by Subhash Gatade
The saffrons have done it again.
They have once again showed utter contempt towards the legacy of legendary Tipu Sultan, (20 November 1750 – 4 May 1799) one of those rare kings who was martyred on the battlefield, while fighting the Britishers at the historic battle at Srirangpatnam and whose martyrdom fighting the colonials preceded the historic revolt of the 1857 by around 50 years. Not very many people even know that he had even sacrificed his children while fighting them.
The immediate reason for stigmatisation of Tipu Sultan, by the leaders of Hindutva Brigade, concerns move by the Karnataka state government led by the Congress to celebrate Tipu Jayanti or Tipu’s birth anniversary. The Chief Minister Siddaramaiah had made this announcement releasing a book ‘Tipu Sultan: A Crusader for Change’ by historian Prof B Sheik Ali.
A ruler much ahead of his times Tipu Sultan, a scholar, soldier and a poet, was an apostle of Hindu-Muslim unity, was fond of new inventions, and is called innovator of the world’s first war rocket, one who felt inspired by the French Revolution and who despite being a ruler called himself Citizen and even had planted the tree of ‘Liberty’ in his palace. History bears witness to the fact that Tipu sensed the designs of the British and tried to forge broader unity with the domestic rulers and even tried to connect with French and the Turks and the Afghans to give a fitting reply to the hegemonic designs of the British and had defeated the British army twice with his superior planning and better techniques earlier.
An interesting episode in his eventful life throwing light on his character which the saffrons love to forget is worth emphasising. It was the year 1791 when Maratha Army raided the Sringeri Shakaracharya mutt and temple, plundered the monastery of all its valuables and even killed many. The incumbent Shankaracharya wrote to Tipu Sultan for help. He immediately ordered the Asaf of Bednur to provide help to the mutt. An exchange of around thirty letters written in Kannada is available which took place between Tipu Sultan and the Shankaracharya, which were discovered in 1916 by the Director of Archaeology in Mysore.
Expressing his indignation at the raid Tipu had written
“People who have sinned against such a holy place are sure to suffer the consequences of their misdeeds at no distant date in this Kali age in accordance with the verse: “Hasadbhih kriyate karma rudadbhir-anubhuyate” (People do [evil] deeds smilingly but suffer the consequences crying).”
It is evident that the proposal to celebrate Tipu Jayanti has stirred a fresh controversy in the state. BJP, the main opposition party, has termed it ‘vote collection’ exercise. One of their senior leaders, called Tipu a ‘tyrant’ and even questioned the government’s move to celebrate the day. Another saffron leader D H Shankaramurthy called Tipu “anti- Kannada” as he “was not a Kannadiga”. He also blamed him for ‘replacing Kannada – which was supposedly the official language before Tipu ruled Mysuru- with Persian.’ People can brush up their memories and can find that this was the same gentleman who as higher education minister had announced his move to ‘obliterate the great Tipu Sultan’s name from the pages of Kannada history.’ It is a different matter it was a time when BJP shared power with JD(S) then and this move faced stiff opposition from different sections of society and had to be dropped ultimately.
It need be reminded that last year the decision of the Karnataka government to honour him with a tableau at the Republic Day parade had provoked the Hindutva Brigade. They had also felt agitated when the then central government was contemplating naming a central university after him. It was the time when UPA II government had decided to set up a non-religious central university bearing Tipu’s name in Srirangpatnam – the very place he was martyred.
Two years back when countdown had already begun for the BJP led government in the state another stalwart from the saffron family – the then education minister of Karnataka – had unashamedly compared Tipu to Britishers and called him “a foreigner” like British (Jan 25, 2013, 16:38 IST , DNA).
It is worth looking into why the saffrons love to hate Tipu Sultan and what is the basis of their allegations against him. But before that it would be opportune here to look into how ‘falsification of history’ to suit the ‘divide’ and ‘rule policy of the Britishers vis-a-vis Tipu has been going on since quite some time. In this connection Prof B N Pandey’s speech in the Rajya Sabha, titled ‘History in the Service of Imperialism’ is worth quoting (1977). Professor B. N. Pandey, Professor of History in Allahabad University, who later became Governor of Orissa, had narrated his experience. In his speech he mentioned how way back in 1928
“..[w]hen he was a Professor of History in Allahabad University some students came to him with a book written by one Professor Harprasad Shastri, Professor of Sanskrit of Calcutta University in which it was mentioned that Tipu Sultan told 3000 Brahmins to convert to Islam otherwise they will be killed, and those 3000 Brahmins committed suicide rather than becoming Muslims. On reading this Professor B. N. Pandey wrote to Professor Harprasad Shastri asking him on what basis have you written this? What is the source of your information? Prof. Harprasad Shastri wrote back that the source of information is the Mysore Gazetteer. Then Prof. Pandey wrote to Prof. Shrikantia, Professor of History in Mysore University asking him whether it is correct that in Mysore Gazetteer it is mentioned that Tipu Sultan told 3000 Brahmins to convert to Islam. Prof. Shrikantia wrote back that this is totally false, he had worked in this field and there is no such mention in the Mysore Gazetteer, rather the correct version was just the reverse, namely, that Tipu Sultan used to give annual grants to 156 Hindu Temples, he used to send grants to the Shankaracharya of Shringheri, etc.”
