Tipu Sultan has stormed into political space in Karnataka and is the new mascot of the Congress ahead of Assembly elections.
Every birthday on November 10, the ghost of Tipu Sultan visits Karnataka to expose the political and religious fault lines. This year is no different. But coming as it is on the eve of an election year, the Tiger of Mysore (as Tipu is known) has become a roaring mascot of the Congress and a howling devil incarnate for the BJP.
It was in 2015 that Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah suddenly found a ` political friend’ in Tipu Sultan who could help him consolidate votes of the minority community. From that year, the Karnataka government began celebrating Tipu Sultan‘s birthday in a grand manner. The move has been opposed tooth and nail by the BJP which sees Tipu Sultan as a “religious bigot” and a “brutal killer”.
The BJP and a section of the society have been opposing the sudden resurrection of a long-ago dead Tiger. This year, however, Tipu’s birthday has managed to stir more emotions and divide political parties and the people as the celebrations come on the eve of the Assembly elections early next year.
Also, this year, Tipu’s birthday celebrations triggered more controversy when BJP‘s Union Minister for Skill Development, Anantkumar Hegde, asked the Karnataka government to strike off his name from the list of invitees to the function.
Hegde has been consistent in keeping a distance from Tipu Sultan as he represents the BJP and the Hindus who see the erstwhile Mysore sultan as a tyrant who destroyed many temples. As a BJP member, he has every right to reflect the party’s stand; he also has the right to reflect the sentiments on his constituency. Moreover, he comes from the Mangaluru region where Tipu is hated by Hindus and Christians. Obviously, he could not have shared public space on a common dais to celebrate the birthday of a man who is hated even in death.
It is debatable if Hegde, as a minister in the government, represents a bigger audience and should have been more accommodative. A minister does not represent his individual preferences; he represents the will of the government.
That is what President Ram Nath Kovind did. As the President of India, not just a BJP or RSS man, Kovind kept aside his personal and individual viewpoints and lauded the 18th century Mysore ruler while addressing the joint session of Karnataka legislature on Wednesday.
“Tipu Sultan died a heroic death fighting the British. He was also a pioneer in the development and use of Mysore rockets in warfare. This technology was later adopted by the Europeans,” Kovind said while noting that Karnataka is a land of formidable soldiers.
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The President’s reference to Tipu Sultan came after he noted the contributions of various historical figures of Karnataka, including Krishnadevaraya who was the emperor of the Vijayanagara empire from 1509 to 1529.
While the President needs to be lauded, the BJP in Karnataka was left red-faced. It triggered a political slug fest between the ruling Congress and opposition BJP. BJP strongman and Leader of Opposition in the Legislative Council K S Eshwarappa could only allege that the Karnataka government had “misused” the office of the President by getting Tipu’s name mentioned in the speech.
Though the move to celebrate the birthday of Tipu has been cropping up every year, this year the support and opposition to the event is louder and shriller as Karnataka nears an election which is crucial for the ruling Congress and the Opposition BJP. Both the parties would love to cater to their own constituency. In the case of Tipu, both Congress and BJP will agree that there is nothing inconsistent in their stands. However, the big tragedy is that this will lead to inevitable polarisation of votes. Karnataka politicians seem to be happy in celebrating a festival of hate.
When the Tipu controversy first erupted in 2015, it was limited to a small pocket of the Old Mysore region. But today, Tipu has grown larger than life, rather death! Both the Congress and the BJP would exploit the king to mobilise people on the grounds of religion. Thus, as 2018 approaches, the shadow of Tipu is likely to spread across Karnataka.
The Congress game plan is to support Tipu to the hilt to show the party’s concern for the minorities. The BJP will use the Mysore king to consolidate its Hindu vote, something which they have tried for long. For short term gains, both the parties are creating long term divisions.
Tipu, who is credited to using the first cannon, has now become political fodder at the hands of both the parties. The Tiger of Mysore is today a pawn in the hands of political parties in Karnataka.
For the Congress government, Tipu Jayanti celebrations is nothing but to build a political constituency and it was a masterstroke of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah. For the BJP it will be to pull all the Hindus under one umbrella.
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But seeing this move of possible Hindu unity, the Congress played a clever game by trying to use identity politics in an effective way. The party has been successful in creating a rift in the powerful Lingayat community. The Lingayats have been always backing the BJP because historically, the Congress has been denying power to the community. But to wean away the Lingayats from the BJP, the Congress hit on a strategy of giving a separate religious status for the community.
This, understandably, has created huge ramifications in the BJP as the party’s strongman and possible CM candidate is a Lingayat himself.
To this move, the BJP is trying to portray Tipu as anti Kannada because he imposed Urdu and gave a step-motherly treatment to the local language. This move is likely to consolidate the pro-Kannada activists who have of late become noisy, nosey and influential.
The BJP is also trying to paint Tipu as a “religious bigot” and “fanatic.”
Tipu Sultan is also viewed in a negative light in Kodagu district of the state where he is alleged to have persecuted the local Kodava population, as also the Roman Catholics of Mangaluru, on religious grounds and forced them to convert to Islam.
Tipu was a ruler of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore. He was considered an implacable enemy of the British East India Company. He was killed in May 1799 while defending his fort of Srirangapatna against the British forces.
When the decision to celebrate Tipu Jayanthi was taken by the Siddaramaiah government in 2015, the right-wing groups, including the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Sangh Parivar, clashed with those favouring the government’s decision. In Madikeri, the heartland of Kodagu, a VHP activist died after succumbing to injuries sustained while fleeing a police lathicharge. Clashes also erupted after a Muslim group took out a procession to mark the state government’s Tipu Sultan Jayanti celebrations came face-to-face with Hindutva activists.
And into this fray it was Jnanpith winner Girish Karnad who unwittingly jumped in by suggesting renaming the Kempegowda International Airport in Bengaluru after Tipu Sultan rather than the city founder Kempegowda. This he said in the presence of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah at a function. This statement raised a hell in Bengaluru and Karnataka.
Though Siddaramaiah said there was no question of renaming the airport, he had to address the emotional issue by adding that Karnad committed a grave mistake by making such remarks.
As the fire raged around Karnad, he apologised saying what he said was his personal view and there was no ulterior motive to it. The matter took a sinister turn when a Twitter user by the name of Intolerant Chandra tweeted “Girish Karnad will meet the same end like Kalburgi if he enrages Kannadigas by replacing in Kempegowda with Tipu Sultan.”
However, the matter died down soon as Karnard made a quiet exit from the scene and refrained stoking the fire further.
Apart from Tipu, the coming elections would be a referendum on the state government. The BJP will adopt the old Congress strategy of a central leadership driven campaign. From Indira Gandhi’s time this top-to-down was a strategy Congress adopted. Now, BJP is doing the same partly because its state leadership is hopelessly divided, and people do not have a good impression of the previous BJP government at the state level.
While the BJP will adopt the former Congress strategy in the 2018 elections, the Grand Old party too will change its strategy. The State unit of the Congress may not depend heavily on the high-command central leadership. The party may go on for state level leadership which is what they tried in Punjab. Projecting the central leadership of the party in Karnataka is not likely to get votes but certainly the state leadership is likely to be a better proposition.
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