Politicising Tipu Sultan Jayanti in Karnataka: BJP wasn't always against celebrations, say political pundits as cops detain hundreds in state

The Congress government in Karnataka celebrated the birth anniversary of Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan amid tight security across the state. The Siddaramaiah-led government made it an annual affair to celebrate Tipu’s birthday on 10 November since 2015, under the Department of Kannada and Culture.

The Karnataka Congress also tweeted:

According to the BJP, a few right-wing groups and the members of Kodava community who oppose the celebrations, Tipu was a religious 'bigot' who had massacred many people and forced them to embrace Islam. The News Minute reported that the BJP has termed the Congress government's move of observing Tipu Jayanti as an act of Muslim appeasement. Its leaders have asked that they not be invited to the celebrations.

Bengaluru turns into a fortress

Bengaluru turned into a fortress on Friday ahead of the celebrations organised across Karnataka by the government. A large number of policemen were deployed in "sensitive areas", PTI reported. Police put a stop on processions in the city that were related to Tipu Jayanti, except for the one organised by the state government.

Bengaluru Police Commissioner T Suneel Kumar was quoted as saying by PTI, "We are not giving permission to any procession, whether it is in favour of Tipu Jayanti or against it. The government itself is celebrating the event in various parts of the city for which we have made elaborate arrangements."

He said 30 Karnataka State Reserve Police (KSRP) platoons and 25 armed platoons, besides policemen and officers of city police will be deployed. "There will be more than 11,000 policemen all over the city. Besides the regular police, we will deploy Home Guard personnel," Kumar further added.

He said there will be celebrations only at the places identified by the government, adding that the police would deal firmly with those who plan to create trouble. "We have not made any preventive arrests so far but if the situation rises, Section 144 (prohibitory order) may be imposed," Kumar said.

Protesters detained in Shimoga Gulbarga

The district administration in Kodagu imposed Section 144 in the area ahead of anniversary celebrations, reports said. Reports also said that stones were thrown at a Karnataka State Road Transport Corporation (KSRTC) bus, as part of the protests against celebrations in Madikeri. Three windowpanes of the bus were broken during the outrage.

Five Karnataka districts are under prohibitory orders and these could be extended to other districts if needed, said the police, according to The Times of India. Further, 1,000 mischief-mongers have been taken into preventive custody in different parts of the state.

The anti-Tipu Jayanti committee had called for a bandh on Friday. Even the BJP’s Nava Karnataka Parivarthana Yatre, led by former chief minister BS Yeddyurappa, had been stopped from entering the district on Wednesday, and will be allowed only after the celebrations end. "It’s not that they are not allowed, but police have said that they were unable to provide security on 8 November. That’s why they were asked to postpone the event till after 10 November,” Richard Vincent D’souza, Kodagu deputy commissioner district told The Mint.

Karnataka DCP Renuka Sukumar, ANI reported, said more that than 150 BJP workers protesting against Tipu Jayanti celebrations in Hubli were detained. However, celebrations continued outside Bengaluru's Tipu Sultan Palace on Tipu Jayanti where members of the Tipu Sultan United Front have assembled.

A report in The Quint quoted ADGP of Karnataka Special Reserve Police Bhaskar Rao who said, "There is bus movement in Madikeri. Shops are open at some places. People are not supporting any untoward incidents. Everyone wants a peaceful conclusion to the celebrations."

Karnataka HC turns down petition seeking stay on celebrations

The Karnataka High Court on 7 October rejected an interim prayer seeking a stay on Tipu Jayanti celebrations and directed the Karnataka government to file objections to the petitioner's submissions on the matter in four weeks. The petitioner, KP Manjunath, sought a direction to restrain the celebrations in his home district of Kodagu, saying it would foment communal disharmony.

The order was passed by a bench comprising Acting Chief Justice HG Ramesh and Justice PS Dinesh Kumar after the petitioner failed to convince the court which had sought to know whether the expenses on Tipu Jayanti celebrations were being incurred by the state. The bench also directed the government to file objections to the petition in four weeks.

Manjunath, in his plea, contended that large-scale communal violence erupted during the Tipu Jayanti celebrations in 2015, when it was first organised by government. Manjunath made submissions pertaining to several historical material facts contending that Tipu Sultan had killed thousands of Kodavas (in Kodagu district) during his rule. He alleged that Tipu's rule in Kodagu resulted in conversion of Kodavas to Islam.

"Tipu was an invader and a dictator and glorifying such a person is a matter of shame," he argued.

