Renaming Mysore airport: Tipu is a national hero, not a villain, writes Justice Katju

Amalendu Upadhyaya
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Renaming Mysore airport

By Justice Markandey Katju

A fierce controversy has erupted in India over the proposal to rename Mysore airport as Tipu Sultan Airport, made recently by a Congress MLA, Prasad Abbaya, in the Karnataka Legislative Assembly. This has once again stirred up a heated debate in India, particularly in Karnataka, about Tipu's legacy. Is he a national hero, or a bigoted villain?

The BJP is strongly opposing the move, saying it was only to appease Muslims in the state of Karnataka.

A BJP spokesperson said that Tipu was a butcher of Hindus, and a communal bigot, who forcibly converted Hindus to Islam.

Is Tipu a hero or a villain ?

He should certainly be regarded a villain if he persecuted Hindus. But what is the truth about him ? Did he commit atrocities on Hindus ?

Here is the truth about Tipu: far from being anti-Hindu, he gave annual grants to 156 Hindu temples, had very cordial relations with the Shankaracharya of Sringeri math to whom he sent regular grants, and helped him when he was in dire distress, his Prime Minister, Punaiya, army commander, Krishna Rao, and numerous top officials were Hindus, etc. Can such a person be described as anti-Hindu and communal?

 During British rule, pursuant to the British policy of divide and rule, Indian history text-books were so falsified and distorted as to give an impression that the medieval period of Indian history was full of atrocities committed by Muslim rulers on their Hindu subjects, and the Hindus had to suffer terrible indignities under Islamic rule. The same was done about the image of Tipu Sultan.

Here is what Prof BN Pande, Professor of History in Allahabad University ( who later became Governor of Odisha ) said in his speech in the Rajya Sabha ( the upper House of the Indian Parliament ) in 1977 :

'' While I was doing some research on Tipu Sultan in 1928 at Allahabad, some office bearers of a college Students Union approached me with a request to inaugurate their History Association. They had directly come from the college with their text-book.

I opened the chapter on Tipu Sultan. One of the sentences that struck me deeply was: 'Three thousand Brahmins committed suicide as Tipu wanted to convert them forcibly into the fold of Islam'. The author of the text-book was, Mahamahopadhyaya Dr. Har Prashad Shastri, Head of the Department of Sanskrit, Calcutta University.

I immediately wrote to Dr. Shastri for the source of his information. After many reminders came the reply that he had taken that from the Mysore Gazetteer.

I contacted Prof. Srikantia of the Mysore University in this connection.

Prof Srikantia informed me that the episode of the suicide of 3,000 Brahmins is nowhere in the Mysore Gazetteer and he, as student of history of Mysore, was quite certain that no such incident had taken place. He further informed me that the Prime Minister of Tipu Sultan was a Brahmin named Punaiya and his commander-in-chief was also a Brahmin, named Krishna Rao. He supplied me with the list of 156 temples to which Tipu Sultan used to pay annual grants. He sent me 30 photostat copies of Tipu Sultan's letters addressed to the Jagadguru Shankaracharya of Srinageri Math with whom Tipu Sultan had very cordial relations.

Dr Shastri's book was approved as a course book of history for high schools in Bengal, Assam, Bihar, Orissa, U.P., M.P. and Rajasthan. I approached Sri Ashutosh Mukherjee, the then Vice-Chancellor of Calcutta University, and sent him all the correspondence that I had exchanged with Dr Shastri, with Mysore University Vice-Chancellor, Sri Brijendra Nath Seal, and Prof. Srikantia, with the request to take proper action against the offending passages in the text-book. Prompt came the reply from Sri Ashutosh Mukherjee, that the history book by Dr Shastri has been put out of course.

However, I was amazed to find the same suicide story was still existing in the history text-books which had been prescribed in 1972 for Junior High Schools in U.P. ''.

Tipu was branded as communal by the Britishers who wanted to demonise him as he fought against them, and allied himself with their rivals, the French. The truth is that Tipu never practiced religious discrimination, nor was he for domination of Muslims over the Hindus. He was not an idol breaker or a temple destroyer. On the contrary, he saw to it that all the Hindu temples flourished in his Kingdom by extending to them active encouragement and financial support.

That Tipu was non-communal is evident in the fact that a number of top officials in his government were Hindus. Purnaiya was the Mir Asaf (in charge of Revenue and Finance). Krishna Rao was his Treasurer. Shamaiya Iyengar was Minister of Police and Postal department. Subba Rao was his chief Peshkar (Chief Secretary). Srinivas Rao and Appaji Ram were his close confidantes. His agents in the Moghul court in Delhi were Mool Chand and Sujan Rai. The Faujdar of Coorg was Nagappayya, a Brahmin. The Asafs (revenue officers) at Coimbatore and Palghat were Brahmins. The chief of Tipu’s irregular cavalry was Hari Singh. Rama Rao and Sivaji, a Maratha, commanded his regular cavalry. Another of his generals was a Hindu named Sripat Rao

In 1916, the Mysore government’s Director of Archeology, K.Narasimhachar, discovered a bunch of letters in the Sringeri Shankaracharya Math (monastery) which showed that Tipu had greatly helped the monastery, whose head was the Sringeri Shankaracharya.

In 1791, the monastery was raided and pillaged by a Maratha chieftain, Raghunath Rao Patwardan, and the Shankaracharya asked Tipu for help. Deeply grieved, Tipu Sultan wrote back saying: “ People who have sinned against such a holy place are sure to suffer the consequences of their misdeeds at no distant date”. He sent his army which drove off the Marathas from Sringeri. He then asked his officials to send cash and grains so that the idol of Goddess Sharada could be consecrated. He also donated a palanquin to the Shankaracharya and requested him to pray for the prosperity of his domain.

Tipu had contributed to the Lakshmikanta temple at Kalale in Nanjangud taluk; the Narayanaswami temple at Melkote; the Srikanteshwara temple at Nanjangud and to the Ranganathaswamy temple at Srirangapatna all in Karnataka. The greenish shivalinga at the Nanjundeshwara temple is known as Padsha linga because it was donated by Tipu, the ruler. According to a sanad, Tipu ordered the continuation of worship at the Thirupathi Venkatachalapathi temple.

One wonders if Tipu would have allowed the Ranganatha, Narasimha and Gangadhareswara temples to function in the Srirangapatnam fort, his capital, if he was an Islamic bigot. These temples still exist today, and I have myself seen them.

Whether the name of Mysore airport is changed or not, the truth is that Tipu is a national hero, not a villain.

(Justice Katju is a retired judge of the Supreme Court of India. These are his personal views.)

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