Karnad had made the controversial statement on Tuesday during the state government-sponsored Tipu Jayanti celebrations. There have been protests in several parts of Karnataka against the celebrations, some of which turned violent. In Madikeri, a VHP sympathiser died during a clash on Tuesday. A 26-year-old man who sustained a bullet wound on his head during police firing succumbed on Wednesday.
Following the controversy, the Jnanpith award winner issued a public apology: “If anybody has been hurt by my remarks, I apologize…. What will I gain by giving such comments?”
Speaking about the threat to Karnad, a senior police officer said, “A tweet was posted by someone with the user name Intolerant Chandra…. We are aware of the tweet and action will be taken if necessary and if a complaint is lodged.”
The tweet, later deleted by the user, read: “Girish Karnad will meet the same end like kalburgi if he enrages kannadigas by replacing in Kempe gouda (sic) with Tipu Sultan.”
Mysuru-Kodagu MP Prathap Simha has also received a threat on Facebook warning him of “dire consequences” if he continues to speak against Muslims.
About the complaint against Karnad, police said MT Girish Gowda, state president of Human Rights and Non- Corruption Committee, an NGO, has demanded the immediate arrest of the litterateur. In his one-page complaint made to Vidhana Soudha police, Girish quoted Karnad’s statement: “Kempegowda was never a freedom fighter. Still, the Bengaluru International airport has been named against him. Instead, it should have been named against Tipu Sultan.”
Girish told TOI that he would stage a protest against police if speedy action is not taken. DCP (Central) Sandeep Patil said they need time before commencing a probe. “We have accepted the written statement but have not registered any FIR. We have sought the legal cell’s opinion.”
As the controversy raged, chief minister Siddaramaiah, who was on the dais with Karnad when he made the controversial remark, said the government has no intention to rename Bengaluru airport. “It is his (Karnad) personal remarks. The government does not endorse it. I wanted to counter but I did not do. It was a mistake,” the CM said on Wednesday.
Siddaramaiah, however, defended his government’s decision to celebrate Tipu Sultan’s birth anniversary on Tuesday saying he was a freedom fighter and secular ruler. The move had evoked protests from right-wing activists and the BJP boycotted the function held in Vidhana Soudha in Bengaluru, where Girish Karnad, a host of historians and intellectuals participated. According to the CM, the opposition BJP and Hindu organisations have made allegations against Tipu to gain political mileage and polarize voters.
Siddaramaiah said: “We should not look at a person through his religion or caste perspective, but keeping in mind the good work done by him for the people. That is what we have done today by celebrating Tipu Jayanti.”
Speaking at the celebrations, Karnad said Tipu cannot be confined to being a political figure as he belonged to the theatre and literary world as well. “What Raja Ram Mohan Roy is to Bengal, BR Ambedkar to Maharashtra and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Uttar Pradesh, Tipu is to Karnataka. The international airport in Bengaluru should be named after Tipu as Kempegowda was no doubt the founder of Bengaluru, but was not a freedom fighter,” he said.
Karnad said naming the airport after Tipu would be more appropriate as Devanahalli was his birth place. “I’m aware what I’m saying now will be debated. Kolkata airport is named after Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Mumbai airport after Shivaji Maharaj, but in Karnataka we have named it after Kempegowda,” Karnad said adding that “if Tipu had been a Hindu and not Muslim, he would have attained the position in Karnataka that Shivaji Maharaj enjoys in Maharashtra.”
Karnad’s remark instantly sparked a protest from opposition BJP, the JD(S) and leaders from the Vokkaliga community. State JD(S) president H D Kumaraswamy said: “Does he (Karnad) know history? I wonder how he got Jnanpith award. Bengaluru’s founder Kempegowda ruled the city in the 16th century much before Britishers entered India. How can he become a freedom fighter or be compared to other freedom fighters?’