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Tipu vs Savarkar: How a Debate Sparked by BJP Mars Peace in Poll-Bound Karnataka

How did a junction in Yadgir become a battleground over Tipu Sultan and VD Savarkar?

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As Karnataka Assembly elections inch closer, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has returned to its old strawman argument – 'Hindutva ideologue VD Savarkar is better than erstwhile Mysuru ruler Tipu Sultan.' In the recent past, the party has taken a step further as its leaders actively pitted even Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji and Hindu Gods – Lord Ram and Lord Hanuman – against the 18th Century ruler.

Here's a sample:

"This time, the Assembly elections will not be fought between Congress and BJP, but between the ideologies of Savarkar and Tipu."
BJP Karnataka President Nalin Kumar Kateel

But what's the impact of such statements in Karnataka? In a nutshell, the war of words has been disruptive. For instance, in Yadgir district of North Karnataka, the 'ideological' debate took a troublesome turn when two groups – one representing Tipu and another representing Savarkar – flared tensions, forcing the police to issue prohibitory orders.

The issue – renaming a junction after VD Savarkar rather than its unofficial name ‘Tipu Circle.’

How did the Yadgir row unfold? What led to it? Is there a disagreement among BJP leaders over raising the 'Tipu vs Savarkar' debate? Here's The Quint's deep dive into the controversy.

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A Circle Gets an 'Unofficial' Name, An Outfit Gets a Battleground  

On Monday, 27 February, Section 144 of the CrPC was enforced in Yadgir district, between 6 am and 11 pm, preventing five and more people from gathering at any place.

The same day, Yadgir police arrested Parasuram Shegurkar, president of Chhatrapati Shivaji Sene in connection with a suo motu case registered under Sections 298 (Uttering words with deliberate intent to wound the religious feelings of any person) and 505 (2) (Statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

This was the result of Shegurkar allegedly stating that the circle, unofficially named after Tipu, is illegal and that it should be dismantled. He added that if the authorities failed to do so, he and his supporters will dismantle the same.

According to Abdul Karim, president of Tipu Sultan Samyukta Ranga – an organisation which falls on the other side of the debate – the decision to name the circle after Tipu was taken in a municipal council meeting held in 2010. Karim said that the council's unanimous decision was then sent for approval to the state government which kept it in abeyance. "However, unofficially, it began to be called the ‘Tipu Sultan circle’," Karim said.

Twelve years later, the Bajrang Dal submitted a letter to the BJP asking one of its leaders and the council chairman Suresh Ambigar to name the circle after Savarkar, Karim alleged. Following the footsteps of the Dal, Chhatrapati Shivaji Sene too raised the same demand and later sought to forcefully dismantle the structure. "I have nothing against Savarkar, but there are a lot of properties which can be renamed. Why rename this (Tipu circle) after him?" Karim rued.

While no direct link has been established, by the police, between the Yadgiri incident and the statements made by senior BJP leaders, the saffron party raising the Savarkar vs Tipu debate seems to have caused a division within the BJP.

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The War of Words: Yediyurappa vs BJP 

After Nalin Kateel's statement on Tipu and the fast-approaching Assembly election, Karnataka Higher Education Minister CN Ashwath Narayan made a statement to jump onto the Savarkar bandwagon.

In Mandya, he reportedly said:

"Do you want Tipu or Savarkar? Where should we send this Tipu Sultan? What did Nanje Gowda (Vokkaliga chieftain who, according to a section, killed Tipu. History says Tipu fell in an Anglo-Mysore battle in Srirangapatna.) do? You should finish him (Congress leader Siddaramaiah) off the same way." 

While Narayan had to retract the statement, thanks to opposition from the Congress, another BJP leader, Basanagouda Patil Yatnal took the matter a step further.

He reportedly said:

“All MLAs ask me, in your constituency there are one lakh Tipu Sultans (Muslim votes)...Going forward in Bijapur, none of the followers of Tipu Sultan will win, only Shivaji Maharaj follower will win here. Even by mistake you should not cast your votes to Muslims (Yatnal reportedly used a slang denoting Muslims in Kannada).”

However, the BJP stalwart BS Yediyurappa, who is now being projected as the face of the saffron party's campaign in Karnataka, publicly expressed his disagreement with the Tipu-Savarkar debate. He said that the 2023 Assembly election should be fought over Karnataka's development and not such controversies.

Yediyurappa reportedly said:

"It's not Tipu vs Savarkar, but BJP's policies and schemes that will be the narrative."

But why are other BJP leaders still harping on this debate?

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'Wronged Hero' vs 'Cruel Tyrant': Will the Debate Help the BJP?

At the heart of the Savarkar vs Tipu debate is the BJP's effort to foreground Savarkar as a better freedom fighter than Tipu who had fought four Anglo-Mysore wars, conversations with the party's state leadership revealed.

Speaking to The Quint BJP spokesperson Vivek Reddy said:

“Savarkar is a neglected hero...The sort of pain he underwent – it was all for the motherland...That struggle is iconic.”

While the BJP has been projecting the 'wronged nationalist' image of Savarkar, the party's line has also been to sully Tipu's image to evoke sentiments of Kannadigas. Another BJP spokesperson, Ganesh Karnik claimed, “Tipu has a legacy of cruelty, a legacy of destroying Hindu temples, a legacy of killing 700 Iyengar Brahmins…These are issues which bother the common Kannadiga.” The Quint has not independently verified the claims.

This juxtaposition, however, may not yield electoral dividends, a political analyst and Pro-Vice Chancellor of Jain University, Sandeep Shastri said.

Shastri told The Quint:

“Using of the majoritarian agenda is something the BJP has tried out and it has worked in some cases – Assam, parts of Bihar, but not in cases like West Bengal. Majority polarisation also leads to minority consolidation. But will that work in Karnataka? Past experiences have shown it has not paid dividends across the state.”

Meanwhile, Tipu Sultan’s seventh-generation descendant Manzoor Ali has announced that their family will take legal action against parties which misuse his name.

Ali said, “Tipu Sultan has created a history of his own. The manner in which the historical figure’s name is being used is wrong. He sacrificed his life for the country while fighting against the British.”

It remains to be seen whether the BJP would attempt to sustain the debate over Tipu and Savarkar.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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Topics:  BJP   Congress   KARNATAKA 

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