Prof. B. Sheik Ali
Tipu Sultan is a fascinating figure of Indian history, who has attracted both appreciative and adverse attention. His fans say he offered blood to write the history of free India, and that he had a vision and a mission. The vision was to make his people progressive, prosperous and enlightened, and the mission was to liberate his land from the yoke of the colonials. Resistance to British expansion and modernisation of his State are two basic features of his administration. His regime begins in the midst of war against the English, and ends in the midst of war against them. Despite the hectic military involvement he did not ignore the main task of improving the life and conditions of his people. His short but stormy rule is significant because of his view that all history is nothing but unfolding the drama of human freedom, political freedom, and freedom from want, hunger, ignorance, inertia and superstition. He would say the life of a lion for a day was far better than the life of a jackal for a hundred years, and that death should be preferred to dishonour. The British had never been confronted with a more formidable foe, who never compromised on his ideals and never deviated from his goal. Even in his dreams he was engaged in a bitter fight against the English. He was the only ruler who had the distinction of dying in the battle field for the liberty of the land.
Apart from his love of the land and love of liberty, he is known for various welfare measures he took up for the well-being of his people. His encouragement of agriculture and industry, promotion of trade and commerce, novel system of administering justice, building up of navy, opening of factories far and near, and linking of Mysore with the outside world are regarded as progressive steps indicating his inexhaustible energy and fertility of mind. His reforming zeal touched almost every department of life including coinage and calendar, weights and measures, banking and finance, social ethos and cultural affairs. His seventeen years of regime witnessed such innovative measures as to make his state a humming centre of great industrial activity. Had he not been engrossed in exasperating wars, he might have ushered Mysore into a renaissance of some magnitude.
In contrast to this view, his detractors, mostly colonials like Wilks, Kirkpatrick, Beatson, Bowring, Vincent Smith and others call him a furious fanatic who had survived only in pages of history. He has been sketched as an ambitious despot, a blood-thirsty tyrant, an intolerant bigot, and an aggressor of insatiable greed. Few rulers have been so much maligned and misrepresented. His memory has been stereotyped into a monster, pure and simple. Although libraries were ransacked for vocabularies of vile epithets to condemn him, yet many regretted English language was not copious enough to find words of ignominy with which to vilify his image.
We could understand all this because it was the set policy and the custom of the colonials first to take a native ruler’s kingdom, and then to revile the dead or the deposed monarch. We have also to understand that many of the atrocities attributed to him were fabricated by those who had suffered defeats at his hands either in the first, or the second Mysore Wars, such as Bailley, Braithwait, Medows and others. Again he was deliberately painted in dark colours after his fall so that people might forget him and rally round the wodeyars under the new regime of the colonials. Those who suffered punishment as prisoners of war have been the main source for bitter attacks on him.
What is not understandable is the attitude of the Indian scholars who have believed these stories and accepted blindly the interested reports of the colonials. Even to day there is a microscopic element in the society which takes pleasure in twisting history, forgetting the fact that good use of history is a boon, and ill-use of history is a bane that spells disaster. By good use of history prussia cut up into 300 states was unified into a strong Germany, and by bad use of history, India that was united was divided into two or three states. Ranka is not wrong in saying, abuse of history would invite divine punishment.
In order to remove the wrong impressions about Tipu it is perhaps better to go to the sources of the rival camp to find out whether his adversaries have anything else excepting condemnation to say. James Mill, a great historian and an intellectual of the age, a philosopher and a thinker, says, Tipu “had the discernment to perceive what is so generally hidden from the eyes of the rulers in a more enlightened state of society, that it is the prosperity of those who labour with their hands which constitutes the principle and cause of the prosperity of the state. His country was accordingly.. the best cultivated and its population the most flourishing in India, while under the English and their dependencies, the population of the Carnatic and Oudh, hastening to the state of deserts, were the most wretched upon the face of the earth.”
More than Mill, if the commander of an army who had come to destroy Tipu were to say something appreciative of his adversary, we have to believe him, for a foe would see good in his rival only when it is irresistible. Edward Moore, the Captain of a contingent that participated in the third Mysore War to humiliate Tipu, writes, “When a person travelling through a strange country, finds it well-cultivated, populous with industrious inhabitants, cities newly founded, commerce extending, towns increasing and everything flourishing so as to indicate happiness, he will naturally conclude to be under a form of government congenial to the minds of the people. This is a picture of Tipu’s country, and this is our conclusion in respect of its government.”
