Remembering the Tiger of Mysore
Yesterday was the 216th Martyrdom anniversary of the great martyr of Mysore Fateh Ali Tipu Sultan. He is a historical figure which always fascinated me since my childhood. I rigorously researched about him for my M. Phil thesis. Great moments of history are not those when empires were built but those when human spirit soared high to defend the cherished values of life and when creative vision paved the way for man’s progress and development. Judged from this standpoint our history is a rich record of the deeds of great men who present an exciting drama of struggle to carry truth and justice into the administration of State and Society. Tipu Sultan also forms a tiny precious piece of this tapestry woven with the fabric of humanism, resistance, universalism, tolerance, modernization and good faith.
The second half of the eighteenth century was a period of great confusion in Indian history, which witnessed the rise of a colonial power. The only state which offered stiff resistance to their expansion was Mysore, which fought not one but four wars. Tipu Sultan participated in all those four Mysore wars, in two of which he inflicted serious blows on the English. Tipu remained fully involved in warfare from his youth until his fall in the fourth Mysore war.
Tipu Sultan, one of the most talented, valiant and enlightened monarchs that India has produced was destined to struggle against heavy odds at a time when the British power had, to a great extent, established it supremacy over the major part of the subcontinent and had successfully conspired with the Marhattas and the Nizam to overcome the only formidable hurdle in the south —- the Muslim state of Mysore. Tipu Sultan put up a gallant fight against much superior forces.
Tipu Sultan’s 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 modernization of his State were two basic features of his administration. His regime began in the midst of war against the English, and ended 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 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 dishonor. The British had never been confronted with a more formidable foe, which 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 battlefield 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 live 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.
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 all modernized concepts which would not germinate in a soil of conservative feudalism and traditionalism. The potential for cross-fertilization 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 neighbous, 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. Disappointed 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.
No Indian ruler who did not enjoy the confidence of his own people could have fought three desperate wars with a European Power. He was popular with his army & his people. He was greatly interested in Sufism, the liberal trend in Islam, which just believed only in the unity of God & the unity of Man. But Tipu’s relations with the French, the Afghans and the Turks indicate his grand designs to distress the English. 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