June 1999

A hero defamed

The saffron brigade’s claim that he was an ‘anti–Hindu fanatic’, results in the ‘postponement’ of the celebration of the 200th death anniversary of ‘martyr’ Tipu Sultan by the Karnataka government

British imperialists had entered the Indian sub–continent through the innocuous channels of trade
and commerce during the early part of the 17th century. Once they had set their feet firmly on the Indian soil under the protection and patronage of the Mogul emperors, it did not take them long to manifest their real political ambitions and sinister objectives of colonising India, taking fullest advantage of the political anarchy that prevailed in the country following the decline and disintegration of the Mogul power after emperor Aurangzeb.

In playing the subtle game of exploiting the age–old and intrinsic racial, communal and religious differences of different sections of the Indian people, the British excelled all the other European nations, such as the French, Dutch and Portuguese, who were also competing greedily with the British for establishing their own spheres of political power and influence in India. The British ultimately won, because of their superior strategy of "Divide and Rule", which throughout the colonial history of the British in India, they used very skilfully, ruthlessly and most unscrupulously in all their dealings with their opponents in the Indian sub–continent.

In the adventurous career of establishing their political hegemony throughout India, the British had encountered real challenges to their power only twice before the so–called ‘sepoy mutiny’ or the Indian rebellion (also described at times as India’s first war of Independence) against the British in 1857.

The first challenge was posed by Nawab Sirajuddaula of Bengal, who was eliminated without much difficulty by Clive in the battle of Plassey fought in 1757. Clive had, of course, succeeded through the intrigues and high treason of Mir Jaffar.

The second challenge, which was much more formidable than the first one, had come to the British from Tipu Sultan and his father Nawab Hyder Ali Khan of Mysore, whose kingdom at one time stretched over a vast area in Deccan, comprising not only the whole territory of the present day state of Karnataka, but also included sizeable portions of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra states.

Apart from fighting numerous battles with their other enemies, Tipu and his father fought four major wars against the British and their allies. So great were the military exploits and victories of Tipu and Hyder, and so crushing and humiliating were the defeats suffered by the British in the first two Mysore wars, that the British considered this Deccan Sultanate as a poisonous thorn in their side and spared no effort through treachery, intrigues and subversion to bring about the downfall of this Sultanate — an objective which they had failed to achieve on the battle fields otherwise.

To the national misfortune of India, the British succeeded in their efforts to kindle selfish ambitions and envy in the hearts of the Maratha rulers and the Nizam of Hyderabad; so much so, that they had joined with the British in forming an unholy common alliance against the Sultan. Encouraged by the British, the Maratha rulers and the Nizam suffered from illusions of false grandeur and glory and imagined themselves to be the legal heirs to the Mogul empire in India.

The courage and chivalry of Tipu Sultan on the battlefields earned from his friends and foes the title of the Tiger of Mysorefor the Sultan. It is said that the British feared Tipu so much — not only in India but also in England — that mothers used to frighten their children just by using the name of Sultan.

There are different versions about the role of Tipu Sultan in fighting the British in India. In some books of history pertaining to Tipu Sultan, written either by the British authors or other writers influenced by the British, the Sultan has been depicted as a Muslim religious fanatic, who was intolerant of other religions and persecuted their followers. It is alleged that hundreds and thousands of Hindus and Christians were either massacred or forcibly converted to Islam on the orders of the Sultan. Tipu is also alleged to have destroyed in his religious frenzy, scores of temples and churches.

Tipu and his father Hyder Ali have also been shown in some books as usurpers, who in their greed for power had deprived the legitimate Hindu Raja of Mysore of his throne and his kingdom. It is pointed out that with the fall of Srirangapatnam, the capital of the Sultanate, and the death of Tipu on the battle–field in the fourth war of Mysore in 1799, when the British bestowed the throne of Mysore to the Hindu Raja, the British acted most justly; in fact, they undid an act of grave "injustice" and "tyranny" perpetrated on the Raja and his Hindu subjects by Tipu Sultan and his father.

