BJP propagates fiction as history: 'Uri and Nanje Gowda killed Tipu Sultan'

Historians have long believed that Tipu was killed by the British during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War in 1798-99. They call the BJP’s new version a sinister design.
Drawing of Tipu Sultan
Drawing of Tipu Sultan
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Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the erstwhile Mysore kingdom, has been used to polarise votes in Karnataka for over a decade. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has now brought in two new characters to further provoke and divide voters in the state – Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda. These two names have started featuring in right-wing narratives as the Vokkaliga chieftains, who they claim killed Tipu Sultan. While the tale helps the BJP in pitting Vokkaligas against Muslims and reaping political benefits, questions have been raised about who these two characters are and whether they even existed. 

Historians have long believed that Tipu was killed by the British during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War in 1798-99. The British, along with the Marathas and Nizam of Hyderabad, attacked Srirangapatna. Using Mir Sadiq, a minister in Tipu’s court, they managed to defeat and kill Tipu. But according to the right-wing’s fabricated version of history, the former ruler of Mysore was killed by two Vokkaliga chieftains for ‘betraying Mysore Wodeyars'. One historian believes that these two people existed and were in Hyder Ali, Tipu’s father’s army. Others say Uri and Nanje Gowda are not mentioned anywhere in the books of history. All of them however agree that the characters have never been documented as having any links to Tipu’s death.

The first mention of Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda

When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Karnataka to inaugurate the Mysuru-Bengaluru highway, four arches were put up on the route. One of them was named after Kempe Gowda, a chieftain of the Vijayanagara Empire, who is credited with developing Bengaluru, the second one after Krishnaraja Wodeyar, the former ruler of Mysuru, and the third after Sir M Visvesvaraya, former Divan of Mysuru and one of India’s foremost engineers. The fourth arch had the names of Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda. After the Congress objected, and the issue became a controversy, the arch was removed and replaced.

The first mention of these two characters was in the play Tippu Nijakanasugalu (Real Dreams of Tipu) written by the former Director of Rangayana, Addanda Cariappa. In November 2022, the play was staged at Bhoomigeeta in Mysuru and a book was also published with the same story. At this time, BS Rafiulla, the former Chairman of the District Wakf Board Committee, filed a writ petition seeking a stay on the play and the book alleging that it "contains wrong information without any support or justification from history", and that it hurt the feelings of the Muslim community.

Since then, BJP leaders in Karnataka have started using the two names to attack Tipu Sultan and the Congress party-led state government which started celebrating Tipu Jayanti, the birth anniversary of the former Mysuru ruler.  

In December 2022, BJP leader CT Ravi claimed in Karnataka’s Mandya that the two Vokkaliga leaders – Uri and Naje Gowda – had contributed to the development of the Mysuru region, not Tipu Sultan. He also promised to build their statues in the Mandya district. A few weeks ago, Karnataka Higher Education Minister CN Ashwath Narayan, addressing a rally in Mandya, said that “Vokkaliga chieftains Uri Gowda and Nanje Gowda finished off Tipu Sultan,” and that similarly, the Vokkaliga voters of the district should “finish off” Siddaramaiah. The statement had caused a huge row and Ashwath Narayan expressed regret later. 

No record of Uri and Nanje Gowda

Cultural theorist and author N Manu Chakravarthy calls the claim that Uri and Nanje Gowda killed Tipu a “pure figment of the right-wing imagination”. “So far, no authentic historical statement has emerged or been made in relation to these two characters, especially in regard to the betrayal of Tipu Sultan. They are not part of any major or serious historical discourse", he says. 

He says that there are monuments in Srirangapatna to show that Tipu was ambushed by the British and that the historical documents also testify the same. “I have never come across these two names–Uri and Nanje Gowda– in writing, folklore, or songs. If they had existed, what have historians been doing all these years?” he asks. 

Professor NV Narasimhaiah, a veteran historian who specialises in the history of the Mysuru Kingdom agrees. He says that for months now, he has been referencing books to look for any mention of these two names. “There is no reference in history about these two imaginary characters. A former director of Rangayana – Addanda Cariappa – had written a play where he claimed that these characters killed Tipu Sultan. His claims that he has documents are nonsense. Is he a historian? He has not studied history at all,” Narasimhaiah says. He also adds that for decades, all history books have asserted that Tipu was killed in the fourth Anglo-Mysore war after the Governor General of the British army, Welelsley, won over the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad to fight against Tipu. “There was a traitor in Tipu’s army by the name of Mir Sadiq. He was offered the Kingdom of Mysore if he helped kill Tipu,” he says. 

NS Rangaraju, another historian says that the two characters were in Hyder Ali’s army, and that during a war with the Marathas, they saved him and his mother. 

‘BJP distorting history’

Both historians believe that the BJP is using these characters to manipulate history and gain political dividends. “The BJP is not going back in history, but distorting history itself to vitiate the future. It is part of a sinister design. One can create any number of imaginary characters. But this is being done to break the Vokkaliga vote bank,” says Manu Chakravarthy. Prof Narasimhaiah too calls it a ploy to set Vokkaligas against Muslims. 

The Old Mysuru region, which has 61 Assembly seats, has a large number of Vokkaliga voters. It has been one region in the state where the BJP has had the least electoral success. The Congress and the JD(S) have historically fought each other in the region. But for several months now, the BJP has been making a serious attempt to breach the region. From building a 108-feet Kempe Gowda statue to PM Modi's inauguration of the Mysuru-Bengaluru highway with much pomp and splendor, the BJP has clearly expressed its intent to win voters. 

The BJP national president JP Nadda had chosen the Hanur Assembly constituency in Chamarajnagar to flag off the party’s Vijay Sankalp Yatra, and Home Minister Amit Shah also addressed a rally in Mandya in December, in one of his first election-related engagements in the state. In this context, the tale of the two Gowdas killing Tipu Sultan sets the perfect backdrop for the BJP to create a Vokkaliga versus Muslims narrative. While both the Congress and JD(S) call themselves secular parties and often vie for the votes of minorities, the BJP rarely makes such an attempt. 

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