Tipu Sultan, Kannada Nationalism and Communal Design


D. Shankar Murthy, a minister in the Karnataka Government, initiated a public debate surrounding Tipu Sultan. I do not have access to all the opinions expressed in this debate. I have followed some of the debate in the Kannada daily, Vijaya Karnataka. It does seem a royal sling match, with Kannada writers and intellectuals reacting to each other with the readers throwing in their bit.

The moot question is whether Tipu Sultan deserves to be respected in Karnataka. The minister apparently said something to the effect that Tipu was against Kannada and hence Kannadigas should not bother about him much. The debate of course makes Tipu’s religious faith the core issue. One set of opinion, expressed in detail by the novelist S. L. Bhairappa, is that he was anti-Hindu, anti-Kannada, and was no way a patriotic figure; another set of opinion, with Girish Karnad holding the brief (he has a play on Tipu, published recently), which says that the anti-Tipu sentiments are a sign of the growth of Hindu fundamentalism in Karnataka.

Both parties take antagonistic positions and hence it is not really a discussion. As it is with these issues, there would be no final word on it. Controversy about the Datta mandir resurfacing again, this debate may end soon, with media busy with things more juicy.

It is true that the question involves the issue of historical interpretation. But, I would be interested in the question of the interpretation of the history of such a controversy. The historical debate, if competent historians participate, may or may not conclude. (Btw, a group of historians from all over
India, have released a public statement asserting that Tipu was not anti-Kannada; but the opposite party wouldn’t hear any of it, as they would term these historians as leftists). But, we can see some reasons why such controversies are generated and sustained by media and other vested interests. Few would really bother about whether or not Tipu was anti-Kannada, and some would say, if he was, so what, and if he wasn’t so what. I think, political class in Karnataka are smelling elections. So the frying pan is hot. It is useful if polarizing issues such as Muslim Tipu vs. Kannada or
Belgaum for Karnataka kind of issues are on the top of peoples mind. I suspect, with the kind of noise on Kannada gaurava, border issue etc. the present dispensation will rush to the electorate soon. There is something apart from the elections coming, I think, something more ominous: communal riots.

Oh! These political gimmicks. And look at us, taking their baits and troubling our little heads over the crumbs of sensationalism that they throw at us. Recently somewhere, there was a report on how Karnataka is presently the site for
Gujarat experiment. No wonder, there is a hurry to invoke the Muslim kings and their anti-Kannada stances. After all, in Karnataka, only Ram cannot wean the electorate; mix Ram with Kannada nationalism, lo, you have a heady mix for some bloody drama on the street. Even as I write this I think tools for the street fight are getting readied. In the Tipu sultan debate righitists are busy with complaints about Muslims who speak Urdu at home and not Kannada. Surely, if the B.J.P. gets its Ram + Kannada nationalism right, as Mody did in his second innings, they can almost get the assembly maths right.

Shame has no limits when power play is in full swing. Kill, oh! Kill, for the elections are near. That seems to the real ‘mantra’. 

One response »

  1. Pingback: Mangalore communal riots - my take « Life, its meaning

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