Jnanpith awardee Girish Karnad on Tuesday said 18th century Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan would have enjoyed the same status as of Maratha king Chhatrapathi Shivaji, if he was a Hindu and not a Muslim.
In another remark that stoked a controversy, Karnad said it would have been "apt" had the Bengaluru International Airport at Devanahalli near here been named after Tipu Sultan rather than Kempegowda, a feudatory ruler under the erstwhile Vijayanagara Empire which founded Bengaluru in 1537.
The remarks by the noted Kannada playwright and actor came at a state government organised function to mark the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan held amid tight security at the state Secretariat in the presence of Chief Minister Siddaramaiah.
The statewide celebrations are being boycotted by BJP and protested by several outfits who see the ruler of the erstwhile Mysore kindgom as a "religious bigot" and "anti-Kannadiga." The protests led to violence at Madikeri in Kodagu district claiming one life.
"I feel that if Tipu Sultan was a Hindu and not Muslim he would have attained the position in Karnataka that Shivaji Maharaj enjoys in Maharashtra," Karnad said.
Maintaining that Tipu is deprived of such a status owing to his religious persuasion, he said, "Because what has happened is today our scholars and politicians look at one's religion and caste first...."
"Injustice has happened to Tipu Sultan because of this type of evaluation..." he added.
Taking potshots at those calling Tipu Sultan "anti-Kannada and anti-Hindu", Karnad said, "Today, when we are celebrating this day as Deepawali and Tipu Sultan day, we can also celebrate it as Bihar day."
His Bihar day remark was an apparent jibe at BJP, which was routed in the Assembly polls. Karnad has always made known his ideological opposition to BJP.
Expressing similar opinion to that of Karnad while recounting the contributions of Tipu Sultan to the people of his kingdom, Siddaramaiah said "...if he was born as Hindu he would have got similar respect in Karnataka and the entire country, that Shivaji enjoys."
Siddaramaiah said, "We should not look at a person through his religion or caste perspective, but keeping in mind the good work done by him to the people. That is what we have done today by celebrating Tipu jayanti."
Karnad also said it would have been "apt" to name BengaluruInternationalAirport at Devanahalli after Tipu Sultan instead of Kempegowda as the latter was not a freedom fighter.
He noted that naming airport after Tipu Sultan would be more appropriate as Devanahalli was his birth place.
"I'm aware what I'm saying now will be debated....as we know Kolkata airport is named after Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Mumbai airport is named after Shivaji Maharaj, but in Karnataka we have named it after Kempegowda," Karnad said.
"It is true that Kempegowda was great, he founded Bangaluru, but he was not a freedom fighter, so naming Bengaluru airport after Tipu Sultan would have been apt."
Karnad's remarks on Kempegowda international airport came in for attack from the BJP which said he had insulted the founder of Bengaluru on an issue which was a "closed chapter."
"Karnad is reopening a closed chapter and creating a new controversy....He has made name through controversies. His remarks are unfortunate and condemnable," state's senior BJP leader R Ashoka told reporters here. He also questioned the silence of the Chief Minister when Karnad made the remark.
Tipu was a ruler of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore, who was considered an implacable enemy of the British East India Company. He was killed in May 1799 while defending his fort of Srirangapatna against the British forces.
Speaking at the event Siddaramaiah also said there is no "political interest" behind organising Tipu Jayanti.
Calling those opposing the event as "fanatics" and "communal forces", he said, "Until these communal forces exist such oppositions and controversies are common."
Siddaramaiah said politicising an event organised to pay respect to Tipu Sultan is "not correct".
"Whichever religion or caste that he may belong to, he has fought for the nation and has laid down his life for the people, so it is our duty to show respect," he added.
Several literary personalities and historians like Baraguru Ramachandrappa, Ko Channabasappa, Prof Shaik Ali, N V Narasimaiah who spoke at the event took exception to Tippu being labelled as anti-Hindu and anti-Kannada.
Recounting his contributions to promote communal and linguistic tolerance in his kingdom, they called him "truly secular."