Tipu is dead and gone, Kodavas (including Muslims) are Kodavas, the country has changed.

Tipu Jayanti Did both the BJP and the Congress pick the wrong battle to fight
news Tipu Jayanti Sunday, November 13, 2016 - 19:27

The dust has settled over the celebration of the second Tipu Jayanti, but where does it leave the politics of the state, and more importantly, public opinion?

Although the BJP-RSS were vocal in their opposition to Tipu Jayanti even last year, this year’s campaign included not just protests, but a seminar, and an attempt to project Tipu Jayanti as an insult to Dalits. 

However, the Congress party does not appear to have the same enthusiasm in supporting its own government’s programme. In a repeat of last year, there has been the stray minister and MLA who has backed the government’s decision on Tipu Jayanti, but that does not appear to have percolated to the party workers at the ground level. There appeared to be no attempt by party workers to talk about Tipu Sultan to the people, to mention the folk songs (lavanis) about Tipu, or to counter the BJP’s campaign against Tipu.

The counter has come from writers, academics, and leaders of other political parties. 

JD(S) leader Basavaraj Horatti released photographs of former chief ministers BS Yeddurappa and Jagadish Shettar dressed up as Tipu on different occasions.

A couple of days before Tipu Jayanti, the media began to report that during his tenure as CM, Jagadish Shettar had brought out a monograph on Tipu Sultan. 

Authored by former vice chancellor of Mangalore and Goa universities Dr Sheikh Ali, the 338-page monograph speaks of Tipu’s achievements, acquisitions, and his fight against the British Empire.

Published by the Karnataka Gazeteer in 2012, the monograph, titled “Crusader for Change”, has notes on Tipu endorsed by Jagadish Shettar as well as Govind Karjol who was then the minister for Kannada and culture. 

Copies of the pages containing messages from the chief minister and the culture minister began circulating on WhatsApp on November 10, the day Tipu Jayanti was to be observed. 

Shettar’s message read: “His (Tipu’s) concept of Nation state, his novel idea of State Entrepreneurship, his advance military skill, his zeal for reforms etc. makes him a unique leader.”

CM Siddaramaiah mentioned this during the official celebration in the Banquet Hall of Vidhana Soudha on November 10.

Interestingly, neither Karjol nor Shettar have openly spoken against Tipu Jayanti. Led by party president BS Yeddyurappa, several BJP leaders have voiced strong opinions against Tipu, projecting him as a cruel bigot who persecuted Kodavas and Catholics of Mangalore.

Govind Karjol told The News Minute “The party’s stand is my stand. BJP state president Yeddyurappa’s view is shared by the majority of party members. I don’t want to comment on the monograph.”

The RSS too appears to have come in for some embarrassment. Chandan Gowda also mentioned that in the 1970s, the RSS too had released a book in its Bharata Bharati series. 

RSS spokesperson Rajesh Padmar told The News Minute that he was not aware of any such endorsement by the RSS. However, as part of its campaign against Tipu, the RSS had organised a seminar in Bengaluru, inviting historians and authors to discuss Tipu’s legacy. 

Another tactic the RSS attempted was to claim that celebration of Tipu Jayanti was an insult to the Nayaka community (ST) and Onake Obavva, a Dalit woman who fought against Hyder Ali and lost her life.

According to Maruti H, a PhD scholar and Dalit activist, this ploy is unlikely to have much traction. He says that for historical reasons – Madakari Nayaka ruled the Chitradurga region for many years – the Nayakas were still dominant in the area. “But the rest of the population, which is largely Dalit, is too poor to be affected by the Sangh Parivar’s politics. It is only note politics (cash given by political parties) which will work here.”

One important change that was made however, was that the government organised the event through the Department of Kannada and Culture instead of the Department of Minorities Welfare as was the case in 2015.

Tipu’s legacy

As the BJP singles out Kodavas and Catholics among Tipu’s victims, the party and Kodava groups opposing Tipu Jayanti have claimed that Kodavas grew up with stories of Tipu’s persecution. However, it does not appear to be as widespread as it has been claimed.

Fifty-eight-year-old Nanjappa Kuttaiah, a coffee grower based in Kodagu district, says that he never heard of stories of Kodavas being persecuted.

“It was non-existent in the community. Of course, we did know of Tipu through school, etc., but we were never told stories of it growing up,” Nanjappa says.

AK Subbaiah, an advocate and former BJP president, told The News Minute that stories of Kodavas being persecuted on a large scale did not exist until the BJP held a press conference ahead of Tipu Jayanti last year making it an issue. He alleged that the BJP was exaggerating accounts of Tipu’s violence against Kodavas to gain political benefits.

The major contention about Tipu is whether or not he was bigoted. That he killed many Kodavas and Catholics has not been disputed, although there are varying estimates about the numbers. Historian M Chidananda Murthy and author Sandeep Balakrishna argue that Tipu persecuted these communities by design. Other historians such as Chandan Gowda, Ko Channabasappa, B Sheikh Ali, and journalist Gauri Lankesh have stated that Tipu’s actions were no different from any other ruler of his time: he rewarded those who aligned with him, and punished those against him. Although some of Karnataka’s intelligentsia have supported Tipu Jayanti, many have said that in a republic, the state has no business celebrating any Jayanti.

AK Subbaiah too agrees that Tipu was violent with the Kodavas, but argues there is no evidence of systematic persecution, as is being claimed by the BJP and others.

“What is persecution in this vocabulary then?” asks Nanjappa. “Even if Tipu captured half a dozen soldiers and tortured them, is that not persecution? Why should even some people be persecuted?” 

Subbaiah told The News Minute that when Tipu captured some soldiers, he forced them to convert to Islam. When they escaped and returned home, they were not accepted by their families. “Why were they not accepted?” he said.

Incidentally, Nanjappa too had heard the same story from Kodava Muslims many years ago when he was working on a coffee table book. That was also the first time he felt any connection to Tipu at all, he says.

Nanjappa said that Subbaiah of all people, had no right to talk about the BJP’s intentions given that he was so closely associated with it in the past.

Within the Kodava community too, many views have been expressed. A website called Coorg News run by journalist and author PT Bopanna, also a Kodava, carried several articles by Kodavas on the question of Tipu Jayanti. Not all of them were critical of Tipu.

Did Tipu Jayanti cause fissures between ethnic Kodavas and Kodava Muslims? “Once Tipu Jayanti was over last year, things returned to normal,” says Nanjappa. The usual everyday irritations between Jamma Mapillas, as the Kodava Muslims are called, and the ethnic Kodavas continued as usual, he says. For instance, the minor trade-related frictions between ethnic Kodava coffee growers and the Kodava Muslim coffee buyers over transactions of the grown coffee.

“The anti-Tipu sentiment is 100% political,” he says, adding that was no evidence of social relations being affected by this so far. But he does feel that the whole thing was unnecessary.

“Tipu is dead and gone, Coorgs (Kodavas, including Muslims) are Coorgs, the territory is divided (into present day boundaries), the country has changed. In our political arena, everything is tit for tat. After all these years, it doesn’t matter. Tipu has lost his relevance, but in the name of Tipu, these idiots are doing pro and anti Kodava things.”

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