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Bigot or not: The debate over Tipu Jayanti celebrations in Karnataka

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    Bengaluru, Nov 4: Every year before Tipu Jayanti, the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) begin sparring with each other.

    This time as well, the Karnataka government charged BJP with trying to disturb communal harmony over the issue of 'Tipu Jayanti' celebrations on November 10 and warned of stern action against those trying to violate law and order that day.

    Tipu Jayanti

    The birth anniversary celebrations of Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler of the princely state of Mysore, have been held on November 10 by the state government since 2016.

    "The BJP is unnecessarily opposing Tipu Jayanti celebrations. But, however strong their opposition is, we will celebrate Tipu Sultan who fought against the British," G Parameshwara told the media in Bengaluru.

    The Home Minister further alleged the BJP for trying to make political gains out of this, keeping the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in view.

    Addressing reporters after the meeting, Jayamala said, "We will definitely go ahead with the Tipu Jayanti celebration on November 10, it is our duty. Chief Minister HD Kumaraswamy has already taken a decision to this effect. BJP will be held responsible if there is any kind of untoward incident in the state on that day."

    Meanwhile, minister of state for skill development Ananth Kumar Hegde requested the state government not to include his name in the invitation card for the event. However, Parameshwara said Hegde's name had already been included and it was up to him to decide whether he wanted to attend the function or not. Hegde had made a similar request last year.

    Background

    The previous Siddaramaiah-led Congress government had begun the practice in 2015, when it officially observed the anniversary amid protests by the BJP and other organisations. Two persons had been killed in Madikeri town of Kodagu districts that year during the protests.

    Those opposing the celebrations had maintained Tipu was a despot, an anti-Hindu who forced conversions and persecutor of Kodavas and Catholics, while ex-CM Siddaramaiah held Tipu to be a secular ruler who fought four wars against the British.

    While the BJP has claimed this to be a ploy for appeasing Muslims, the Congress accuses this to be BJP's means of consolidating Hindutva vote, given its leaders have previously taken part in Tipu Jayanti celebrations.

    Notably, Kumaraswamy had criticised the Siddaramaiah government's decision to spend government funds on the celebrations instead of prioritising "development of the state". He had even accused the then Congress government of playing into the BJP's hands and creating a situation of communal divide.

    Why did Tipu Sultan and his legacy become controversial in Karnataka?

    The saffron party has time and again also stated that Tipu Sultan, the ruler of then Mysore from 1782 till his death in 1799, slaughtered several Hindus in Srirangapatna - his seat of power - and in Kodagu, which he invaded during his reign.

    The Congress party has continued to maintain that Tipu Sultan, popularly known as the "Tiger of Mysore", helped in building a progressive Mysore state and gave it technological prowess.

    For the Congress, the minority Muslim votes are of prime importance especially at a time when the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) has been gaining ground in Mangalore and nearby areas.

    But for many others, both the political parties are only using Tipu Sultan's name for electoral gains.

    This year, the Tipu Jayanthi Virodhi Horata Samithi is fighting against the state government's move.

    Meanwhile, a public interest litigation against the celebration of Tipu Jayanti is to be heard by the high court on November 9.

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