Taking into consideration the factors mentioned in the above paragraphs, it should be quite obvious that the various charges levelled against Tipu Sultan were totally baseless and were concocted by the British to fit into their strategy of ‘Divide and Rule’, with particular reference to the two major religious communities of India. It would, nevertheless, be necessary to establish the real truth on the basis of pure historical facts.

Late Mahmood Khan Mahmood of Bangalore, in his much celebrated biographical book on the history and times of Tipu Sultan, entitled Sultanate–e–Khudabad, after much painstaking research, with reference to both Hindu and foreign historians and writers, had with documentary evidence and proof refuted the allegations against Tipu as based on untruth. Modern historical research of the period has also shown the various allegations to be "historical myths" and fiction invented by the British and their henchmen to malign the Sultan with an avowed objective of sowing seeds of discord and hatred between Hindus and Muslims in order to strengthen and perpetuate the British Raj in India.

Tipu was undoubtedly a very pious and God fearing Muslim. It is recorded in his biography that when the construction of the great Jami Mosque at Srirangapatnam was completed, it was proposed by the learned scholars that the first inaugural prayers should be led by a pious person who had not missed even a single prayer since attaining the age of puberty. While there was reluctance and even some sort of consternation amongst the distinguished scholars and noblemen gathered on the great occasion for complying with his condition, one person stepped forward to lead the prayers, as required. This pious person was none other than the Sultan himself.

But Tipu Sultan’s religious nature and piety, as stated, did not prevent him from being kind, just and considerate to his non–Muslim subjects. In fact, he was liberal and generous to them as illustrated by the following events.

Even to this day, there are numerous Hindu temples in the Deccan which are enjoying the benefits of jagirs granted by the Sultan. It is noteworthy that once, in a war with the Marathas, the Maratha army had laid siege to the Sultan’s capital city of Srirangapatnam. Angered by their defeat, the Maratha troops, before their retreat, ransacked not only the populated suburbs of the capital, but also looted the famous temple of Sri Ranga in the vicinity of the city on the banks of river Cauvery. When this sad story of plunder of the temple reached the Sultan, he not only got the damage repaired, but also restored to the temple the equivalent of the wealth carried away by the invaders. His Hindu subjects gratefully acknowledged this act of generosity and liberalism on the part of Tipu. The holy temple itself is a standing monument to this day to Sultan’s religious liberalism and benevolence.

Tipu Sultan’s great respect and regard for the Shankaracharya of the famous Sringeri Mutt and his several munificent grants for this Mutt situated in his kingdom are well known.

Dr S. Radhakrishnan in his book, Present Crisis of Faiths, wrote:

"Tipu on many occasions requested the Sringeri Shankaracharya to offer prayers to God. Once, he expressed great pleasure at the Sahasra Chandi Japa performed under the guidance of the Shankaracharya for the welfare of his kingdom".

It is nothing but slanderous to attribute to Tipu Sultan, a man of such broad–minded religious liberalism and catholic out–look, narrow–minded religious fanaticism. Similarly, stories of mass conversions and massacres of non–Muslims are also without any foundation whatsoever.

The various battles fought by the Sultan were of political rather than religious nature. He fought not only against the Marathas and British but also against the Nizam of Hyderabad and Nawab of Arcot. Of course, the Sultan had to suppress with an iron hand, rebellions by sections of people, who included not only Hindus and Christians, but also Muslims. All this was done in the business of ruling the kingdom and was not done as persecution of non–Muslims.

It may be mentioned here that when the Sultan saw that some Christian converts were often being used by the British missionaries as fifth columnists and agents of the British imperialists to subvert his kingdom, he took suitable punitive action against such agents of the enemy in the interests of his state. It is meaningless to characterise the Sultan’s action as "religious persecution".

