The Karnataka government’s decision to celebrate Tipu Jayanti on November 10 has sparked a spate of protests across the State. There was a wide divergence of opinion among the intellectuals in the State on Tipu and his contribution.
One faction believes that he was a statesman who made sacrifices and displayed tolerance towards other religions, while the other dismisses him as a fundamentalist, violent and destructive.
But both the groups of intellectuals have failed to establish credibility of their sources or substantiate their claims. They have not bothered to show any interest to clear lingering doubts raised by people. They were simply mouthing contradictory and provocative statements.
In a situation where there is no consensus of opinion among intellectuals on potentially sensitive issues, the Government has to display common sense and sagacity to weigh up pros and cons before making decisions that could stir up public outrage.
By deciding to celebrate Tipu Jayanti every year, under the auspices of the Department of Minorities Welfare, the Government has exposed itself to the charge of wilfully indulging in divisive politics.
Soon after the Independence all the princely states had merged into the Indian republic and the Constitution declared India as a secular, socialistic republic. Consequently, all the royal families were made redundant from their dynastic positions of authority.
While it is desirable to emulate their good values and governance it is a travesty of secular democracy in the 21st century to flaunt publicly the imperialist glory of kings and rulers of bygone era, whether they were Hindu, Muslim or of any other faith.
That he was a freedom fighter was used by the State Government as a pretext for celebrating Tipu Jayanti. India has shown to the whole world that freedom could be won without muscle power or bloodshed. A nation need not go out of its way to hero-worship an ancient violent warrior or a king whose strategies ran counter to the cherished Gandhian philosophy of non-violence.
At the most the nation can appreciate the valour of ancient kings. The fact that he had waged pitched battles against the British mainly to safeguard his throne, territory and assets can be a subject of another debate among scholars.
Politics of appeasement
The State Government cannot escape itself from the accusation that behind its sudden and new-found desire to commemorate Tipu’s birth anniversary there was a sinister motive of political appeasement of Muslim community. The point of contention is the fact that the celebrations were organised under the Department of Minorities Welfare. Some independent analysts have seen this move by the State Government as lacking in straightforwardness.
Had the State Government been genuinely honest about its intentions and keen on celebrating Tipu as a cultural icon would it not have done so under the auspices of the Department of Kannada and Culture? Was the Government pure and sincere or deliberately mischievous in its intentions? These are the questions that are being asked by peace-loving people in Karnataka cutting across party lines and irrespective of religious faiths.
If the Government’s objective was to highlight the cultural identity of Muslim community in the State it could have done so by commemorating the remarkable contributions made by great Muslim mystics and poets. The saints of the Islamic sect of Sufism were a great source of inspiration for generations in Karnataka and India having spread the message of peace, tolerance and social goodwill. Surely, it is a far more sensible way to pay homage to the cultural heritage of Islam, represented by Sufism, than by celebrating birth anniversaries of controversial historical figures.
For several decades genuine admirers of Tipu Sultan have been celebrating his birth anniversary in Karnataka and elsewhere. Similarly birthdays of Kanakadasa, Valmiki, Jedara Dasimayya and other ancient mystics and seers are celebrated by those from among their respective sects.
The Government’s needless intervention in the cultural matters would only wreck the essence of a culture. The idea of a State-sponsored Tipu Jayanti is as bizarre as that of the Yoga Day sponsored a few months ago by the Central Government. The Government was completely ill-advised to sponsor an event that stirred up avoidable polemical clashes leading to communal violence in a region like Madikeri which is known for peace-loving people.