7 Tipu Sultan and Doordarshan
K. GOVINDAN KUTTY
It was Bhagwan Gidwani’s obvious intention to extol Tipu Sultan when he wrote what he called a “historical novel” - The Sword of Tipu Sultan. Sanjay Khan’s approach to the subject could not have been different when he embarked on his controversial tele-film project based on Mr. Gidwani’s book. Whether their adulation of Tipu is consistent with facts of history is what an expert panel set up by the Ministry of information and Broadcasting is supposed to determine. But Doordarshan’s predicament is that it may still not be able to telecast ‘The Sword of Tipu Sultan’ without intensifying Hindu resentment in Kerala where considerable sections of people regard the “Tiger of Mysore” as an inveterate tormentor, and a symbol of religious bigotry.
What is questioned is not Gidwani’s right to hold and spread his view of Tipu, or Sanjay Khan’s endeavour to show him up as an apostle of patriotism and secularism. What is resisted is the move to use a nationally-owned medium to glorify a historical figure whose name is intimately associated with torture and forcible conversion of Hindus in one part of the country. Generations upon generations of Hindus have known the stories of Tipu’s depredations in Kerala. They cannot view with equanimity Doordarshan’s portrayal of him as a noble king. The stories were not concocted by the British; they were only told by them.
It may not be true technically that whatever image of Tipu or for that matter of any other individual is projected through Doordarshan should be deemed to have tacit official recognition. But can Doordarshan permit an alternative portrayal of Tipu in a perspective in which the irate Hindus of Malabar view him?
Long before Gidwani came out with his “historical novel” in 1976, there were attempts in Kerala to depict Tipu as a hero and a reformer. In a book in Malayalam published in 1959, P.K. Balakrishnan glorified Tipu, giving him credit for attempting to restructure the ownership of land in Malabar and discouraging decadent customs and traditions. No one thought of burning that book. It was just taken as another point of view albeit outrageous.
Some years later - well before Gidwani came out with his eulogy - there was a still more breathtaking re-evaluation of Tipu’s exploits in Malabar. Its author, C.K. Kareem, a former editor of the Kerala State Gazetteer, went so far as to show Tipu as a philosopher and a great sufi, who viewed the whole cosmos as a mosque! Kareem’s “finding” was that Tipu came to be painted black just because those who wrote history in Kerala were the descendants of people who had to suffer hardships after his advent. His argument was that the repression represented by Tipu was not for the sake of Islam but to govern a newly-conquered territory.
The views such as those of Balakrishnan, Kareem and Gidwani have been vehemently contested, but no one has questioned their right to hold such views and propagate them. The movement to resist the glorification of Tipu based on Gidwani’s book, which is no more profuse in the praise of its subject than Balakrishnan’s or Kareem’s, has taken roots mainly because a government medium run with public money is sought to be used to give credence to an assessment which is not only painful to a segment of the people but also debatable. The Hindu view of Tipu’s conquest of Malabar has not changed in spite of Balakrishnan’s and Kareem’s attempt to make him out as a sufi and a reformer. The historical view taken by K.M. Panicker and K.P. Padmanabha Menon and showing Tipu as a tormentor, continues to hold sway.
The Hindu reaction should also be viewed against the backdrop of minority petulance to which Kerala has been a witness in recent years. A case in point is the instant removal from a college textbook of a literary appreciation of Nikos Kazantzakis’s Last Temptation of Christ. A few years ago, an opposition member subsequently a minister - demanded withdrawal of that book on the ground that it contained a vilification of Christ. No one wanted to be told that no Christian could be more pious than Kazantzakis.
When a theatre adaptation of the novel, admittedly clumsy, was attempted, clergymen as well as laymen rose in revolt and the play was readily banned. The ban continues in spite of the change of government. It is amusing to recall that those now in power had, when they were not in power, described the ban as tantamount to surrendering the freedom of artistic expression to clergymen. Hail Pseudo-Secularists!
Hindu passions were roused again following an agitation for permission to build a church in the precincts of Sabarimala Temple where St. Thomas was supposed to have installed a cross even though many hold that there was just not enough evidence to establish that St. Thomas came to Kerala and set up a church at Nilakkal and six other places. But the minorities had their way.
In view of all this, if Doordarshan telecasts “The Sword of Tipu Sultan” it will only vitiate the atmosphere.
Indian Express, April 12, 1990