I am almost done reading a well researched book on Tipu. It is by Prof HD Sharma - the original being in English. I read a Kannada translation - which was good but the translation of the letters written by Tipu are difficult to read. There is a translation touch to it - you can feel that it is a translation. The author has done some extensive research and has a good reference list at the end of the book. He has referred to the India Office archives in London where most of Tipu's correspondence and effects lie.
The book is not big at all. It is close to 200 pages. A simple gist of the book is as follows.
Tipu was a bigot on the same level as Mahmud Ghazni, Aurangzeb, Mohammed bin Tughlaq and Alla-ud-din Khilji. So, if we already know what the others have done, Tipu has matching deeds.
According to the book, Haider Ali, Tipu's father surprisingly comes out as a good leader and a king, in spite of some of his bad deeds. I was surprised as a lot of people from Chitradurga (where Haider Ali defeated Madakarinayaka, the local chieftain) loath Haider while being indifferent about Tipu.
Tipu's political life is in two phases one from 1767-1792 and the second one from 1792-1799. The phase break came because of Tipu's defeat in the Third Mysore war after which he became neurotic.
In the first phase of his life/rule, Tipu comes across as a ruthless, tyrannical despot with a level of bigotry that would make even Osama bin Laden look to Tipu with awe. Haider Ali for all his faults had a few merits. He hired the local Hindu people to look after his army and administration. Diwan Purnaiah was the most important of the lot. Haider was clever enough to recognize talent and use it and not be clouded by affiliation to religion. He kept religion and politics separate and in that aspect he was truly a secular ruler.
There are claims to Tipu's having many Hindu officials. They were the ones who remained after Haider's death and Tipu's ascent to the 'throne'. Tipu actually removed several Hindu officials and replaced them with Muslim ones, even though they were illiterate.
Tipu perpetrated horrors in the Malabar region and in the state of Travancore where he forcibly converted thousands of Hindus and Christians to Islam. The rest were killed. In fact, a note written by Tipu orders one of his commanders to kill 5000 people to instill fear in the people. It is estimated that Tipu destroyed at least 8000 Hindu temples. He was a very religious Muslim and read from the Quran every day and followed its edicts quite literally.
Haider Ali had at least bothered to put on the mask of a regent while pretending to serve the Wodeyar King of Mysore. With Tipu, even the mask was lost. Tipu imprisoned the Royal Family of Mysore and ill treated them. He even took a few Hindu women associated with his administrative officials and other royal families forcibly into his harem. In fact, he had Diwan Purnaiah's niece in his harem. This is to show the 'good' feeling Tipu had for his ministers.
He had a lot of people killed in Srirangapatna and Melkote also because they seemed to support the Wodeyar family. It is believed that he had the supporters of the royal family hanged (at least 800 families including women and children) from the trees in a tamarind grove close to the Sri Ranganatha temple. To give an idea of the horrible punishments Tipu meted out, he had a commander very close to Haider Ali, Krishna Rao, killed by dropping him alive in a pan of boiling oil. Tipu then took the wife of Krishna Rao forcibly into his harem. To compound it, the execution of Krishna Rao was based on flimsy reasons. The royal family of Travancore was subjected to similar ignominies when the bodies of the royal family members were subject to humiliating treatments.
However, there are records to show his devotion towards Hindu Temples. This happened because of the change in mind after his defeats to the British - which was more out of fear than any wisdom. He consulted astrologers and sought their advice more readily than from his maulvis and imams. Even then, Tipu did not stop to solicit help from several Muslim rulers around the world. These messages had a common refrain - "Let's make India a Muslim country and let's kill the "atheists"". Atheists referred to non-Muslims and Muslims like the Nizam of Hyderabad. In fact, the inscription on his famous sword expresses similar emotions.
There were a few positive qualities of Tipu also. 5'8" in height (not a positive quality, just mentioned it), he was a simple dresser and loved his wives and children a lot. He was a brave warrior and very energetic and enthusiastic. He actually banned the sale of intoxicants in his kingdom. He was well trained in Persian, Arabic, Urdu, Kannada and the other local languages and loved to engage in letter writing very frequently. He even kept a journal of his dreams. He was supposed to be an excellent horse rider. He respected his mother a lot and made at least a show of listening to her.
Towards his end, we see Tipu becoming a nervous wreck requesting for many pujas and yajnas to be performed to ward off evil. He continued to write letters to France, Egypt, Turkey and Afghanistan requesting for help - but none arrived. He died on May 4 1799 when he was trying to retreat to his palace from the Srirangapatna fort. He did not die fighting as expressed by many historians. He was buried next to his father and mother. The British, the Marathas and the Nizam of Hyderabad proved to be real enemies to Tipu.
To sum up, Tipu was not a freedom fighter and neither was he secular because he did not have such ideas at all. He was quite a selfish ruler who could stoop down to any level if permitted by the political conditions. He was a bigot heavily influenced by Islamic theological training at a young age (In fact, Haider Ali deplored this teaching). Also, Tipu was never trained in any religion other than Islam contrary to what is reported in TV serials and popular books. His tyrannical rule adversely affected tens of thousands of families in Kerala and the Malabar region and even in his own kingdom. His death gave a lot of relief to families across South India. That probably is the reason why the British were welcomed in Karnataka.
One of these days, I will go to Srirangapatna and spend the entire day there looking at the different places associated with Tipu's life.