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BRP Bhaskar: Wrong way to fight communalism
November 17, 2015
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Karnataka’s Congress Chief Minister S Siddaramaiah has just shown how not to fight communalism. His decision to celebrate the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of Mysore, holding him up as a secular hero, provided Hindutva elements in the state, whom his party had defeated in the Assembly elections two years ago, an opportunity to whip up communal sentiments.

Tipu was the theme of the Karnataka government’s float at this year’s Republic Day parade in New Delhi. It provoked some protests in the state but was well received in the national capital. This encouraged Siddaramaiah to organise state-level celebrations to mark his 265th birthday.

Tipu, who came to be known as the Tiger of Mysore, inherited the kingdom from his father Hydar Ali, an army commander who seized power as the Wodayar dynasty’s hold weakened. The father and the son enlarged the kingdom, and posed a challenge to expanding British colonialism. The British fought four wars against them. They killed Tipu in 1799 and reinstalled the Wodayars, who ruled thereafter under British protection.

While launching the Indian National Army’s campaign against the British and allied forces during World War II, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose identified Tipu as an early freedom fighter who had taken up arms against the British, like Tantia Tope and Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi.

Tipu was the only Indian ruler of the time who never sought British protection. Impressed with his prowess as a military leader, Napoleon had sought an alliance with him in the fight against the British.

The British hated Tipu intensely. They took delight in naming their dogs after him. Many Indians named their dogs Tiger.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, while campaigning for the creation of Pakistan, once said that Hindus and Muslims of the subcontinent had a common history but their heroes were different. The Hindutva school has proved him right. From the history books they have fashioned Hindu heroes like Maratha ruler Shivaji and Muslim villains like Moghul emperor Aurangazeb and Tipu Sultan.

Siddaramaiah invited leaders of all political parties and leading intellectuals to the Tipu birthday celebrations. The Bharatiya Janaa Party boycotted them. Its Hindutva associates organised violent protests, leading to three deaths. They said Tipu was a tyrant who committed atrocities against the Hindus.

Led by eminent litterateur Girish Karnad, writers and academics participated in the celebrations. Karnad described Tipu as the greatest Kannadiga of the last 500 years. If Tipu were a Hindu he would have enjoyed the same status as Shivaji, he said.

Shivaji, who carved out an empire by snatching areas from the declining Moghul power, is today revered as a Hindu icon and a Maratha hero. However, in his time, he had difficulty finding Brahmin priests to anoint him as emperor because he was born in a supposedly low caste.

Interestingly, Hindutva ideologues, who accuse British historians of manufacturing events like Aryan invasion to divide the people of India, have no qualms about accepting their accounts of Tipu’s atrocities.

Hindu or Muslim, no medieval ruler was a respecter of human values and virtues, particularly in times of war. However, guided by sectarian considerations, Hindutva propagandists pick and choose from historical accounts and glorify one and demonise the other.

In the public dominion there is plenty of material to establish that Tipu was not the bigot Hindutva campaigners make him out to be. According to one document, he had granted tax exemption to the Sringeri Mutt, one of four religious establishments set up in the ninth century in different parts of India by Sankaracharya, who is given credit for the Hindu advance after the decline of Buddhism.

When the Maratha army ransacked the mutt, its head appealed to Tipu for help and he responded by releasing gold and paddy to meet the cost of its restoration. He also made a personal gift of ornate costumes for Sarada, the goddess of learning.

Facts will not deter the Hindutva elements from pursuing their project of falsifying history with a view to promoting their communal interests. Their efforts need to be countered but the task is best left to unofficial agencies, particularly academic bodies – unless there are law and order issues.

Karnataka is the only southern state where the BJP has been in power. During the five years it was in power, it tried out three Chief Ministers, all of whom were failures. This helped the Congress to regain power in 2013.

Studies have shown that the BJP benefits from communal polarisation. Secular parties and governments under their control must, therefore, take care not to give Hindutva forces the opportunity to stir the communal cauldron.

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 The author is a political analyst of reckoning

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