Tipu Sultan's birth anniversary observed amid protests

The government of southern Indian state of Karnataka on Friday celebrated the 268th birth anniversary of 18th century ruler of erstwhile kingdom of Mysore amid protests from Hindu nationalist organisations.

The state government led by the Congress party says Tipu Sultan is a freedom fighter who fought against the British colonial rulers, but the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is the main opposition party in Karnataka, calls him “tyrant” and “anti-Hindu bigot”.

The BJP and its affiliate organisations staged state-wide protests against the honoring of the controversial ruler that started three years ago by the state government.

But why are there protests against a ruler who died more than 200 years ago?

“Indians are not divided over Tipu Sultan. It’s only people motivated by a certain ideology and politics who want to create divisions,” said Mridula Mukherjee, who taught history at Jawaharlal Nehru University, referring to right-wing forces.

“Here was a man who tried his best to try and resist Western conquest,” she told Al Jazeera.

Demonisation of Muslim rulers

The BJP and its ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) claim Tipu was a fanatic who destroyed temples and forcibly converted Hindus to Islam during his 17 years of reign.


Historians say this is part of the larger campaign run by Hindu groups who paint Muslim rulers as barbarians and harsh against their Hindu subjects. Roads named after Muslim kings from medieval era have been changed and the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been accused of pushing for rewriting of history books to suit the Hindu nationalist agenda.

The BJP government in the state of Uttar Pradesh last month removed the famous Taj Mahal, one of the wonders of modern world, from the tourism brochure. Later a BJP leader dubbed it a blot on India’s culture.

There are historical accounts of Tipu funding many temples and monasteries but those accounts are not highlighted while his acts against Hindu community are often exaggerated.

“All rulers of the pre-modern era and even in the modern era when they went for conquest of another people, there was inevitable cruelty and brutality, so Tipu was not unique. Tipu was not an Ashoka or a Buddha. He was just like any other medieval ruler,” Mukherjee said.

Tipu against against Hindu culture

Rakesh Sinha, an ideologue of the RSS, admits Tipu Sultan was an Indian ruler with “both positive and negative traits”, but says he is against celebrations and “iconisation” of the controversial ruler.


“The most important thing for a ruler is inclusive social philosophy – this was missing from Tipu’s governance. His mission was religious conversion of Hindus.

“Tipu Sultan stood against the idea of Indian civilisation, against Hindu civilisation and culture. We can have a seminar on Tipu but not anniversary celebrations. These celebrations are part of iconisation of Tipu. He doesn’t inspire posterity.”

#TipuJayanti trended all day as people from both sides of the divide came out on the social media to express their views.

Mani Shankar Aiyar, senior leader of the Congress Party and former federal minister said that the present ruling establishment (BJP) wants to “promote a very business-oriented nationalism” in place of the idea of India of Jawaharlal Nehru [India’s first prime minister].

Nehru’s idea of India, he said “essentially meant anyone living in India is an Indian and that we don’t allow the sins of their fathers to visit their children”.

Indians are not divided over Tipu Sultan. It’s only people motivated by a certain ideology and politics who want to create divisions

Mridula Mukherjee, ex-professor JNU

Aiyer said that those who want a Hindu Raj (rule) in a secular India “keep trying to find examples in Muslim rulers of India of wrongs that they may have done, and then exaggerating them”.

Tipu also known as Tiger of Mysore for his bravery was killed while fighting the British forces in his capital Seringapatam in 1799. He is also called India’s first freedom fighter – a point the Karnataka government has highlighted.

Tipu is also credited with modernisation of army, roads and irrigation system, and historians point out attempts are being made to show Tipu’s multi-layered personality from a narrow sectarian prism.

“The legacy of Tipu Sultan is that he showed how there was great capacity among the society in these parts at the end of the 18th century to innovate, to modernise,” Mukherjee from JNU said.

Zeenat Saberin reported from New Delhi