10/11/2015 2:13 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST

Tipu Sultan Debate Rages On As Communal Violence Claims Life Of VHP Leader In Karnataka

INDIA - CIRCA 2003: Tipu Sultan (1750-1799), also known as the Tiger of Mysore, Sultan of Mysore from 1782 to 1799, painting. India, 18th century. London, British Library, India Office Library And Records (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

A 50-year-old activist of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad died in communal clashes at Madikeri, about 250 km from Bengaluru in Karnataka, on Tuesday while protesting the celebration of the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan, the conroversial 18th century ruler of Mysore.

The activist, identified as Kutapppa, suffered head injuries during stone pelting when a pro-Tipu Sultan Muslim group clashed with Hindutva activists at the Thimmaiah circle. The VHP leader was killed and over 30 other activists were injured.

A youth was also injured in firing by some unidentified persons, police said, adding that prohibitory orders have been clamped in the entire Kodagu district and additional reinforcements sent to the area to bring the situation under control. Police used tear gas shells and resorted to lathicharge as hundreds of people gathered here and clashes erupted between the opponents and supporters of the celebrations.

Several organizations including the VHP had called for a bandh to protest the government-sponsored Tipu Jayanti celebrations, which took a communal turn.

Historians have said Tipu Sultan, popularly called the Tiger of Mysore, was a freedom fighter. But the more vocal in India's right wing political parties have always held the view that Tipu was an intolerant ruler who forcefully converted Hindus and persecuted Christians.

Leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka had opposed the state government's decision to celebrate the ruler's birth anniversary. Sangh Parivar outfits, who have called Tipu a "religious bigot", had threatened to disrupt the event on 10 November.

"It's a total boycott on our part, no public representative from our party at any level should participate in the official function," state BJP President Prahlad Joshi told PTI.

Describing Tipu Sultan as a "fanatic" and "anti-Kannada", Joshi said, "....we have 44 legislators, and it is a practice that wherever such events are organised, local legislator presides over it. We have instructed our legislators that they should not preside over this event, they should not go on the dais."

But Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah insisted that the event will be held as planned. "Tipu is a patriot, he fought against the British, in a sense freedom struggle began from three Mysore wars, he lost his life during the battle, and he had even pledged his son to British," he said.

"RSS is unnecessarily trying to defame him, we will celebrate his Jayanti," Siddaramaiah added.

Go Madhusudan, Mysore MLC from the BJP that Sultan had invited Afghan king Ahmad Shah Abdali to wage a war against India, thus, showing his 'anti-national' side. However, its seems, some of the BJP legislators have got their history wrong.

The first time Abdali invaded India in 1748, Tipu was not even born. Tipu Sultan did, however, seek an international alliance with Abdali's grandson, Zaman Shah Durrani, Revolutionary France, Iran and the Ottoman Empire to throw out the British, noted Times Of India in this report.

Historian Dilip Menon says Tipu was one of the best of the 18th-century monarchs in India. "However, amidst his campaigns, there were also stories of forced conversions of Hindus and destruction of temples which to modern eyes fit too well into a Muslim monarch in a Hindu society frame," he said.

"Interestingly, the ideal monarch, Ashoka, ancient exemplar for modern India, self-confessedly killed hundreds of thousands of Hindus in war before converting to Buddhism. So will the BJP reject Ashoka? History means knowing context and not subscribing to polarising myths," Menon said.

Angry at this "lack of understanding" of Tipu, historian Mandeep Singh Bajwa said the leaders should be studying the administration and warfare of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan, "instead of making these empty noises."

Historian NV Narasimhaiah said, "Tipu brought sericulture to Karnataka, banned intoxicating liquor".

There was a practice in Kerala that lower caste women were not allowed to wear blouses. When Tipu learnt this, he supplied the blouses, Narasimhaiah told NDTV.

Meanwhile, some Catholics are enthusiastically joining hands with the RSS and the Bajrang Dal against their ancient foe, reported Hindustan Times. On 6 November, the United Christian Association (UCA) held a protest outside the deputy commissioner’s office in Mangalore and showed their support for the Sangh’s agitation against Tipu.

Alban Menezes, spokesperson for UCA, said Tipu in February 1784 had destroyed the Milagres Church in Mangalore, built in 1680. Menezes said Tipu had also imprisoned 60,000 Catholics, suspected of being British spies.

While there are people protesting against Tipu Sultan's birthday celebrations, there are some who still worship the King. Kollur Sri Mookambika Temple on the foothills of Western Ghats continues to perform a special puja in the name of the 'Tiger of Mysuru' every day.

A puja is performed every day to commemorate Tipu Sultan's visit to the temple, for several years now.

"How can a ruler who offered pujas in temples be called anti-Hindu? How can we call a patriot an anti-national?", asked Former Union minister B Janardhan Poojary.

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