As for the charge of usurping the throne and kingdom of the Hindu Raja, it would be relevant to narrate that before the advent of Hyder Ali Khan on the scene, the ‘Raja’ and his ‘Kingdom’ existed only nominally. After the disintegration of the Vijayanagar Empire, the ‘Raja’ who was a vassal of the Vijayanagar rulers had declared his ‘independence’. The Raja’s ‘kingdom’ comprised the town of Mysore and some 33 villages around it. Hyder Ali Khan, whose ancestors had migrated to the south from Bijapur, had joined the service of the Raja of Mysore, and risen to the rank of army commander. Tired and disgusted by the intrigues of his scheming courtiers, the Raja himself had handed over power to Hyder Ali Khan. It was Hyder Ali Khan, who, through his military genius and statesmanship, extended the frontiers of this tiny and obscure ‘kingdom’ to a great Sultanate of national and international reputation. Even after becoming a Nawab, Hyder Ali Khan, and later his son, Tipu Sultan, continued to give full protection to the Raja and his family and granted privy purses and allowances for their maintenance with honour and dignity befitting their royal status. This development was given a mischievous Hindu–Muslim communal twist by the British in order to gain their selfish political ends in India.

Coming to the positive side of the role played by Tipu Sultan, he may aptly be ranked amongst the first and foremost of the national heroes and martyrs of India, who laid down their lives so that their country and countrymen may live in freedom with dignity and honour.

It was Tipu, who with his rare far–sightedness had planned for the development and progress of ‘swadeshi’ trade and industry (particularly cottage industries). He also made pioneering efforts for developing agriculture through a well–developed irrigation system. It may be mentioned here that when the foundation for the present Krishnaraja Sagar dam near the city of Mysore on the river Cauvery was laid, during the early part of this century, engineers were surprised to find at the site a stone tablet, which indicated that the Sultan had already laid the foundation of an irrigation dam on the same site over a century ago!

It was Tipu Sultan, who for the first time in Indian history, had realised that Indians could not hope to survive as a free people, if they relied solely on their old and traditional methods of warfare for facing the challenge posed by the British. He tried, therefore, to modernise his armed forces with the help of the French, which struck terror into the hearts of the British. To Tipu Sultan again goes the credit of discovering another unique truth that the secret of the British might lay in their naval power. In order to combat this foreign menace, Tipu had tried to build up a strong Indian naval force at Bhatkal and Mangalore on the Arabian coast in his kingdom. Realising the national and international aspects of the menace posed by the British imperialists in India, Tipu had even tried to enlist the cooperation and collaboration of the Caliph of Turkey and Napoleon Bonaparte of France. It was unfortunate that intrigues and subversion engineered by the British and their agents thwarted the efforts of the Sultan.

Amongst those who had betrayed Tipu Sultan, Mir Sadiq and Poorniah top the list. Mir Sadiq and Poorniah, who were the Prime Minister and Dewan of the Sultan respectively, had conspired with the British in destroying the Sultanate of Tipu.

Poorniah’s appointment by Tipu as his trusted Dewan — a post next in importance only to Prime Ministership — was another example of the Sultan’s benevolence and communal generosity towards his Hindu subjects.

Referring to the treachery of Poorniah, Mahatma Gandhi had once written that he felt ashamed that Poorniah, who had betrayed the Sultan, was a Hindu.

Poet Iqbal had condemned the treacherous role of Mir Jaffar and Mir Sadiq as follows:

"Mir Jaffar–e–Bengal, o Mir Sadiq–e–Deccan

Nang–e–Adam, Nang–e–Deen, Nange–Watan"

(Mir Jaffar of Bengal and Mir Sadiq of Deccan, they are a disgrace to mankind, disgrace to their religion and disgrace to their country!)

It is recorded in his biography that during the fourth Mysore war, when he was fighting the last and most fateful battle of his life, Mir Sadiq had approached the Sultan with the advice that he should come to terms with the British. Tipu Sultan is said to have retorted that it was better to live like a tiger for one day than live like a jackal for a hundred years.

By laying down his life for the freedom of his country, Tipu had exemplified by his supreme sacrifice what could be the best and most glorious in India’s history and national traditions of service and sacrifice.

It is rather unfortunate, and in fact a national tragedy, that notwithstanding his supreme sacrifices, the role of Tipu Sultan as one of the first and foremost national heroes, patriots and freedom fighters of India is yet to be recognised and appreciated in full by his country and country men.

Dr. K. Hussain

(The writer is associated with the Bharatiya Vidy Bhavan, Bangalore)

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