:35 AM

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