A case for Tipu Jayanti

Tiger of Mysore

Tipu Sultan

Just a day after proving its majority in the Karnataka Assembly, the Yediyurappa government cancelled the Tipu Jayanti celebrations that former chief minister Siddaramaiah had introduced. Tipu Sultan was the indomitable ruler of Mysore who died fighting the British on May 4, 1799. That the cancellation was almost the very first act of the new government says more about the BJP government than about Tipu Sultan, whom the party sees only through its ‘Hindu/anti-Hindu’ binary view.

Tipu undoubtedly was a great warrior and one of the few Indian kings who stood up to the British — in his case, singlehandedly — and fought valiantly throughout his tumultuous life. He sacrificed everything, including his life, to safeguard his kingdom from British occupation. Just for this, Tipu’s memory deserves to be commemorated.  

It is said that for decades after his death in 1799, women in England used his name to calm their crying babies. It speaks volumes of the terror he was to the average Englishman, let alone to British soldiers and generals who were engaged in four protracted wars with him. Tipu hated the very presence of the British on Indian soil and in the pursuit of his objective to oust them, he strove to forge an alliance of Indian forces with the French. If only Tipu had the support of a few native rulers of the day, Indian history would have been thoroughly different.

Born in November 1750 at Devanahalli, near where Bengaluru’s international airport now stands, Tipu succeeded to the Mysore throne in December 1781 after the demise of his father, Hyder Ali, near Chittoor when the Second Mysore War was in progress. Tipu continued the war against the British and concluded the Treaty of Mangalore in 1784. His crusade against the British power and his heroic exploits are even better reflected in the last two wars, the Third (1792)  and the Fourth (1799)  Mysore wars when he fought against Lord Cornwallis and Lord Wellesley, respectively.

Administrator   

It is not only his military abilities for which Tipu is rightly remembered, but his administrative capabilities saw him being equated with several noted world leaders in history. His voluminous correspondence in Kannada, Telugu, Tamil and French, the languages in which he was proficient, reflect his abiding interest in administration. His issue of coins of fine calligraphy, his ordinances prohibiting the sale of liquor, his reforming of the calendar, introduction of new scales, weights and measures, experiments in judicial and revenue regulations show his unusual creative ability and desire for modernisation.

Tipu showed great interest in providing irrigation works in his kingdom. He made banking and money-lending a government monopoly. A firm believer in mercantilism, Tipu established a Royal Board of Commissioners for Trade that looked after the development of domestic and foreign trade. He took special interest in the development of industries in Mysore.

Artisans from Turkey, Iran and France were invited in large numbers. Chinese experts assisted in refining sugar, for the production of which a factory was established in Chennapatna. The Malabar coast thrived with pearl fishing during his time. By using modern methods, he spawned manufacture of clocks, wristwatches and paper. He also had a factory established to make knives, scissors and needles.

Tipu had great passion for modern technology and succeeded in manufacturing arms like muskets, canons and pistols. The rockets he made and used in the wars stunned the British. Col. Congreve took the remnants of Tipu’s rockets and developed what have come to be known as Congreve rockets through reverse engineering. 

During Tipu’s time, Mysore was known for products like sandalwood, spices, silk, coconut and tobacco.  He established several centres for the culture of silkworm and cultivation of mulberry plants. Several countries like China, Oman, Peru, Armenia, Jeddah, Ormuz and the Ottoman empire bought these products. Tipu sent diplomatic missions to Constantinople in 1784 to explore the possibility of getting Turkish help against the British in India. Tipu always had his political agents at the Moghul court in Delhi, who constantly updated him of the developments there.

On the religion front, Tipu was more tolerant than he is made out to be. History is replete with instances when he held Hindu sadhus and saints in high esteem. He always consulted Hindu astrologers and gave land grants to Hindu temples. He always offered prayers to seek the blessings of goddess Chamundeshwari before embarking on military expeditions. It was only his detractors who called him a fanatic and bigot.

The highly biased contemporaneous British writings and testimonies, for the obvious purpose of dividing and instigating people against him, depicted him as a religious fanatic. A majority of his revenue officials were Brahmins, his trusted prime minister Dewan Poorniah included. His frequent grants to Sringeri mutt and his regard for the seer there is well-known.

If Tipu crushed Hindus in Coorg and Malabar, it was for political expediency, as they were in league with the English, and not because they were Hindus. He did not spare Muslims either if they were aligned with the British. There would not be a more historical anachronism than calling him a communalist.

If the legacy of the indomitable ‘Tiger of Mysore’, who staked everything to keep the British out of his kingdom and indeed out of India, does not deserve to be celebrated merely because a section of today’s politicians do not like his religion, then there is little else left for us to be proud of our rich history. Tipu Sultan is part of our history and should be commemorated.

(The writer was formerly Professor of History, University of Hyderabad)

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