‘Naagarahaavu’, a 1973 Kannada film, has a nine-minute song, “Kannada Nadina Veera Ramaniya” (The land of Karnataka is graced by heroes), in praise of Onake Obavva – the legendary Dalit woman who killed many of Hyder Ali’s soldiers with a pestle (called Onake in Kannada) when they were trying to sneak in through a hole in the Chitradurga fort.

Through the song, filmed like a play within a play, Puttanna Kanagal – the greatest filmmaker in the history of Kannada cinema – shows how Obavva saved the “punya bhoomi” ruled by Veera Madakari Nayaka from the invading forces of Hyder Ali like “Kaali”. The song ends with close-up shots showing students crying as they learn about Obavva’s death at the hands of one of Hyder Ali’s soldiers who manages to sneak in from behind her.

The song, the “punya bhoomi” reference, and the heroism of Onake Obavva emotionally move a large section of the people of Karnataka to this day. And it is this reality which plays a very important role in the 12 May assembly elections in Karnataka. For, even though elections have been happening in the state, which has had a politically fractured history, never before were the names of Onake Obavva, Veera Madakari Nayaka, Rani Chennamma, Sangolli Rayanna and the Rajas of Kodagu (Coorg) been taken in such emotionally charged-up manner to influence the electorate.

And it all began in 2015 when the ruling Congress government in the state led by 69-year-old Siddaramaiah decided to celebrate Tipu Jayanti each year on 10 November. Before we proceed any further, it is important to know a bit about Tipu Sultan.

A brief history of Tipu Sultan

Born on 20 November 1750 as the eldest son of Hyder Ali, Tipu only slightly expanded the boundaries of his kingdom he had inherited from his father. Hyder Ali had come to power through fortuitous circumstances and a mix of deft diplomacy which had reduced the ruling Wadiyar king to a puppet. It was him, not Tipu Sultan, who established the kingdom over which the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ ruled with its capital at Srirangapatna.

Tipu was an able administrator, innovator (he pioneered the rocket artillery) and cunning diplomat. He maintained strong ties with Napoleon’s France against the East Indian Company (the British). But what Tipu is known for (or rather unpopular among a section) is his suppression of a rebellion with, what people of Coorg say, treachery, violent conquest of Malabar in Kerala, and the killings, imprisonments and conversions.

The 1990 TV series, ‘Sword of Tipu Sultan’, focuses on the war between the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ and the British. Today, he is portrayed as ‘India’s first freedom fighter’ because of his wars against the British. In 1799, Tipu died fighting the British forces led by Arthur Wellesley in his own capital.

The modern day controversy

In 2015, Siddaramaiah hailed Tipu Sultan – the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ – as the ‘first freedom fighter’ for his war against the British. Violence followed leading to the deaths of two people in Kodagu (Coorg) district, clearly hinting at the fact that not everyone in Karnataka sees the 18th century Mysore ruler with the same lens.

Sensing a potent political opportunity, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) relentlessly mocked the Congress for celebrating the “Jayanti of sultans” and ignoring the “real” heroes of Karnataka. The top BJP leaders, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself, paid rich tributes to everyone from Obavva to Rayanna. “Congress is playing vote bank politics” was the oft repeated accusation at the grand old party, which is currently in power in just three states including Karnataka. The latest salvo was delivered on 6 May at Chitradurga when PM Modi said, “Congress celebrates jayanti of Sultans instead of celebrating the heroism of veer Madakari Nayaka and Onake Obavva.”

 

Karnataka Assembly Elections 2018 | The vote of Tipu Sultan
Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah pays tribute to Tipu Sultan on Tipu Jayanti celebration programme organised by Karnataka Government at Vidhan Soudha, in Bengaluru on Nov 10, 2017. (Photo: IANS)

 

Under this light, here is a look at some constituencies which have a connection with Tipu Sultan or his father, their voting history and the current contenders.

 

Chitradurga

Location: Approximately 200 km northwest of Bengaluru in Chitradurga district

The Tipu connection:

Hyder Ali defeated Veer Madakari Nayaka, the ruler of Chitraduraga in 1779. Nayaka died in a prison in Srirangapatnam and many of his men were forcibly converted to Islam.

Political status of key constituencies in district:

1:- Challakere:

2013 election won by – T Raghumurthy of Congress

This seat has been changing hands between BJP and Congress since 1999.

Current contenders:

Congress: T Raghumurthy

BJP: KT Kumaraswamy

JD(S): Raveesh Kumar

 

2:- Chitradurga

2013 election won by – GH Thippareddy of BJP.

