Protests by the Bharatiya Janata Party and right-wing outfits coupled with the absence of Chief Minister H D Kumaraswamy and his deputy marked the ‘Tipu Jayanti’ celebrations in Karnataka on Saturday, as the event brought to the fore differences within the ruling Congress-Janata Dal-Secular coalition.
The celebrations to observe the birth anniversary of controversial 18th century Mysore kingdom ruler Tipu Sultan brought the state under a thick security blanket, amid protests by the BJP and other organisations. The main event in Bengaluru turned out to be lacklustre.
Kumaraswamy skipped the main event at Vidhana Soudha, the state secretariat, citing advice by doctors to take rest for three days till November 11.
Deputy Chief Minister G Parameshwara was reportedly in Singapore to visit an ailing senior politician from Karnataka.
As BJP and other right-wing outfits protested against the Jayanti, Vidhana Soudha turned into a fortress with multi-layer security arrangement. The police ensured nobody could carry medicines, perfumes or even water bottles inside the venue.
Irrigation minister D K Shivakumar, minister for minority affairs B Z Zameer Ahmed Khan and MLAs Roshan Baig and N A Harris attended the main programme, where the BJP was accused of communalising the occasion.
Voices of disapproval started emerging from within the ruling coalition over the chief minister and deputy chief minister’s absence, with a Congress MLA terming it as an “insult” to the Muslim community.
MLA and former minister Tanveer Sait requested the chief minister to at least attend a Tipu Jayanti event at a place near to where he was taking rest.
According to party sources, many Congress leaders, especially those from the Muslim community, are miffed with the CM and deputy chief minister for skipping the event.
When in the opposition, Kumaraswamy had questioned the need for such celebrations which was started by the previous Siddaramaiah-led Congress government.
Kumaraswamy reportedly chose to skip the event to not antagonise voters in his party’s bastion of old Mysuru region, as Tipu Sultan had seized power from Maharajas of Mysuru, who are virtually revered there.
The Chief Minister’s Office, however, issued a statement on Kumaraswamy’s absence at the event. Wishing success for Tipu Jayanti celebrations, the JD-S leader said Tipu’s progressive measures in administration and his quest for innovation were “commendable”.
He said as he was taking rest on doctor’s advice. “It is far from the truth that the CM is not taking part due to fear of losing power, as he opposes such blind beliefs,” the CMO statement said.
This was the first Tipu Jayanti celebration after the Kumaraswamy-led Congress-JD-S coalition government came to power in the state.
The previous Congress government led by Siddaramaiah began celebrating Tipu Jayanti on November 10 every year since 2015, amid stiff opposition from the BJP, several Hindu organisations and some individuals.
BJP and several right-wing outfits held protests in different parts of the state opposing the celebrations.
Calling Tipu a “religious bigot”, the state BJP unit had urged the state government to drop its decision to celebrate the Jayanthi.
In Kodagu district, where celebrations in 2015 were marred by widespread protests and violence, ‘Tipu Jayanti Virodhi Horata Samithi’ called for a bandh.
VHP worker Kuttappa had died in Kodagu district during a clash that erupted during the Tipu Jayanti that year.
BJP workers along with MLA M P Appachu Ranjan were detained at Madikeri in Kodagu district for protesting the event after he allegedly had an argument with the police for not letting those without invitations to attend the event.
Another BJP MLA and former assembly speaker K G Bopaiah was detained in Virajpet during the protest.
In Mangaluru, some protesters tried to barge into the zilla panchayat office with black flags where the event was being organised. Police later detained the protesters.
Similar protests were reported from Chikmagalur, Ballari, Karwar and various parts of the state.
Prohibitory orders have been clamped in most of the districts as a precautionary measure, police said.
Extra security arrangements were made in districts of Kodagu, Chitradurga, and coastal regions among others where local communities are opposed to the celebrations.
Tipu was considered an implacable enemy of the British East India Company. He was killed in May 1799 while defending his fort at Srirangapatna against the British forces.
The ruler, however, is a controversial figure in Kodagu district as Kodavas (Coorgis), a martial race, believe that thousands of their men and women were seized and held captive during his occupation and subjected to torture, death and forcible conversion to Islam.
He is also accused of execution of Mandayam Iyengars at the temple town of Melkote in Mandya district on the day of Diwali, as they supported the then Maharaja of Mysuru.
However, the scale of such suppression is disputed by several historians, who see Tipu as a secular and modern ruler.
Meanwhile, a group of Muslim leaders along with state minister Zameer Ahmed Khan on Saturday met senior Congress leader Siddaramaiah and honoured him on the occasion of Tipu Jayanti.
Calling Tipu a “good administrator,” Siddaramaiah hit out at the BJP for opposing Tipu Jayanti celebrations, reminding them about the saffron party leaders attending similar events while in power.