Monday, May 14, 2018

Remembering Tipu Sultan

Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette receive the ambassadors of Tipu Sultan in 1788
The France of Louis XVI was rapidly becoming the rival of England in the Far East which is another reason why the British government worked with the revolutionaries to overthrow the French monarchy. From the Lahore Daily Times:
4th of May marked the death anniversary of Tipu Sultan, the ruler of the south Indian kingdom of Mysore, who died gallantly defending his capital Seringapatam against the combined forces of the East India Company and the Nizam in 1799. In Pakistan, Tipu is remembered as a noble soldier and a martyr who raised his sword to preserve India’s freedom from foreign occupation. Pakistani texts ranging from historical fiction such as ‘Aur Talwar Toot Gai’ by Naseem Hijazi to television and filmic productions including Tipu Sultan a drama serial produced by PTV and Tipu Sultan a film based on Tipu’s life, portray Tipu as a semi-divine warrior having an incredible strength to fight and crush his enemies. With his god-like power, Tipu is shown to embark upon a glorious military career and achieve stunning successes not only against indigenous rivals but also foreign invaders. Tipu’s agile armies carry fire and sword into the battlefields and pound dread in the hearts of the enemies. He certainly would have stalemated the British were it not for the treachery of his own ministers and officers.

The picture of Tipu as a mighty Muslim warrior who fiercely resisted British power has had immense staying power in Pakistan. But there is much more in Tipu’s personality which needs a greater attention. The aim of this writing is to highlight those aspects of Tipu’s character that have been veiled by deific trappings in order to give a more telling portrait of him.

In our version of history, what is rarely highlighted is the fact that Tipu was a man of daring vision and enterprise. Fascinated by technological advancement of the west, Tipu set himself to the task of modernising and industrialising his kingdom. He was mindful of the importance of having one’s finger on the pulse and therefore, the need to adopt western techniques to place Mysore on the forefront of industrial progress and prosperity. He, on the one hand, welcomed medical experts from abroad and invited skilled artisans to energise industry in Mysore, and on the other hand, hired French technicians to improve his arsenal and forts. When Tipu sent an envoy to France he specifically instructed them to bring craftsmen who could make “muskets of novel designs, canon-pieces, and iron guns”.

Irfan Habib reveals that the exquisite craftsmanship of muskets produced by Mysorean foundries was endorsed by Cossigny, the governor of Pondicherry, who thought them equal to any manufactured in Europe. The judgment pronounced in Paris on two pistols presented by Tipu’s ambassadors to Louis XVI in 1788 also supports the viewpoint of Cossigny. Tipu also showed keen interest in trade and commerce with countries abroad and believed that the future of India could be changed by skillfully using the sea. Tipu employed the thriving ports of Kanara and Malabar to introduce fabulous Mysorean products including the spices, the ivory and the sandalwood, to the world across. Paying tribute to Tipu Praxy Fernandes writes, “No other sovereign in Indian history had given such an impetus to industrial production.” Through a systematic state effort Tipu strengthened trade relations with the Middle East and set up factories across the Persian Gulf. Tipu’s glittering and thriving Mysore also offered a testimonial to his belief in cultural pluralism which stands in sharp contrast to the narrow and chauvinistic nationalism displayed by the west and India today. His was a kingdom where Hindus, Muslims, and Christians lived in perfect harmony. In fact it was so constructed that it invited foreign investors and workers. Apart from encouraging Europeans Tipu also welcomed and supported Asian merchants from China, Arabia, and Armenia. Mysore, in fact, manifested how ethnically diverse societies can create a legacy of tolerance and civilization. (Read more.)

No comments: