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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 48 New Delhi November 19, 2016

Legacy of Tipu Sultan

Monday 21 November 2016

by S.N. Sahu and Sandip Mesra

The Government of Karnataka is celebrating Tipu jayanti. Well known and acclaimed as Tipu Sultan in history, he was a renowned warrior who courted controversy and at the same time commanded attention and admiration from scholars and historians for his manifold initiatives, innovations and, above all, accomplishments. His bravery in fighting against the British forces to save his beloved Mysore and his supreme sacrifice in laying down his life for that cause made him an iconic figure in our history. His rule was marked by many new things such as starting a new calendar and introduction of a completely new system of coins. It is also documented that his rule was well known for a new system of weights and measures which he introduced and which was acknowledged as the first of its kind.

He considered Britishers as his sworn enemy and had a burning desire to throw them out of India. It was for that purpose that he had a grand ambition of forming military and strategic alliances with Napoleon Bonaparte of France. In fact his fascination for the French Revolution and its ideals would stand him out in our history as a monarch who remained tuned to the progressive ideals of the first ever revolution in history which celebrated liberty, equality and fraternity. It is documented by historians that to commemorate the commencement of the French Revolution he planted a tree in Srirangapatnam and joined the Jacobin Club which remained the motive force behind that epoch-making revolution. Tipu Sultan exchanged numerous correspondences with Napoleon who warmly responded to him and both had a plan to come together based on strategic affinity and interest. It is fascinating to note that the publication, The Sword of Tipu Sultan, authored by Bhagwan Gidwani, contains in its appendix a letter written by Napoleon to Tipu Sultan. It stated: “You have already been informed of my arrival on the borders of the Red Sea, with an innumerable and invincible Army, full of the desire of delivering you from the iron yoke of England.” The letter was intercepted by the Britishers and could not reach its destination, that is, Tipu Sultan.

The text of the letter of Napoleon Bonaparte addressed to Tipu Sultan was invoked by President K.R. Narayanan in his speech delivered at the banquet hosted by the President of the French Republic, Jacques Chirac, on April 17, 2000 in Paris. In respectfully recalling that letter of Napoleon, President Narayanan said: “...Napoleon’s demarche perhaps underlined the strategic affinity that links India and France and the responsibility we hold in creating a more equal and democratic inter-national order in the multipolar world.” In fact in the year 2000 the strategic dialogue between India and France was started by both the countries and invocation of Napoleon and Tipu Sultan by President Narayanan in a way suggested that the strategic dialogue started between two countries could be traced to that period of history of the 18th century when Napoleon and Tipu Sultan attempted to form a strategic alliance.

It is instructive to note that his credentials as a fierce warrior were amply proved when he used rockets during his wars against the Britishers who were never aware of such weapons and, therefore, could not understand anything about them. The rockets caused massive damage and such rockets were collected by the British soldiers who conducted a study of those to develop similar rockets. The Royal Artillery Museum, London till today has got the rockets used by Tipu Sultan. It has been written in that museum that the rockets used by Tipu Sultan were the first ever rockets used in any warfare. This fact has been mentioned by President Abdul Kalam in his writings and he himself felt thrilled when he saw in that museum Tipu Sultan’s rockets.

Apart from his bravery and gallantry as the commander of the land-based forces he had, he also founded a modern navy in 1796 and set up two dockyards where ships could be used and equipped with necessary facilities for conducting warfare.

It is rather instructive to note that Tipu Sultan understood the critical necessity of a strong economy to sustain a strong military. Therefore, he took initiatives to boost trade and commerce and establish a chain of industries. He has been richly complimented by British historians for the manifold measures he took to augment the economic power of his kingdom for the purpose of augmenting its military capability. His farsightedness in understanding the danger posed by the advancing British forces in the 18th century stood him out as an unparalleled leader with a firm grasp over military and strategic affairs.

The series of measures he took for the economic progress of Mysore bore fruit and British historians have documented that the economic status of Mysore was better than many other princely states of that era. Even the British forces, which defeated and killed Tipu, found that peasants in Mysore were far more advanced than the peasants in many British-ruled areas of India.

It is worthwhile to note that during his rule many temples and other Hindu shrines received liberal grants from him even as many others unfairly accuse him of religious intolerance. The fact that he fought ruthlessly against the British forces and the fact that he lost his life in fighting clearly proves his bravery, heroism and sacrifices. Such illustrious records of standing up to the invincible British forces place him in our history as one of the earliest opponents of European rule and he had the passion and strategy to defeat those forces. To achieve that purpose he went beyond the frontiers of India to forge friendship and strategic alliance with none other than Napoleon Bonaparte who represented in that era the most commanding and iconic figure of the globe.

While celebrating the jayanti of Tipu Sultan it is important to rediscover his legacy which was shaped in 18th century India and which represented the might of our country in the face of the determined British advances to subjugate this country. It is in fact important to refer to the writings of President K.R. Narayanan and President Abdul Kalam on Tipu Sultan and underline their assessment of Tipu for our contemporary period.

S.N. Sahu served as the OSD to President K.R. Narayanan and had a tenure as the Director in the Prime Minister’s Office. Currently he is the Joint Secretary, Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Sandip Mesra is the Executive Officer, Rajya Sabha Secretariat. Views expressed by both in the article are personal.

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