BENGALURU — President Ram Nath Kovind Oct. 25 heaped praise on former Mysore ruler Tipu Sultan, saying he died a "historic death" fighting the British, sparking a fresh war of words between the ruling Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party in Karnataka.
The BJP alleged the speech had been "scripted" by the Congress, but Karnataka Chief Minister Siddaramaiah said that the president's speech had not been prepared by the state government.
President Kovind's praise for the former Mysore ruler came days after Union Minister Anantkumar Hegde, a BJP leader, called Tipu a "brutal killer, wretched fanatic and mass rapist," ahead of the state's Tipu Jayanti celebrations to mark his birth anniversary Nov. 10.
The BJP has been opposing the celebrations, calling Tipu "anti-Hindu and anti-Kannada."
In his speech, the president referred to Tipu Sultan as a "pioneer" in the development of Mysore rockets – iron-cast rockets for military use – and said that he died a "historic death" fighting the British, leaving BJP leaders fuming.
Recalling the contributions of Karnataka's former rulers, politicians and scientists in the growth of the state and India as a whole, the president spoke of Tipu Sultan, leading to loud applause from a majority of the legislators.
"The speech was a deliberate attempt by the Congress to make the president praise Tipu Sultan," senior BJP leader and former Deputy Chief Minister K.S. Eshwarappa said after the joint session of the state legislature marking the diamond jubilee of Vidhana Soudha.
But Siddaramaiah insisted that Kovind's speech was the "president's own."
"We have not prepared the president's speech. We have not even sent any note to the Rashtrapati Bhavan," the chief minister said in a statement.
"Some leaders are unnecessarily creating a controversy out of the issue. It is very unfortunate and condemnable," he said.
Attacking BJP state president and former Chief Minister B.S. Yeddyurappa, Siddaramaiah questioned why the leader had participated in the Tipu Jayanti celebrations earlier.
"When Yeddyurappa was a part of Karnataka Janata Paksha, he took part in a function dressed as Tipu. Jagadish Shettar had written a preface to a book on Tipu calling him a 'patriot.' Why are they against Tipu now?" he asked.
Karnataka working president of the Congress Dinesh Gundu Rao said the BJP was only "insulting" the president by criticizing his speech.
"They are only insulting our country's president," Rao told media here.
The state’s Janata Dal-Secular leaders meanwhile expressed disappointment over the president's speech, which failed to mention former Prime Minister and JD-S leader H.D. Deve Gowda when honoring Karnataka’s former chief ministers.
Following the president's speech, state JD-S chief H.D. Kumaraswamy was seen boycotting the photo session of the legislators with the president.
The chief minister stated that it could have been "unintentional" that Gowda was not mentioned.
The ruling Congress began celebrating Tipu's birth anniversary in 2015, which led to violent protests by right-wing organizations in the Mysore region and other parts of the state.
Known as the 'Tiger of Mysore,' Tipu Sultan ruled the Mysore kingdom from 1782-1799 succeeding his father Haider Ali.