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Review: Tipu Sultan – The Tyrant of Mysore

Tipu Sultan The Tyrant of Mysore

Today’s Republic Day (2014) tableau from Karnataka featuring Tipu Sultan titled “The Tiger of Mysore” reminded me that I needed to review a book I recently read titled “Tipu Sultan – The Tyrant of Mysore” by Sandeep Balakrishna. The title tallies with the nomenclature attributed to Tipu: the Tiger of Mysore.

People in India may remember the serial they used to show on Doordarshan (the state-(completely) controlled TV channel) called The Sword of Tipu Sultan in which Sanjay Khan played the role of Tipu. The serial showed how bravely the southern Sultan fought with the British by not just striking strategic alliances with the French but also developing his own firearms. In the serial they depicted that Tipu, with a scientific bent of mind, was able to develop missiles at a time when the weapon hadn’t even been conceptualised. We were awed. People who saw the serial, and perhaps people who read the book by the same title, have had this maudlin image of Tipu Sultan imprinted upon their psych.

I don’t easily say that but I have been a fan of Sandeep’s writing for many years now – ever since blogging happened in India. My opinion is limited to just a few non-fiction writers but after Arun Shourie, Sandeep is the only the so-called right-wing writer I respect and trust even when sometimes his language seems unpalatable (in terms of less bullshitting and more straightforwardness). He counters the popular left-lib opinion and propaganda not simply by berating and criticising them, but by factually countering them, and this is what unnerves them, and totally disturbs them. Reading his blog is sometimes a complete intellectual experience. That’s why the moment he declared on Twitter that his book has been published, I headed to Amazon and purchased the Kindle version.

In the days of the Aam Aadmi party when deeming every politician as villainous and antinational a fad, surprisingly, The Tyrant of Mysore begins with a quotation from the higher education Minister of Karnataka, D. H. Shankaramurthy’s statement that

Tipu Sultan was a traitor to the Kannada language. Kannada, which was the administrative language of the Mysore State under the Wodeyars, was replaced by Farsi by Tipu Sultan. He was an opponent of the Kannada language. We don’t need to give him a place of respect in the history of Karnataka. It’s a mistake to glorify him. It is typical to glorify Akbar, Aurangzeb and Tipu as patriots in national history. Alexander and Akbar are glorified with the “the great” suffix. Respect and honour are given to those who embarked on a conquest of our nation, and to those who defeated our own people. Instead, our textbooks need to have lessons on people who made positive contributions for the nation; the lives of people like Sir M. Vishveswarayya and Maharaja Krishnaraja Wodeyar IV who developed the state must be included in our history textbooks. What is now happening is a perversion of history.

People who care to know about reality – the real history – know that the history textbooks that we read in schools and colleges don’t tell us the complete reality. The entire intellectual landscape has been overtaken by Marxist historians who continuously collude with various vested interests including highly influential international organisations and propagate confounding versions of history. In the name of preserving the delicate communal fabric of the country, the exegesis of various historical facts has been presented in an entirely twisted manner. To illustrate this he quotes an essay from an acclaimed Kannada litterateur, Dr. S.L. Bhyryappa:

Around 1969-70, the Central Government under Smt Indira Gandhi mooted a programme whose aim was to foster national integration through education. To this end , it formed a committee headed by G. Parthasarathy, a former ambassador and someone who was close to the Nehru-Gandhi family . Then, I was serving as a lecturer of philosophy in the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in Delhi , and was selected as one of the five members of this committee. During the inaugural meeting, Mr. Parthasarathy , in the smooth tone of a practiced politician spoke about the aims of the committee, “It is our duty not to sow seeds of thorns in the minds of growing children, which would in future prove to be a hurdle in national integration. Most of our history textbooks contain such seeds of thorns. These seeds are also present here and there in subjects like language and social studies. Our history and other subjects must contain lessons that foster national integration. This committee has been entrusted with such a serious responsibility.”

The remaining four members respectfully nodded their heads in agreement.

I asked : “Sir, I didn’t understand you. Can you please explain with examples?”

“Ghazni Mahmud broke the Somanath temple and looted it; Aurangzeb demolished the Kashi and Mathura temples and built mosques in their place, and imposed Jaziya…what purpose does these kinds of useless episodes serve in the present time other than sowing seeds of hatred? How will they help in building a strong India of the future?”

“In that case, aren’t these episodes historical truths?”

“There are several truths. However, maturity and discrimination lies in using discretion in selecting them.”

The rest again nodded their heads in agreement.

