Prime Minister of Pakistan Imran Khan has, as they say, a thing for Tipu Sultan. He can’t stop talking about the erstwhile Mysore king who, he insists, is his “hero” and no less. With misty eyes and an emotion-choked voice, Khan misses no chance to swoon over the Muslim king who died 220 years ago fighting the British.
Even as Imran flexes his cricket-toned muscles at Narendra Modi’s “war-mongering”, he doesn’t forget to make adulatory references to Tipu. The Pashtun from Lahore did it once again on Friday, at a public meeting that had a good sprinkling of Gujarati-speaking Hindus in Chachro in Pakistan’s Sindh province.
This continuing obsession of Pakistan’s prime minister is driving an increasing number of his people to Google to find out who in the whole blessed universe Tipu is. And when they finally trace the sultan’s provenance to the 18th Century and to a kingdom around the banks of the Cauvery in the deep bowels of South India, the Pakistanis scratch their heads, yawn and ask themselves: “Why him?”
Why not him? Khan might ask. He picked Tipu as his pin-up soldier after short-listing two former monarchs. The other one on the list is Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor whom the brave Pashtun dismisses with contempt as somebody utterly spineless.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader said on Friday that Tipu was his “real hero who laid down his life while defending his motherland … (unlike) Zafar who preferred to go into exile after accepting slavery”. The former cricket captain got at least some of his history right. After a stint of 20 years, Zafar surrendered to the British in 1857, unlike Tipu, who, after reigning over the Mysore Kingdom for 17 years, fought the British and died in 1799.
However, it isn’t as though Khan has taken a sudden shine to Tipu. As far ago as 2012, he had said: “In Pakistan we say, ‘you can either leave like Bahadur Shah Zafar or like Tipu Sultan’. The options are to leave like a jackal or like a lion. I would choose to leave like Tipu Sultan.”
Khan fought his domestic rivals like Tipu in the 2013 election but came a poor third. He didn’t “leave” like Zafar. He fought on and won the 2018 election — with a wink and a nod from the army, of course — and he has decided to keep on fighting like Tipu against Modi.
Even as he exhibited fake magnanimity while announcing the release of captured Indian Air Force pilot Abhinandan Varthaman on 28 February — something he was forced to do under international pressure — Khan made brave noises and referred to Tipu.
Pakistan's interest is peace in the region so we can focus to lift our people out of poverty. Our effort of de-escalation must not be misinterpreted as weakness. The hero of this country is Tipu Sultan who prefered fighting over subjugation.- @ImranKhanPTI #PakistanLeadsWithPeace pic.twitter.com/QCrADcIpme
— PTI (@PTIofficial) February 28, 2019
But still, the question lingers: Why Tipu? Tipu had as much to do with Pakistan as emperor Chandragupta Maurya had with Texas. But then those who know Khan well have often described him as impulsive and quirky. He enjoys throwing a surprise or two, something his army bosses may have to watch out for.
On the other hand, it has never been a secret that many Pakistanis deify Muslim invaders of the sub-continent because they see them as tormentors of Hindus. The names of some of Pakistan’s missiles are proof. Examples: The Ghaznavi, Ghauri, Babur, Abdali and Taimur missiles.
The Karnataka twist
Khan also can’t be unaware of the controversy that Tipu periodically kicks up in Karnataka. To woo Muslims, the earlier state government of Congress leader Siddaramaiah celebrated Tipu’s birthday for three years since 2015. With no consensus among historians on whether the 18th Century warrior was a benevolent king, or whether he converted Hindus to Islam, or killed them, the Congress opened a communal Pandora’s box. The new coalition government of the Congress and Janata Dal (Secular) also commemorated Tipu Jayanti in 2018 but scaled the celebrations down.
With the Prime Minister of Pakistan turning into an ardent fan of Tipu, the annual bash in Karnataka in November is unlikely to be the same again. While the BJP may not be able to resist the temptation of accusing state Congress leaders of conspiring with Khan, any attempt by Pakistan’s politicians to join Karnataka’s annual war may only make it more vicious.
Jinnah wanted free borders
Khan also swears by Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah in the same routine fashion that Indian politicians parrot the name of Mahatma Gandhi. But it’s evidently Tipu that’s Khan’s real superman, though emulating his “bravery” in the 20th Century can only bring grief to Pakistan, even if it’s to defend his country against the imagined “adventurism” of Narendra Modi. On the other hand, it makes better sense for Khan to actually put in practice some of Jinnah’s apparently noble thoughts.
After fighting hard to create Pakistan for Muslims, Jinnah wanted the new country to be a secular one with cozy relations with India, according to former Pakistani diplomat Husain Haqqani. In his 2016 book India Vs Pakistan: Why Can’t We Just Be Friends?, Haqqani wrote that Jinnah wanted Pakistan and India to be like the US and Canada with — in the words of the first American ambassador to Pakistan— “largely unguarded borders, shared defence, free trade and freedom of movement through several crossing points”.
Haqqani said: “That Jinnah did not envisage Pakistan’s permanent enmity with India is borne out also by his wish to return to his Mumbai home after retirement as the Governor-General of Pakistan.”
If Khan wants peace, as he claims he does, he must listen to Jinnah.
He also must remember that it was Tipu’s own army general Mir Sadiq who partly did him in. If the Prime Minister of Pakistan insists on idolising Tipu, he must watch out for Mir Sadiqs in his country’s army.