Again, the Christians of Mangalore do not hold Tipu in high esteem, but Praxy Frenandes, has this to say, “Tipu’s conception of the Nation-State, the responsibilities of the government to the people, the elimination of feudalistic intermediaries, his attempt to build up a standard system of laws and his creation of a civil service, were modern ideas, out of tune with his times and therefore unacceptable to those around him. The greatest tribute his conquerors, the british, could pay him was the progressive adoption of these ideas in their future governance of India.”
Tipu was indeed far ahead of his times, and he desired to teach his people faster than they could learn. His economic experiments, his efforts at state-trading, his great industrial plans, his efforts to build up a strong navy, his imaginative flight to construct a dam across the river Cauvery, his far-sighted vision to establish at Srirangapatana a University which he christened as Jamia-al-Umoor, his first Urdu newspaper, Fauji Akhbar, his interest in pearl-fishery, his interest in rockets and so on would make one think what a unique person he was. Yet he was not successful, because the time was not propitious; the regime was cut short; the support from the base was wanting; the foes from the frontiers were cunning; and many of his own ideas were too radical-starting a Jacobin Club, planting a tree of liberty and calling himself “Citizen Tipu” were al Western concepts which would not germinate in a soil of conservative feudalism and traditionalism. The potential for cross-fertilisation of ideas which was once the pride of India was dead in the eighteenth century. One Tipu in 17 years could not do what Europe had achieved in 300 years.
Tipu did his best to prevent the colonials from reducing the Indian rulers to the position of a pensioned Raja or Nawab, exerted his utmost to form an alliance of his neighbours, the Marathas and the Nizam, against the foreigners, but failed to get a positive response. On the other hand, his neighbours joined the English to weaken Tipu. Dis-appointed in his efforts, he turned to the French, the Turks and the Afghans. At one stage he was so successful in his efforts as to receive a letter from Napoleon stating, “you have been already informed of my arrival on the borders of the sea, with an invincible army, full of the desire of delivering you from the iron yoke of England.” But it so happened that Napoleon himself was defeated at Accre in Syria at the hands of Sydney Lee, which forced him to escape to France stealthily.
Tipu’s contacts with Afghanistan had borne such good results that Zaman Shah had actually moved towards India, and came as far as Lahore when in January 1799 he too was compelled to beat a hasty retreat to Kabul, because Wellesly had engineered a rear-guard action on his territory by inducing the Persians to seize the opportunity of his absence to attack Afghanistan. Wellesley had despatched a Shia from Moradabad, Mehdi Ali, to Tehran, who had excited Shia-Sunni difference and had thus successfully warded off the impending danger. Otherwise as Wellesley put it, “... the glare of victory, the influence of religion, land, the allurement of plunder will draw to his standard numbers probably greater than have appeared united in one cause since the days of Aurangzeb.” Here too Tipu was frustrated in his efforts to organise a grand confederacy against the English.
Tipu’s embassies to Turkey also yielded no good results. In his letter to Sultan Abdul Hameed of Turkey Tipu had sought military help and had proposed an offensive and defensive treaty. But the English foiled this attempt as well. The Russians had set their eyes on the Ottoman Empire and the British exploited this weakness to keep Turkey on their side. The ambassadors returned home empty-handed.
But Tipu’s relations with the French, the Afghans and the Turks indicate his grand designs to distress the English. The French were his traditional allies, as they were the traditional rivals of the English. the Anglo-French animosity went back to the days of Crecy and Agincourt in the middle ages, and Tipu desired to exploit this weakness on the theory that the enemy of my enemy is indeed my friend. He was also aware that in the struggle for supremacy the Dutch had eliminated the Portuguese, and the English had removed the Dutch from India. If the French were to be used for the removal of the English, as had happened in the new World, Tipu would surely gain a point. Tipu had high hopes with French aid, the drama of American War of Independence could be repeated in India.