Thippareddy is serving his fourth term but his first as a BJP member. He had previously won twice as an independent and once on a Congress ticket. JD(S) leader Basavarajann had won in 2008.

Current contenders:

Congress: Dr HA Shanmukhappa

BJP: GH Thippareddy

JD(S): KC Veerendra

 

3:- Holalkere.

2013 election won by – H Anjaneya of Congress

The seat has alternated between the BJP and the Congress since 1999.

Current contenders:

Congress: H Anjaneya

BJP: M Chandrappa

JD(S): Srinivasa Gaddige T

 

Kodagu (Coorg)

Location: Madikeri, the headquarters of the Kodagu district, is approximately 280 km from Bengaluru.

The Tipu connection:

Tipu is believed to have committed his greatest act of cruelty in this otherwise picturesque region. While his father, Hyder Ali, conquered Kodagu, the people of the region, who had a proud martial tradition, had not fully accepted Ali’s suzerainty. When a rebellion broke out, Tipu arrived with a huge army to crush it in 1785.

He is believed to have achieved his objective by inviting the Kodagu rebels for peace talks, and then betraying their trust by capturing them.

Though accounts vary, historians agree that many of Kodagu’s rebels were brutally killed by Tipu’s men. Those who were captured were sent to prison in Srirangapatnam. Some historians state that many of Kodagu’s Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam. The numbers may vary from 500 to 70,000 but conversion is not disputed by anyone.

Tipu also depopulated parts of Kodagu replacing the population with people from Mysuru and Ballari, mostly Muslims. He himself proudly admitted to the conversion of “Coorgis” and their commissioning into Ahmedy corps in a letter written to Runmust Khan in 1786.

Political status of key constituencies in district:

1:- Madikeri

2013 election won by – Appachu Ranjan of BJP

Madikeri has been a BJP bastion since 1994. Appachu Ranjan is serving his second term from this seat. The Congress had last won this seat in 1999.

Current contenders:

Congress: KP Chandrakala (had initially fielded HS Chandramouli)

BJP: Appachu Ranjan

JD(S): BA Jivijaya

 

2:- Virajpet

2013 election won by – KG Bopaiah of BJP

Like Madikeri, with the BJP since 1994 except on one occasion in 1999 when Congress won the seat.

Current contenders:

Congress: Arun Machaiah CS

BJP: KG Bopaiah

JD(S): Sanketh Poovaiah M

 

Srirangapatna

Location: Srirangapatna is located 130 km from Bengaluru in the Mandya district.

The Tipu connection:

Srirangapatna, formerly known as Srirangapatnam, was the capital city of the Kingdom of Mysore under Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. Dungeons were built in this city to imprison the hundreds who were taken as captives during the campaigns of Ali and Tipu. The city also boasts of a number of monuments built by Tipu. It was here that the ‘Tiger of Mysore’ was killed fighting the British forces led by General George Harris and the illustrious Colonel Arthur Wellesley during the Fourth Anglo-Mysore War.

Political status of key constituencies in district:

1:- Mandya

2013 elections won by – MH Ambareesh of Congress

This capital city of Tipu’s Mysore shifted allegiances between JD(S) and Congress since 1999. Both parties have won twice in the four elections since then.

Current contenders:

Congress: P Ravikumar

BJP: N Shivanna

JD(S): M Srinivas

 

2:- Srirangapatna

2013 elections won by – AB Ramesha Bandisiddegowda of JD(S)

JD(S) and Congress have won twice since 1989. The Janata Dal won this seat in 1994. Bandisiddegowda is now contesting on a Congress ticket.

Current contenders:

Congress: AB Ramesha Bandisiddegowda

BJP: KS Nanjundegowda

JD(S): AS Ravindra

 

3:- Krishnarajpet

2013 elections won by – Narayanagowda of JD(S)

Krishnarajpet has alternated between Congress and JD(S) since 1999.

Current contenders:

Congress: KB Chandrashekar

BJP: BC Manju

JD(S): Narayanagowda

 

Mangaluru

Location: Mangaluru is 375 km from Bengaluru. It is a coastal city located in Dakshin Kannada district.

The Tipu connection:

Then a part of what was South Canara, Mangaluru had a sizeable Christian population. Though Hyder Ali maintained conciliatory relations with Christians, Tipu didn’t. There are conflicting accounts on what may have prompted Tipu to ill-treat the Christians in Mangaluru but between 30,000 and 80,000 were taken captive in 1784. Thousands of Christians fled to Coorg and Malabar – the two regions which Tipu would later attack.