“it is perhaps ironic that the aggressive Hinduism of some members of the Indian Community in the 1990s should draw upon an image of Tipu which, as we shall see, was initially constructed by the Subcontinent’s colonisers.”
Page 2, Brittlebank, Kate (1999). Tipu Sultan’s Search for Legitimacy. Delhi: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-563977-3
Anyone who has closely followed stories of Tipu Sultan’s alleged religious persecution of Hindus and Christians would find that works of early British authors – like Kirkpatrick and Wilks – acts as a basis for all of them who were very much against Tipu Sultan. In fact they had strong vested interest in presenting Tipu Sultan as a tyrant and project Britishers as the ‘liberators’. In her recent work Brittlebank also writers that both Wilks and Kirkpatrick had taken part in the wars against Tipu Sultan and were closely connected to the administrations of Lord Cornwallis and Richard Wellesley, 1st Marquess Wellesley and therefore ‘must be used with particular care’.
Mohibbul Hasan, in his monograph ‘The History of Tipu Sultan (Delhi) 1971, p 36, sheds light on this demonisation of Tipu. He writes
“The reasons why Tipu was reviled are not far to seek. Englishmen weire prejudiced against him because they regarded him as their most formidable rival and an inveterate enemy, and because, unlike other Indian rulers, he refused to become a tributary of the English Company. Many of the atrocities of which he has been accused were allegedly fabricated either by persons embittered and angry on account of the defeats which they had sustained at his hands, or by the prisoners of war who had suffered punishments which they thought they did not deserve. He was also misrepresented by those who were anxious to justify the wars of aggression which the Company’s Government had waged against him. Moreover, his achievements were delibrately belittled and his character blackened in order that the people of Mysore might forget him and rally round the Raja, thus helping in the consolidation of the new regime” The History of Tipu Sultan (Delhi) 1971 p368
And this one sided presentation of history is not limited Tipu only. In fact, on further studies one finds a deep resonance between how the colonial historians understood/packaged Indian history and how the communals used it to their convenience. James Mill in his book ‘The History of British India’ divided Indian history into three periods Hindu, Muslim and British. This problematic characterisation not only silenced/invisiblised the Buddhist/Jain and various other groups role/contribution but it also tried to present a very homogenised view of the periods – discounting any possibility of fissures within them. Interestingly it also took care not to mention ‘Christian’ in case of ‘British’ while dividing Indian history. Prof D N Jha in one of his interviews (www.countercurrents.org) tells :
When Majumdar authored a multi-volume Indian history published by Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, he devoted much space to “Hindu period,” promoting revivalism and communalism. It was the communal history produced by colonial historians that influenced views about Muslims being “foreigners” and Hindus being “indigenous”.
History writing in post-independent India, which drew on colonial writings, did talk about “the great Indian past”. RSS and its ideologues today are busy propagating this very myth of “Greater India” Prof D N Jha further tells :
The anti-Muslim attitude of the RSS was shaped by the colonial historians such as H. M. Elliot and John Dawson, who compiled The History of India as Told by Its Own Historians . They denounced Muslims, contending that they destroyed temples and prosecuted Hindus. The real purpose of Elliot’s formulation was to inject a heavy dose of communalism in the minds of people of the 19th century.
It is now history how the colonials distorted our history to suit their imperial interests. One very well knows they called our uprisings as mutinies, our heroes as villains, and our freedom fighters as usurpers and terrorists.
For a formation like RSS and its allied organisations, which kept away from the heroic anti-colonial struggle supposedly to concentrate on building organisation and was in fact engaged in breaking broad unity of people cutting across community lines against the Britishers this move to have a biased view of Tipu does not appear surprising. Perhaps by attacking Tipu Sultan, and presenting a distorted version of his legacy, the saffrons think that they would be able to avoid discussion on their not so glorious role in the anti-colonial struggle. But can anyone forget that there is enough documentary evidence to prove that Hedgewar – founder of RSS and Golwalkar, one of its chief ideologue, who shaped the organisation, asked/instructed the RSS members not to participate in the anti-British campaigns/struggles.
Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who is held in high esteem by them, even went to the extent of asking Hindus to join the British led military when on the one had the ‘Quit India’ movement was at its peak (1942) which had posed tremendous challenges before the Britishers and on the other Azad Hind Fauz led by Subhash Chandra Bose was delivering mortal blows to it in the war. In fact Savarkar went on an all India tour holding public meetings with due support from the rulers then and tried to mobilise the Hindus – under the slogan ‘Hinduise the Military, Militarise Hinduism’ – to join British forces. Not only that the Hindutva forces had no qualms in joining hands with Muslim League and other Islamist Parties to form coalition governments in Bengal and Punjab and other adjoining states during that tumultous period. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, who was instrumental in establishing Bharatiya Jan Sangh, the first political outfit launched by RSS, who is revered by the saffrons was a member of the cabinet led by Shahid Suhrawardy then in Bengal. It is clear that when there was time to fight the anti-colonials, the saffrons stayed away from it and when they were facing crisis because of people’s struggles they went to the extent of propping their regime by providing legitimacy to their actions.
The continued stigmatisation of Tipu by the saffrons and their refusal to honour the sacrifices he made fighting the Britishers presents before the Hindutva Brigade another set of dilemma. What to say of all those Hindu kings and warriors– whom they rever – who committed atrocities on ordinary people and looted. In fact, one of their most revered Maratha king had raided Surat – a main trading town in those times – and plundered it like a marauder more than once. If Tipu is a ‘bigot’ in their view then what would they say about the Marathas led by the Peshwas then who had raided the Sringeri Shakaracharya mutt and temple and plundered it ? And it was not the only attack by Hindu Kings on Hindu religious places, one can cite n number of examples from pages of history which demonstrate other similar attacks undertaken by these kings at different places. What would they say about the Peshwas under whose regime Shudras-Atishudras were denied all human rights and Dalits were even compelled to wear a earthen pot so that they even their spit does not fall on the streets?
“We plan to lay the foundation stone of a temple for Akhand Bharat Mata and Godseji on January 30. We also plan a big congregation of people where the ashes of Godse ji, currently kept in Pune, will be brought to this temple in Sitapur. We are working towards creating a Hindu Rashtra and an undivided Bharat is our dream. We will immerse his ashes only after his dream has been realised,” Hindu Mahasabha’s working president Kamlesh Tiwari told Headlines Today.
The ‘Hate Tipu’ syndrome much visible in the ranks of the RSS and all its affiliated as well as like minded organisations needs to be seen also in the backdrop of the growing euologisation of Nathuram Godse, the Hindutva terrorist who assasinated Mahatam Gandhi. (for more details on this episode see http://kafila.org/2013/11/15/first-terrorist-of-independent-india) and their continued silence over it.
Not some time ago BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj stirred a huge controversy when he called Godse a nationalist and a patriot. In October, a Malayalam mouthpiece of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh had said that Nathuram Godse should have killed former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and not Gandhi. The writer was none other than a BJP leader who had contested elections to the Parliament . Forget taking any action against this glorification of Godse, RSS tried rather unsuccessfully to distance itself from this article saying that it was his ‘private opinion’. We also know that moves are even afoot to build this ‘great Patriots’ temples all over the country. (http: //www. thehindu.com/ news/national/other-states/meerut-villagers-rally-against-godse-temple/article6754164.ece) The Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha – whose most prominent leader Savarkar was the main conspirator in Gandhi’s assasination (Thanks to the painstaking investigation done by Jeevanlal Kapoor Commission) – also plans to establish Godse’s busts at different places in the country.
A close look at this ‘Love Godse’ campaign and RSS-BJP’s silence over it can be construed in two ways.
One, it wants to send a message to the core constituency which yearns to carve out a Hindu Rashtra that they should not get misled by the talk of ‘development’ which became necessary because of electoral compulsions.
Secondly, by avoiding any discussion on Gandhi’s assasination and the role of Godse and other Hindutva organisations in it, they want to move ahead unhindered in co-opting Gandhi.
It is a different matter that people are slowly waking up to the real meaning glorification of Godse and are coming forward to challenge their machinations. A rally was held in Meerut recently which was attended by thousands of people is an indication of the brewing storm.
Subhash Gatade is the author of Pahad Se Uncha Aadmi (2010), Godse’s Children: Hindutva Terror in India,(2011) and The Saffron Condition: The Politics of Repression and Exclusion in Neoliberal India (2011). He is also the Convener of New Socialist Initiative.