With the nation burning on the topic of growing intolerance; the recent death threat to eminent actor / filmmaker and noted Jnanpith awardee Girish Karnad for his earnest admiration of Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan has yet again proved that the nation is surely growing intolerant! It has also raised questions on the ‘Freedom of Speech and Expressions’ of an individual being suffocated in a democratic country like India.
What is interesting is that before singing glory of ‘Tiger of Mysore’, Tipu Sultan, Girish Karnad was sure that his remark would spark a row. Hence addressing at the Karnataka government’s organised function to mark the birth anniversary of Tipu Sultan, Girish Karnad said, "I'm aware what I'm saying now will be debated.”
Comparing Tipu Sultan with other legendary rulers and freedom fighters of India, Karnad in his bold speech said, “Tipu Sultan’s contribution to Karnataka is as immense as what was Shivaji Maharaj’s contribution to Maharashtra, Raja Ram Mohan Roy’s to Bengal, or Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Uttar Pradesh. Likewise Tipu Sultan was to Karnataka.”
Peeved at history being distorted he added, “I feel that if Tipu Sultan was a Hindu and not Muslim he would have attained the position in Karnataka that Shivaji Maharaj enjoys in Maharashtra and just as the Mumbai airport is named after Shivaji Maharaj, then Bengaluru International Airport at Devanahalli would have been named after Tipu Sultan instead of Kempegowda as the latter was not a freedom fighter.”
As expected his speech did go down well with BJP, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) and other right wing Hindu groups.
Two days after the ugly controversy Girish Karnad, in an interview to a national magazine, lamented that Freedom of Expression is being suffocated today.
He mourned, “Every writer must have a right to express himself, that's all. I have not done any physical harm to anyone. A person, who likes or dislikes Tipu, has the right to celebrate him or attack him, as they like.”
Besides death threats to Girish Karnad, the Tipu Sultan Jayanti also witnessed violence in several parts of Karnataka against the celebrations. In Madikeri, two people also died in violent clashes.
I hope Mr. Arun Jaitley and his like in the BJP would now at least not asset - "Where is intolerance? And make comments like “This country has never been and will never be intolerant."