Tipu Sultan Jayanti: Tempers flare in Kodagu as Karnataka govt's intent puts Congress, BJP on collision course

Editor's Note: Despite strong opposition from BJP and other factions, the Congress-JD(S) coalition government in Karnataka is gearing up for Tipu Jayanti on 10 November. But the celebrations are likely to be muted this year; all events are being restricted to indoor facilities and the security apparatus is on high alert to prevent any violence. This is the second in a four-part series of analyses of Tipu's reign and how the gaps in the narrative have driven the vitriol around the colonial-era hero among different communities.

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Madikeri: The tiny hill town of Madikeri, which serves as the Kodagu district headquarters in Karnataka, has been dealing with consistent turmoil every November since 2015 when former Karnataka chief minister Siddaramaiah announced that the state would celebrate the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan. The then-Congress-led state government declared that Tipu Jayanti would be celebrated in all taluk and district headquarters of the state including Kodagu -- thereby angering native Kodavas who believe that the 18th-century ruler carried out a massacre against their ancestors in 1785. While many parts of state witnessed protests during the 2015 Tipu Jayanti, things took an ugly turn in Madikeri leading to two deaths. Though the subsequent years were not tainted with such casualties, the BJP and other right-wing elements obstruct the celebrations every year, calling for bandhs.

BJP protest rally in Karnataka's Kodagu district against the celebration of Tipu Jayanti. Image courtesy Coovercolly Indresh

BJP protest rally in Karnataka's Kodagu district against the celebration of Tipu Jayanti. Image courtesy Coovercolly Indresh

Many Kodava elders still claim that the Tiger of Mysore killed and captured hundreds of people from the Kodava clan between 1784 to 1799. The former president of the Karnataka Kodava Sahitya Academy BP Appanna said that Tipu Sultan was a cruel king who destroyed 300 temples in the district. “He also forcibly converted thousands of Kodavas. Hundreds of Muslims in Napoklu who follow Islam with Kodava traditions and culture is a proof of the brutalities inflicted upon them,” Appanna said while adding that Tipu and his father Hyder Ali tried to conquer the district over 30 times but failed. “Tipu Sultan was waiting for a chance and he got that in 1785 which resulted in the massacre of Kodavas,” he claimed.

The Codava National Council (CNC) — an organisation which is fighting for an autonomous land for Kodavas since last two decades — has been vocal about the alleged brutalities inflicted by Tipu on the Kodavas, which the Kodavas will never forget and will never forgive, according to CNC president NU Nachappa. "On 1785, 13 December, Tipu invited the Kodavas for compromise to Devatparamb near Bhagamandala and then massacred thousands of unarmed men, women and children, with help of the French army. Tipu even took the hostages to Srirangpatna jail," he said, claiming that the Kodava clan which had over 1,500 members in the district was reduced to 800 after the massacre. He said that Kodavas were a micro-minority now owing to Tipu's atrocities. The Kodava history book Pattole Palame mentions that the Gowda community from neighbouring Sullia were brought in by Tipu to settle them in the vacant Kodava houses, according to Nachappa.

Karnataka Police personnel being briefed by a senior ahead of Tipu Jayanti on Friday. Image courtesy Coovercolly Indresh

Karnataka Police personnel being briefed by a senior ahead of Tipu Jayanti on Friday. Image courtesy Coovercolly Indresh

He also said that the state government should use the funds to rehabilitate the recent flood victims instead of celebrating a cruel leader’s birth anniversary. Nachappa blamed the Congress government for glorifying Tipu in order to secure their vote bank. “Politicians favouring Tipu should at least go through history books on Tipu in which they will find proofs of his excesses. Tipu Sultan was an outsider like the Britishers and French,” he said. The Kodavas had also staged a protest in front of the French embassy in New Delhi demanding an apology from the French government for the 1785 Devatparamb massacre on 1 November. The CNC has also asked the United Nations to include Devatparamb massacre into the UNO list of genocides, Nachappa said.

KP Manjunath, a social activist who filed writ petitions in the state high court in 2017 seeking a ban on Tipu Jayanti, contended that Tipu was not a freedom fighter and the state government has only been glorifying him for vote bank politics. Manjunath added that he was opposed to the celebrations using the taxpayers’ money as Tipu was responsible for the alleged genocide of Kodavas, the forcible conversions, and the injustice towards the community.

According to a circular issued by the state government through Kannada and culture department, the revelries would come at a cost of Rs 25,000 in all taluk centres of the state and in district headquarters the costs would go up to Rs 50,000, he claimed. Despite the pending writ petition, the state government is ready to celebrate Tipu Jayanti which will cause social unrest and tension in the district, Manjunath said. “The state government did not file its arguments for hearing even after the court given deadline expired. The court then imposed a fine of Rs 1,000 last week for neglecting the court hearings,” he said. The next hearing is scheduled for 9 November.

Some Congress leaders in the district have shied away from the celebrations in the past. In 2015, the-then district Congress committee president late Biddatanda Pradeep avoided Tipu Jayanti celebrations as he said Tipu’s army had burnt alive 40 of his ancestors in their house in Napoklu. In fact, to this day, the massacre is remembered during those days in the year when the Kodavas remember their ancestors and offer prayers to their souls. This is probably why Tipu Jayanti has been politically costly for the Congress in Kodagu. In the Assembly elections in May this year, BJP MLAs in both the constituencies in the district won by increased margins. Virajpet MLA KG Bopaiah managed to win by over 10,000 votes, twice his margin from 2013, while Madikeri MLA MP Appachu Ranjan won by a margin of 15,000, his highest in the past four elections.

The district administration has beefed up security to prevent untoward incidents. The officers were reportedly in a dilemma while distributing Tipu Jayanti invitations to BJP Zilla Parishad and Gram Panchayat members as per protocol because BJP members disrupted celebrations last year and the events had to be brought to a close in Somwarpet and Virajpet. BJP district unit president BB Bharatish said that the party would organise protests across Kodagu from 8 to 10 November, as per the instructions of the state unit. Over 30 Kodava Samajs, various Kodava organisations and Sangh Parivar members are protesting against Tipu Jayanti this year and plan to observe a black day on 10 November.

The Tipu Jayanti Virodhi Horata Samithi has also called for Kodagu bandh on 10 November. Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, the Samithi convener MB Abhimanyu Kumar said that Tipu was a cruel king who the Congress government was trying to glorify as a freedom fighter. The committee would organise protests in Somwarpet and Virajpet on Thursday and in Madikeri on Friday, he said, asking people to support bandh voluntarily.

District in-charge minister SR Mahesh chaired a meeting in Madikeri on Wednesday to discuss Tipu Jayanti arrangements during which he appealed for people to co-operate with the administration in celebrating the event peacefully.

Southern range IGP KV Sharath Chandra has said that the police has tightened security and opened temporary checkpoints. He said 1,500 police personnel and rapid response teams would be pressed into service and warned that stringent action would be taken against anyone who tries to disrupt peace. In order to contain the chances of violence, the police summoned Sangh Parivar workers, who were involved in previous Tipu Jayanti clashes, and has asked them to submit indemnity bonds, a move was decried by several Sangh leaders. A total of 155 people were summoned in Madikeri while 88 and 105 people were called in Virajpet and in Somwarpet respectively. The district administration has also issued orders to close liquor shops from 12 midnight on Thursday until 6 am on 11 November.

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The author is a Madikeri-based freelance writer and a part of 101Reporters' grassroots network of journalists.

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Updated Date: Nov 10, 2018 14:54 PM

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