Tipu destroyed the Churches and confiscated the property of Christians. Many of the captive Christians were either converted or killed. The Mangalorean Catholics gained freedom only after the victory of the British at the Siege of Srirangapatnam in 1799.

Political status of Mangaluru:

2013 elections won by – UT Khader of Congress

The BJP won this seat on three consecutive elections between 1994 and 2004. Incumbent UT Khader had also won the seat in 2008.

Current contenders:

Congress: UT Khader

BJP: Santhosh Kumar Rai Boliyaru

JD(S): K Ashraf

Mangalore City North and Mangalore City South have brought to power a BJP and a Congress MLA in the two elections since 2008. The current MLAs in both constituencies belong to the Congress.

 

Sringeri

Location: Sringeri is 330 km to the west of Bengaluru in Chikamaglur district and is not very far from the coast.

The Tipu Sultan connection:

Amid the charge against Tipu Sultan, that he was a religious bigot, Sringeri provides a counter-testimony. In 1791, Maratha soldiers under the command of Raghunath Rao Patwardhan raided the Sringeri Sharada Peeta – the first mutt erected by Adi Shankaracharya – desecrated it and looted valuables. At least one account suggests that the Maratha soldiers also killed some Brahmins. The incident angered the Hindus in Sringeri. When Tipu was informed of this incident, he immediately ordered cash relief and other articles to assist the temple administration.

“People who have sinned against such a holy place are sure to suffer the consequences of their misdeeds at no distant date in this Kali age in accordance with the verse: ‘Hasadbhih kriyate karma rudadbhir-anubhuyate’ (People do [evil] deeds smilingly but suffer the consequences crying),” Tipu wrote.

Political status of Sringeri:

2013 elections won by – DN Jeevaraj of the BJP

BJP has been winning this seat since 2004. Jeevaraj is serving his third straight term.

Current contenders:

Congress: TD Rajegowda

BJP: DN Jeevaraj

JD(S): HG Venkatesh

 

Mysuru

Location: Located 149 km southwest of Bengaluru, Mysuru has 8 assembly constituencies.

The Tipu connection:

Mysuru was the seat of the Wadiyar dynasty – the same dynasty which Hyder Ali diplomatically dethroned from power. Though Ali kept the importance of city as a capital in name, Tipu chose Srirangapatna. The growth of the city is credited to the kings of the Wadiyar dynasty.

Political status of key constituencies in district:

1:- Chamundeshwari

2013 elections won by – GT Deve Gowda of JD(S)

Congress won three of the last five elections held here. Karnataka CM Siddaramaiah is a five-time MLA from this seat. He had won on both Congress and JD(S) tickets.

Current contenders:

Congress: Siddaramaiah

BJP: SR Gopal Rao

JD(S): GT Deve Gowda

 

2:- Chamaraja

2013 elections won by – Vasu of Congress

Chamaraja, which is where the Mysore Palace is located, remained with the BJP from 1994 to 2008.

Current contenders:

Congress: Vasu

BJP: L. Nagendra

JD(S): KS Rangappa

 

3:- Krishnaraja

2013 elections won by: MK Somashekar of Congress

Like Chamaraja, Krishnaraja, too, has voted for the BJP since 1994 except in 2004 when JD(S) won this seat. The BJP had first made inroads in this constituency in 1983 – at a time when it was only emerging on the national political scene.

Current contenders:

Congress: MK Somashekar

BJP: SA Ramadas

JD(S): Mallesh KV

 

4:- Narasimharaja

2013 elections won by: Tanveer Sait of Congress

This seat has been a Congress stronghold since 1999. The BJP last won this seat in 1994. Tanveer Sait is a four-time MLA from this seat.

Current contenders:

Congress: Tanveer Sait

BJP: S Satheesh

JD(S): Abdul Azeez

 

5:- Varuna

2013 elections won by: Siddaramaiah of Congress

Only two elections have been held on this constituency which was created following delimitation in 2008. Both times, Siddaramaiah won. This time, his son is contesting from this seat.

Current contenders:

Congress: S Yathindra

BJP: T Basavaraju

JD(S): Abhishek S Manegar

Tipu Sultan, who died 220 years ago on 4 May, still plays an important – if not the central – role in the battle for Nava Karnataka whose outcome will be clear on 15 May.