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Reasons why Girish Karnad’s comparison of Tipu to Kempegowda and Shivaji is a perfect case of Intellectual Bankruptcy

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I remember Girish Karnad as a teacher, who explained amazing scientific facts and discoveries, in an interesting manner, on the popular show ‘Turning Point’ hosted on Doordarshan in the 90s. I admire him for his multifaceted personality. He writes Novels and plays in both Kannada and English and has immense following. He has acted in several movies and usually portrayed characters that are upright and ‘ideal’ as per society standards. But, in real life, he is working hard to project himself as a controversial figure through his public statements.

Girish Karnad is one of those few writers in Kannada who has won the prestigious Jnanpith Award for his contribution to Kannada literature and theatre in 1998. His play Yayati is translated into several languages and brought him immense fame. Yayati was an ancestor of Pandavas. Columnist Sandeep Balakrishna, who is also the author of ‘TIPU SULTAN: THE TYRANT OF MYSORE’ writes that the success of the play was merely based on the ‘foundation of distortion’ of historical facts. Everybody, these days, writes fiction by distorting history and that’s okay. But presenting a great king in poor light to please your target audience is simply unwarranted.

Controversy is nothing new for Karnad. In the past, the Jnanpith awardee had called Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore a ‘second-rate playwright writer’. Denigrating someone who has written the National Anthem as second-rate or third-rate, only amounts to insulting the country. Some thoughts should be best left unexpressed, considering the repercussions they might have on the society. But for some people, personal gratification and satisfying one’s ego seems to be the top priority and a matter of solace.

Girish Karnad
Girish Karnad

Now coming to the recent developments, while speaking at a function organized to commemorate the 200 years Jayanthi celebration of Tipu Sultan, Girish Karnad favored Tipu Sultan to Kempe Gowda. He asserted that the Bangalore International airport should be renamed after Tipu Sultan, who is again a controversial figure. Hindus and Christians remember him for religious conversions and atrocities on their ancestors. Muslims consider him a great king who fought with valor against the British.

Kempe Gowda was a visionary and the architect of Bangalore. Even the Bus-stand in Bangalore is named after him. What purpose would it serve now to pit these two gentlemen from history against each other? If intellectuals like Karnad constantly make comments aimed at garnering media attention and belittling historical icons, then such opinions simply don’t hold any rationale. They will only fuel controversy.

Karnad was well aware of the situation leading to this Jayanthi Celebration. He knew that a number of groups were agitating against any such move by the govt. If he willed, then he could have easily spoken about the great deeds done by Tipu and tried to persuade agitating people in rethinking about the stand taken by them. If Karnad was truly secular then he could have focused on the need to stay calm and ease tensions between the two groups through his speech, instead he added fuel to fire by making unexpected and meaningless comparisons.

The other indigestible thing was that he compared Tipu Sultan to the Maratha King Shivaji. As far as my wisdom goes, Shivaji is never credited with forcefully converting people to his faith and comes across as a clean personality. He is also seen as a unifying figure and remembered as a brave warrior. Karnad goes onto say that Shivaji enjoys this stature only because he was a Hindu and same is deprived to Tipu because he is a Muslim. Does this mean that fame in this country is purely based on one’s religion? If an intellectual thinks on these lines then how can one expect sanity from the general public? The illiterates of this country get divided on communal lines, almost on a daily basis, by opportunistic politicians and now I know why it is so easy.

History doesn’t remember somebody because of his religion but due to his deeds. I have never heard somebody speak ill about Hyder Ali, father of Tipu Sultan.

I still remember many icons like Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan whose name is taken in the same breath as Mahatma Gandhi, Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel when somebody thinks about the freedom struggle. Ruler like Jalaluddin Akbar is remembered as somebody who promoted communal harmony. Everyone has their own named etched on the sands of time purely based on their actions. History doesn’t differentiate between individuals, yet history can be distorted over a period of time.

If efforts are made to paint communal forces using a secular brush, one cannot become a secular person. Similarly, if one shouts at the top of his voice and makes efforts to prove that he is an epitome of secularity, knowingly or unknowingly, he will reflect his communal character. While delivering his speech Karnad also mentioned that the day should be celebrated as ‘Bihar Day’ which was totally out of context but revealed his instigating nature of rubbing salt on the wounds of the BJP.

Though he has apologized for his remarks on renaming Kempe Gowda Airport, he has failed to tell us what he thinks about the death of a VHP worker during agitation. Just because the guy belonged to a particular right-wing outfit, one cannot be insensitive to him. Who knows, if intellectuals like Girish Karnad had appealed to both sides to maintain calm, one precious life could have been saved. And we would have been proud of secular intellectuals like Karnad.

(originally published on my personal blog at:

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