Bengaluru: President Ramnath Kovind was dragged into a simmering political row in Karnataka today as he praised 18th century ruler Tipu Sultan while addressing a joint session to mark the 60th anniversary of the state legislature Vidhana Soudha. At a time the BJP has been protesting against the glorification of someone it deems an "anti-Hindu tyrant", the President described him as a hero.
"Tipu Sultan died a historic death fighting the British," the President said to loud desk-thumping in the assembly by members of the ruling Congress.
"He was also a pioneer in the development and use of Mysore rockets in warfare. This technology was later adopted by the Europeans," said Mr Kovind, who took over as President in July with the support of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance. Chief Minister Siddaramaiah called the speech "statesman-like".
The BJP alleges that President Kovind's speech was scripted by the Congress, which started the state's annual Tipu Sultan birth anniversary celebrations in 2015.
"They have misused the President's office," BJP legislator Arvind Limbavali told NDTV.
"They have invited him and they have prepared the speech also. This is an election year. They want to make it big event and they have taken the opportunity of the President's visit also and they have made the mention of Tipu Sultan in his speech, through the President," he charged.
Denying it, the Chief Minister's office said the President press secretary wrote his speech, with inputs from the "organisers" - in this case, legislators.
A polarizing figure in history, Tipu Sultan was recently described as a "brutal killer, wretched fanatic and mass rapist" by union minister Anantkumar Hegde of the BJP, who asked for his name to be dropped from state government invites to this year's Tipu Sultan event.
Many historians see Tipu Sultan, also known as the "Tiger of Mysore", as the first freedom fighter to take on the British and a sterling administrator.
But he is not that widely admired in Kodagu district, where he is accused of persecuting the local Kodava population, as also the Roman Catholics of Mangaluru, and forcing conversions to Islam.
Two years ago, when the state government decided to celebrate Tipu Sultan's birth anniversary, there were violent protests in which two people died.
Dinesh Gundu Rao of the Congress said: "(The President) mentioned Basaveshwara, he mentioned great rulers like Krishna Devaraiah, Rani Kittur Rani Chennamma. In that context he mentioned Tipu Sultan. It puts it into the right perspective of what is Tipu Sultan. He is not just a historic figure but a legendary figure."
The Congress leader went on: "Kings in those days would have had different situations where they had to take different steps...things we may not today consider to be right, but his contribution to the state and his heroic fight against the British, his contribution in sericulture, in science..."