“You gave the examples of Kashi and Mathura. Even today, lakhs of people from various corners of the country visit them each year. All of them can see with their own eyes the sight of enormous mosques, which have been built using the pillars and walls of their sacred temples, which were demolished. They can also see that the original temples- on whose site these mosques now stand- were built recently in a space as big as a cowshed. These pilgrims experience hurt when they witness this sight. When they return home, they describe this sight to their family, neighbours, friends and relatives. Does this fact help in ensuring national integration? We can suppress history in textbooks prescribed for schoolchildren. But how can we suppress it when they go on educational or other tours? Research shows us that over thirty thousand temples were demolished. Can we suppress all of them…”

Mr. Parthasarathy cut me off and said, “You a lecturer of philosophy. Please tell us what is the purpose of history.”

“Nobody can say what the purpose of history is. Nobody can predict the direction in which science and technology will take us. Some Western thinkers have written about the Philosophy of History. However, most of this kind of writing is dense. What we need to discuss here is: what is the purpose of teaching history? History is our quest of the truth about our past and the lives of the people of our past. It is a quest which is undertaken using instruments such as inscriptions, records, literary works, remnants, and ruins. Historical truth helps us learn lessons of not making the same mistakes our ancestors did and of imbibing their good qualities…”

He interrupted me with, “does that mean we can hurt the sentiments of the minorities? Can we cleave the society? Sowing poisonous seeds in the minds of children…”

“Sir, the very categorization as minority and majority in itself shows that there is intent to divide the society. The concept of “poisonous seeds” contains prejudice. Why should minorities identify a sense of solidarity between themselves and Ghazni Mahmud and The Tyrant of Mysore Aurangzeb? Aurangzeb’s extreme narrow-mindedness in religious matters caused the Mughal Empire to disintegrate. Akbar’s broad policy of religious toleration helped the Mughal Empire flourish. Can’t we teach these lessons to children without betraying the historical truth? Before we teach the lessons we must learn from history, shouldn’t we teach the actual historical truths? All idealistic pronouncements that cloak the truth are politically motivated. These pronouncements won’t last long. Be it minorities or the majority, unless they develop the intellectual and emotional maturity that comes from facing the truth directly, any education is useless- and dangerous, even.”

You can read the entire debate in the book and this will give you a fair idea of why you need to read different versions of the history and how you need to deal with the bogeyman of communal divide.

Anyway, according to the book the comments made by the Karnataka Minister sent Girish Karnad, one of the greatest scholarly supporters of the Mughal rule in India, into a tizzy. Karnad is credited with the works like The Dreams of Tipu Sultan and Tughlak. He has been suitably awarded by the government. He challenged the Minister for a public debate and as it often happens, despite repeat reminders from the minister, the famed writer and blue blooded secular never turned up for a one-one exchange of ideas. But that’s another story.

Sandeep’s style reminded me of Arun Shourie and I’m pretty sure he’s influenced by him one way or another. Just like Shourie, Sandeep refrains from blowing his own horn and presents hard facts. He has republished articles in scholarly papers from renowned historians, intellectuals and scholars. He has also published texts from various treaties signed by Tipu Sultan to show what sort of mental and intellectual rot he was in. He has also published accounts of contemporary historians including the one closely working with and under Tipu Sultan. So if you want to counter him, he can simply point to the source and say, if you want to counter me, then counter the source.

Unlike the secular and saintly image often propagated, Tipu was totally the opposite, according to the book. He was a tyrant, and stupid, egotistical tyrant at that, which made him more dangerous. In fact, Sanddep seems to be having at least some respect for Aurangzeb because at least the Mughal emporer seemed to know what he was up to, but in the case of Tipu Sultan it was total befuddlement. He took it upon himself to wage the holy war against every infidel in the region, and if possible, in the world. He was fanatic when it came to implementing Islamic laws. He changed the names of the months, the names of time periods, the names of coins and notes, the names of unit measurements and every possible thing that could be renamed according to strict Islamic guidelines. He even changed the traditional accounting system language to Farsi, wrecking havoc with the economy of his sultanate.

He razed every temple he came by and ruined every city and town he conquered. He tortured people with relish and the ones who didn’t die he made them Muslims. When it comes to forcibly converting the non-Muslims into Muslims, there are very few Islamic rulers in the continent who can compete with him. His ruthlessness is so legendary that people of the Coorg region call street dogs as “tipus”.

These, and many more revealing facts about Tipu you will find in The Tyrant of Mysore. If you want to know alternative versions of our history, then you must read the book, although it is his first book and you can make out that his writing is more enjoyable in terms of presentation when he writes for his blog. But I’m sure this is going to change with his subsequent books.