The politics of it all

Since 2015 when the Congress government started celebrating Tipu Jayanti, the BJP has been opposed to the idea and they have criticised the celebrations claiming that Tipu was a 'terrorist' and that he persecuted Kodavas and Catholics in Mangaluru. The BJP have pitted Tipu against Onake Obavva, a legendary Dalit woman who died fighting his father, Hyder Ali, when he invaded the Chitradurga Fort, The News Minute reported.

The report claims that the BJP was not always opposed to these celebrations. Quoting a message from the former BJP chief minister of Karnataka Jagadish Shettar, which appeared in the book released by the Department of Kannada and Culture in 2012 titled Tipu Sultan – A Crusader for Change, the message said:

“The modern history of Karnataka covering the period 1782-1799 is known for the significant role played by Tipu Sultan, popularly known as the tiger of the Mysore kingdom. His concept of nation State, his idea of State entrepreneurship, his advanced military skill, his zeal for reforms, etc. make him a unique leader far ahead of his age.”

The report quoted legal advisor to the Karnataka government Brijesh Kalappa who claimed that BJP's stance protesting Tipu celebrations in the state is a "political gimmick". "Tipu Jayanti existed even before 2015. It was just not a state-sponsored celebration then. There are pictures of Jagadish Shettar, Yeddyurappa, R Ashok and other BJP leaders celebrating Tipu Jayanti. They are wearing Tipu-style turbans. They may claim that it was an Iftar party but these pictures were clicked before 2015 and they were at functions organised by the Muslim community. These were Tipu Jayanti functions," Kalappa is quoted as saying.

Analysts have said that this is BJP's attempt at consolidating Hindu votes in Karnataka, especially in the coastal areas of Kodagu and Tumkur — a plan which has been successfully winning elections for the saffron party in Gujarat since 2002 and helped a thumping victory for the party in Uttar Pradesh this year.

Writing for The Wire, editor-in-chief of The Tribune wrote, "Modi is an authentic salesman for the 'Hindu cause'. At the core of his appeal, since 2002, is a political persona that is unapologetically committed to securing the majority community’s interests. He does not suffer from any secular squeamishness."

BJP leaders in Karnataka, however, put the onus on the Congress government claiming that the celebrations were "a deliberate attempt to stoke communal tensions in the State". Senior BJP leader and MP Karandlaje called the celebrations, “a blatant attempt at vote bank politics by the ruling Congress.” The MP also claimed that a majority of district police officials had tried to convince the State government not to hold Tipu Jayanti functions in view of the law and order situation but the government was ‘adamant’.

BJP president Amit Shah too attacked the Siddaramaiah government for minority appeasement and underlined BJP's opposition to the annual celebration when he launched the campaign for the April-May 2018 elections in the state.

However, Ram Nath Kovind delivered a solid blow to the anti-Tipu stance of the saffron party when the president in October this year reignited the controversy around Tipu by deviating from the BJP's stance and said, "Tipu Sultan died a historic death fighting the British. He also pioneered the use of Mysore rockets in warfare." Kovind was addressing the Karnataka Assembly. Congress members thumped their desks in appreciation as the president mentioned Tipu's name, much to the embarrassment of the BJP members present in the Assembly.

As per The Indian Express, "Opposing historical narratives have frequently been used as ammunition in political battles — a tendency that has quickened alongside calls for 'rewriting' Indian history in a 'nationalist' mould."

"The disagreement over Tipu is old and has been brought alive every few years by political provocation. In much of India, history is seen through an ethnic, communal, regional or religious lens. As both BJP and Congress push their political agendas aggressively as the election approaches, the controversy will likely be raked up repeatedly," the report added.

Who really was Tipu: Usurper or saviour?

Vote bank politicking has made a mess of a historical figure — this fact several historians agree with. Gita Aravamudan, writing for Firstpost argued, "So who really was Tipu? Freedom fighter? Social reformer? Secularist who donated largesse to religious institutions? Or was he a religious fanatic who forcibly converted thousands of Hindus and Christians into Islam?... Probably he should just be viewed as a ruler of his times who did what any other ruler would have done to consolidate and expand his kingdom."

Noted historian Irfan Habib on Friday said, "It is sad that politics has turned Tipu into a divisive historical figure. Like many other 18th Century rulers, he was not a democrat, did indulge in oppression but was not a communal bigot he is made out to be. Even celebrations of historical figures are politically motivated."

Updated Date: Nov 10, 2017 14:09 PM

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