The head of the new BJP government in Karnataka appears to have gone on overdrive in the detoxification of history as the first task after BS Yediyurappa was sworn in as Chief Minister. The decision is as quirky as it is ill-informed, suggestive of an insufficient grasp over Indian history. Considering that governance in the state has been lying rather thin on the ground for the past weeks, it is rather puzzling that the initiative has been accorded precedence over matters that are more compelling.
It thus comes about that Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of Mysore, has been relegated to the footnotes of history three years after Siddaramaiah’s Congress government had declared 10 November as Tipu Jayanti, an occasion that has been marked by debates and panel discussions on secularism and the contributions of the doughty ruler who had confronted the British during the high noon of the colonial era.
Mr Yediyurappa has cancelled the state-sponsored celebrations, which had been profoundly academic, judging by the presentations. That he is opposed to the spending of public money on the celebrations is a facile alibi to ignore the facts of history. Small wonder the arbitrary decision has been greeted with collective jaw-dropping not the least because the Chief Minister is yet to form his cabinet. While he may have played to the Parivar gallery, Mr Yediyurappa has emitted a signal of wholly misplaced priorities.
The decision mirrors the skewed perception that Tipu was a “tyrant”. While history, along with other social science disciplines, is open to subjective reflection, there is little doubt that the BJP’s man in Bengaluru has accorded short shrift to empirical evidence, and has been driven by his party’s inbuilt prejudice. The decision to debunk Tipu Sultan has been announced by Mr Yediyurappa as an individual, and not as the head of government.
And the distinction is crucial. An official decision ought not to have been so fickle an exercise as changing one’s name thrice. Was it really necessary? Is the Chief Minister’s prejudice embedded in Tipu’s religion? Answers to the queries may not be forthcoming anytime soon. Suffice it to register that he was India’s first freedom- fighter long before other participants in the struggle strutted the stage in the first half of the 20th century.
Mr Siddaramaiah’s cavil that “for the BJP he is a tyrant because he is from a minority community” is not wholly off the mark. Intrinsically, it boils down to a puerile tussle between the BJP and the Congress, which in the aftermath of Tuesday’s decision has iterated its intent to celebrate Tipu’s birthday. In retrospect, the first-ever Tipu Jayanti celebrations in 2016 were marred by violence in Coorg when a pro-Tipu group clashed with Sangh Parivar activists. Tipu Sultan deserved better in 21st century India.