Tipu Sultan a visionary

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Tipu Sultan was a visionary. He has not yet been recognized as a reformer. November 01 is a birthday anniversary of Tipu Sultan, the Lion of Mysore.

Tipu Sultan, an illustrious son of India, was one of the most creative personalities in the history of South Asia. He remained one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated rulers among the scions of the royal household of India. The Asian people's infatuation with hero-worship – with the parochial definition of heroism limited to military feats – has shrouded many of the great deeds that men and women did throughout the Asian History.

Tipu Sultan was the ruler of Mysore, a state in the South of Indian Sub-continent in the late 18th century. It was the time when the British and other colonial powers were vying with each other to gain a foothold in India and the throne at Delhi had become so weak that emperors were little more than titular heads. It fell upon independent principalities and duchies, such as Mysore, to fight the invaders. Tipu Sultan too tried to uproot the British and in the event fell victim to treachery of his own comrades and got martyred. He is thus remembered as one of the greatest legends in our history for his abortive military exploits. Little attention is paid to the fact that he was a secular progressive enlightened forward-looking leader, whose life could have given India more than his ill-timed and ill-fated death, that he was invited by a certain lack of military discretion and a substantial overdose of patriotic emotionalism.

He remained one of the most misunderstood and under-appreciated rulers among the scions of the royal household of India.

This paper aims at exploring his creative vision which aimed at bringing about a social change in the condition of the people, in the improvement of the economic life of the masses, and in the enhancement of the prestige and prosperity of his state. More significant than Tipu's patriotic zeal was his reforming zeal that touched almost every department of life, including coinage and calendar, weights and measures, banking and finance, trade and com merce, agriculture and industry, morals and manners and social and cultural life. Had he not engaged in the wars, he would surely have ushered his State in a revolutionary stage.

Tipu Sultan built up an exceedingly efficient system of administration and was almost the first Indian ruler to apply western techniques in the heart of government. His innovative measures and dynamic policies led to a series of innovative measures that would transform his State into a humming center of great industrial activity, making Mysore gain almost international recognition in his times. All this would never have been possible had he not been progressive and secular in his character.

Despite the hectic political and military involvements, Tipu never ignored the main task of improving the life and condition of his people. To remove the economic disparities in his State, he undertook various measures. He devised a plan of state capitalism. His commercial regulations envisaged a scheme of banking organization in which small investors received higher benefits. It was an experiment of a new type of cooperative Bank, which encouraged small savings, on the pattern of Grameen Bank of today's Bangladesh. To strengthen this banking system he launched the state control of trade, commerce and industries.

Mysore was rich in commercial crops such as silk, sandalwood, pepper, cardamom, coconut, elephants, ivory and so on, which were greatly in demand in the Western market. Tipu was keen that the trade of these commodities should not fall into foreign hands. Therefore, the state itself became the greatest exporter and importer of goods, which were sent out and brought in by a state-owned fleet of merchant ships. The hold of private bankers, money-lenders and middle-men was drastically reduced. Not only trade and commerce, but also arts and crafts attracted his attention for state control. He exerted his utmost to secure artisans and craftsmen from different countries to manufacture guns, muskets and a host of other commodities.

More significant than Tipu's patriotic zeal was his reforming zeal that touched almost every department of life.

A large number of workshops were set up which manufactured guns, muskets, glass, cannon, paper, cutlery, cloth, sugar, and a host of other articles. It was his dream to keep Mysore in the vanguard of ship-building industry. He built a navy both for commerce and war. In 1793, he ordered 100 ships to be built, all with the indigenous material.

He paid attention to the manufacture of arms and ammunition. A factory at Srirangapatna used to convert iron into steel, besides manufacturing armaments. He named his iron-works as Taramandals, which were four in number, at Sriranga-patna, Bangalore, Chitradurga and Bidnur. A machine was devised which bored into cannons with the power generated by a stream of water. Haider and Tipu's names figure prominently as the originators of rockets. He was the one who developed the technology of rocket systems first time on Indian soil.

His great interest in agriculture could be known by the fact that he thought of constructing a dam across the river Cauvery, exactly on the same spot where the present Krishna Raja Sagara (K.R.S) Dam stands today. The details of which still exist in an inscription engraved on the gates of the present Dam. Likewise, in the midst of war against the Marathas and the Nizam, Tipu Sultan issued instructions to take care of the silk worms which were being brought from Bengal. He was so fond of horticulture and gardening that all his correspondence with foreign dignitaries would invariably carry a request for new varieties of seeds and plants. H e changed the land tenure, which entitled the cultivators to own the land. He gave waste land free of rent for cultivation. He put an end to the farming of the land to the highest bidder, and appointment revenue officers for collecting revenue. He abolished the grant of jagirs. He introduced "takavi"* loans which helped the peasants in lean seasons. The existing forced labour was done away with. To discourage needless litigation, he encouraged the villagers to settle the disputes among themselves. His love of plants was so great that he hit upon a novel idea of dispensing justice. For various offences committed by the people, he fixed proportionate punishment, neither of imposing fines nor of putting behind bars, but of making them plant trees, water them, and bring them up to a particular height.

His social reforms included the prohibition of use and sale of liquor. He put an end to the purchase and sale of abandoned girls and children. He discouraged use of tobacco. He checked lavish expenditure on the celebrations of weddings and brought other social reforms.

Tipu Sultan was so fond of educational development that he thought of setting up a university at Srirangapatna and even named it as Jami-al-Umur. He started the first newspaper, Fauji Akhbar. He was himself an author and was fluent not only in Urdu, Persian and Arabic but also other languages like Kannada, Marathi, English and French. More than 45 books were written during his times. His library consisted of 2000 manuscripts, one of them being the hand-written copy of Koran by no other than the last great Mogul emperor Aurangazeb.

Despite the hectic political and military involvement, Tipu never ignored the main task of improving the life and conditions of his people. His improvement of agriculture and industry, his promotion of trade, commerce and industry, his novel system of the administration of justice, his building up of a navy and artillery rockets, his opening of factories far and near, and his dispatch of embassies to different and distant lands from the Ottoman Caliph in Istanbul to the French Emperor Napoleon, speak of his genius.

If the circumstances had been more propitious, the reforms introduced by Tipu Sultan might have benefited India enormously.
He was probably born at the wrong place and at the wrong time. If the circumstances had been more propitious, the reforms introduced by Tipu Sultan might have benefited India enormously. True, England had not become a colony of India, instead the other way round was the case. If there had been no colonial era, at least, Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent might have been one of the contenders for the inception of the industrial revolution – that has changed the world in the past couple of centuries.

Saad S. Khan is a DMG officer. He is also a Cambridge-educated and Oxford-published person. He has more than 1,000 published articles to his credit.

His books include Reasserting International Islam (Oxford: 2000) and Friends indeed (NIHCR: 2004). He is a contributing author to Oxford Encyclopedia of Contemporary Islamic World (2008) and Oxford Bibliography Online (OBO: 2010). His forthcoming books include Maryam (Ruttie) Jinnah: Life of an unsung Hero and another volume on the history of Civil Service of Pakistan entitled With Grace We Serve. He has also traveled extensively and lectured widely in USA, UK, Belgium, Germany, Japan, Sri Lankan, and India. He is also invited for lecturing at many forums in Pakistan.

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