Tipu Sultan: Freedom Fighter or Not?

Tipu Sultan was the ruler of Mysore, which covered parts of present-day Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. Tipu is remembered for his successful campaigns against the British East India Company during the four Anglo-Mysore wars. He died defending his fortress of Srirangapatna against British forces in the 4th Anglo Mysore War in 1799. 

Tipu Sultan, the 18th century ruler, was an innovative military leader who introduced new tactics and strategies during battles against the British East India Company. In addition, he modernized his army by introducing rockets and other advanced weaponry. 

Some regard Tipu Sultan as one of India's first freedom fighters. According to Professor B P Mahesh Chandra Guru, author of the book 'Tipu Sultan: Indomitable Nationalist and Martyr' as cited by edexlive.com, "The first war of Indian Independence was not fought in 1857. It was in 1799 when Tipu fought the Fourth Anglo Mysore War and he died fighting the war. The British destroyed his fort and captured his sons. He was a great opponent of British imperialism. Therefore he tried having talks with the Nizam of Hyderabad and other kings to unify and fight the British."

Actor-writer Girish Karnad considers Tipu Sultan to be a freedom fighter and has proposed naming Bengaluru airport after him.


Tipu Sultan, a Monarch or Freedom Fighter?

In the eighteenth century, there was no concept of nationalism or secularism. Karnataka High Court Chief Justice Subhro Kamal Mukherjee noted that Tipu Sultan was not a freedom fighter, but rather a monarch who fought to protect his kingdom from his adversaries. 

Famous historian Irfan Habib has put an end to this contentious debate. He believes that the term freedom fighter is not applicable to Tipu because he did not revolt against anyone but was defending his kingdom and resisting colonialism. "If Indians want to celebrate the anti-colonial struggle then they must celebrate Tipu Sultan", Habib stated.

"The so-called secular leaders should stop painting Tipu as a freedom fighter. Tipu was an emperor who was only interested in conquering territories", writes P.T. Bopanna, a Bengaluru-based author.

Many Indian rulers fiercely resisted British rule long before 1799. Siraj-ud-Doulah, the Nawab of Bengal (lost at Plassey on 23 June 1757), Maruthanayagam Pillai aka Yusuf Khan aka Khan Saheb (hanged on 15 October 1764), the combined forces of Mir Qasim, the Nawab of Bengal, Shuja-ud-Daula, the Nawab of Awadh and Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II (lost at Buxar on 22 October 1764), Puli Thevar, the Poligar of Nelkattumseval (not sure of his fate after 1767), Muthu Vaduganathan, the Poligar of Sivaganga (died in battle in 1780), Muthu Vaduganathan's queen Velu Nachiar (died about 1790), Veera Pandya Kattabomman, the Poligar of Panchalankuruchi (hanged on 17 October 1799) and many more. 

India finally attained freedom from the British on August 15th, 1947, after a long and arduous struggle for independence. Our history of freedom struggle is marked by the tireless efforts and sacrifices of many brave heroes. For decades, countless valiant men and women courageously revolted against the oppressive colonizers.

According to British records it was Maruthanayagam aka Yusuf Khan Saheb who first attempted to gain independence from their oppressive rule in 1763 by establishing an independent government at Madurai. 

Tipu Sultan's father, Hyder Ali was the first Indian ruler to defeat the British in the First Anglo-Mysore War (1767-1769). Hyder was determined to expel the British from India. The author of Hydernama recounts an event that illustrates Hyder's ambition: One day Hyder Ali gathered his most trusted advisors to discuss the best way to eradicate the British presence in India. He declared that it was impossible to defeat the British in one place, as they had access to multiple strongholds, such as Madras, Bombay, Calcutta, and even England. Hyder proposed that the only effective way to drive out the British was to instigate a war between the British and the French in Europe, while simultaneously setting up people of Iran and Kandahar against Calcutta, and the Marathas against Bombay. Finally, with the help of the French, Hyder himself would attack Madras. By initiating wars in all these places at once, it would be impossible for the British to send reinforcements to any one location, thus ensuring their ultimate defeat and the reclaiming of India.

The British were envious of the growing power of Hyder Ali and his son, who posed a constant threat to their ambition of conquering India. Realizing that they could not achieve this goal on their own, the British enlisted the help of the Maratha Peshwas - Nana Saheb and Baji Rao II of Pune, the Nizam of Hyderabad, Mohammed Ali Wallajah of Carnatic, Raja Rama Varma of Travancore, and many others - in their long wars against Hyder and Tipu.

Tipu Sultan was the East India Company's most formidable adversary. Even today, he remains one of India's most controversial figures, due to the way his British enemies painted him:- as a religious zealot and a tyrant. 

After Tipu's defeat, the British imposed the Subsidiary Alliance on the reinstated Wodeyar king, reducing Mysore to a vassal state of the Company.

Tipu Sultan was the only Indian king to attain martyrdom while fighting the British. After his death, there was no major power left in India that could pose a challenge to the British.