The sword over Tipu’s Legacy

This is not the first time Tipu Sultan’s legacy has come under fire. Every time the state, an individual or a group has tried to honour the Mysorean monarch, there have been fierce protests.

In 1989, the makers of the popular TV serial The Sword of Tipu Sultan were dragged to court for celebrating a man who had killed many non-Muslims in Malabar and Coorg. Last year, there was trouble when Karnataka sent a Tipu Sultan tableau for the Republic Day parade.

Despite the BJP’s current stance, the Yeddyurappa government in 2012 had planned to procure rare documents belonging to Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan from Britain to establish Karnataka’s claim over Belgaum. The state has an on-going dispute with Maharashtra on the subject.By focusing on just one aspect of his rule or personality , we are doing great disservice to a man who lived in a different time, a rather troubled time. With the three dominant forces of the time -the Marathas, the Nizam, and the British -ganging up against him, he held out with steely resolve. That’s also something to be celebrated -the tenacity in the face of fire, both literally and metaphorically . You cannot apply modern standards of democracy and liberty on him and his rule.

This debate, argue historians penchant for reducing everything down to easy binaries“. They point out that Tipu was a man and a ruler way ahead of h i s t i m e , not a caricature of a bigoted Muslim king.

Tipu was a remarkable man in many ways. He and his father Hyder Ali actually gave the world the war rocket. Tipu even wrote a whole manual titled Fathul Mujahideen, on the use of this formidable weapon, which had directly contributed to the British defeat at Pollilur in 1780. The British, after Tipu’s fall in 1799, took away his rockets to Britain, improvised them and developed the Congreve rocket. They used it both against the US in the War of 1812 and Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815.Tipu_Sultan

Tipu’s engineers made for him some of the best muskets, pistols, cannons, sabres and other weapons of war. One of Tipu’s inscribed sabres was a spitting image of the Pattern 1796 Light Cavalry Sabre used by the British with great success in the Napoleonic Wars. The Duke of Wellington, who defeated both Tipu and Napoleon, had high praise for the former’s weapons and cavalry. Tipu’s cavalry would later become the Mysore Lancers, and heroes of the First World War.

Tipu built several roads and bridges apart from buildings, and also laid the foundation of a damming project on the Cauvery, which was finished only in the 20th century and is today known as the Krishna Raja Sagara Dam.The thriving sericulture industry in Karnataka today is also a Tipu legacy . The British, after Tipu’s death, were surprised to see the average Mysore peasant economically better off than a Madras peasant directly under Company rule. They were also surprised to find `Tipu’s Tiger’, an automated toy that had a tiger mauling a British soldier shrieking and writhing in pain -a fantastic piece of technology of the time and a testament to Tipu’s hostility towards the British.

Despite being an absolute monarch, he supported the French Revolution. He was made a member of the Jacobin Club.Tipu also planted a Tree of Liberty in his capital–actions for which the French called him Citizen Tippoo. Even Napoleon Bonaparte corresponded with him and had promised to liberate India from the British yoke.While that didn’t happen due to Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of the Nile, this alliance alarmed the British so much that they decided to finish him off.

Tipu was the most consistent in his fight against the British.Unlike the Marathas and the Nizam, he never became their ally , which should be celebratedi. Tipu’s army did commit atrocities during his Coorg and Malabar campaigns. These were amplified by the British as they mounted a propaganda war on him, and at times by Tipu himself, through lofty claims about conversion. Religion was and is the handmaiden of politics. Tipu used religion against those who had allied with his enemies just like Shivaji, earlier, had peeled the Kannada country bare.  Tipu was no different.