Haider and Tipu alone among all the princes of India had come close to challenge the supremacy of the English. Mysore had become “ the terror of Leadenhall street,” the headquarters of East India Company. Under their leadership Mysore army proved a school of military science to Indian princes. the dread of an European army no longer wrought any fear in them. On the other hand Tipu destroyed the British pride of invincibility both in the first and the second Mysore wars. Grant wrote to Shelburne, “An English army much superior to one which under a Lawrence or Clive, five and twenty year ago, made Hindoostan, nay some of the powers of Europe tremble at the bare recital of its victories, now for the first time was retreating in the face of an Indian army.” This was a reference to Colonel Bailey’s capture and general Munro’s flight in the Second Mysore War. Alexander Dow wrote in his history, “We were alarmed as if his horses had wings to fly over our walls.” One should read Borke’s speeches in the House of Commons to know the impact Tipu had on the British. A lad of 1 in the first Mysore War, was about to capture the whole bunch of Madras government. Luckily for them a boat was near them, and they quickly sought shelter in it. The hero of Buxar, Sir Hector Munro, who had defeated three monarchs in a single blow, Shah Alam, Shuja-ud-daula and Meer Khasim, was forced to fly when Tipu was about to attack him, throwing all his guns in the tank of Conjeevaram, rushing to the fort of Madras. General Medows was about to shoot himself rather than bear the ignominy he suffered at Tipu’s hands in the third Mysore war. No wonder English mothers would silence their children when they became naughty by the recital of Tipu’s name.
Finally, a word must be said about his secular policy. Gandhiji wrote in Young India that Tipu was an embodiment of Hindu-Muslim unity. His letters to Sringeri Mutt, 30 in number, in Kannada language speak volumes of his deep respect towards Hindu religious establishments. He furnished Shree Shankaracharya with funds to reinstall the displaced image in the Sharda temple. He gave several articles of silver to Lakshmikantha temple and to many other temples, whose number is figured as 156 in the records. Raghunathswamy temple at Srirangapatnam was hardly a stone throw from his palace from where he listened with equal respect to the ringing of temple bells and the call of the Mosque from the Muezzin. His appointment or numerous Hindus to high offices, his gifts and grants to temples, falsify the wrong accusation that he was intolerant. He had interwoven the Hindu-Muslim standards in his administration. Purnaiah was the Dewan; Krishna Rao was in charge of Finance, Shamaiah looked after the intelligence and postal department. Appaji Ram, Subba Rao, Srinivasa Rao, Sajjan Lal and Moore chand were in the diplomatic service. Hari Sing, Rama Rao and Sripat Rao were in military service. The accounts department was entirely manned by Hindu officials.
Dr. B. N. Pande mentions an interesting episode. In 1927-28 while doing research on “The Religious Policy of Tipu Sultan” be found in the text book of Matriculation which was written by Hari Prasad Sastri of Calcutta University a statement which state “Three thousand Brahmins committed suicide as Tipu wanted to convert them forcibly into the fold of Islam.” Dr. Pande contacted Dr. Sastri for the source of the information. After several reminders came the reply it was Mysore Gazetteer. Dr. Pande, contacted Brijindranath Seal, Vice Chancellor of Mysore University, to check the veracity of this statement. Dr. Seal contacted Srikantaiah, the Editor of the gazetteer, and Srikantaiah informed Dr Pande that the episode of 3000 Brahmins committing suicide is no where in the Mysore gazetteer, that the whole thing was a figment of imagination, and that he as a student of the history of Mysore was quite certain that no such incident had taken place. Srikantaiah supplied Pande a list of 156 temples to which Tipu paid annual grant. Further Srikantaiah sent photo-stat copies of Tipu’s 30 letters to Sringeri Swamiji. Tipu Sultan, as was customary with the rulers of Mysore, daily visited the temple of Ranganath swamy inside the fort before taking the breakfast. If Tipu was harsh on the Nayars of Kerala, Christians of Mangalore, and the Raja of Coorg, it was all because of political reasons as they desired to subvert his power by joining the English. Nor did he spare the Mopillas of Malabar, the Nawabs of Cuddapah, Kurnool and Savanur. Thus, the stories of persecution are highly exaggerated. He never forced the Hindus to become Muslims. On the contrary he raised them to high positions, conferred grants on Hindu temples and Brahmins, gave money for the consecration of images and even on one occasion ordered the building of a temple.
In conclusion we have to say that many great personalities of the world, who apparently failed in their life, have yet remained enshrined in the hearts of the people. From Socrates to the present day many immortals have met their death in tragic circumstances, and yet they happen to be the brightest stars on the horizon of human heritage. Great moments of history are not those when empires were built, but hose when cherished values of life were preserved and goodness of mind was achieved. Tipu died in the spontaneous combustion of hostile forces defending the liberty and honour of the land, and not in apathy, inertia or univentiveness.