President Ramnath Kovind on Wednesday praised Tipu Sultan for sacrificing his life in the fight against British invaders, placing himself at the centre of an ongoing controversy over the 18th century ruler’s legacy.

Special Correspondent

Speaking at a joint session of the legislature during the Vidhana Soudha’s diamond jubilee celebrations in Bengaluru, Kovind said: “Tipu Sultan died a heroic death fighting the British. He was also a pioneer in the development and use of Mysore rockets in warfare. This technology was later adopted by Europeans.”

The controversy was reignited last week, when Union minister of state for skill development and entrepreneurship Anantkumar Hegde and BJP MP Shobha Karandlaje requested that the state government desist from sending them invites to the birth anniversary celebrations of Tipu Sultan on November 10. Hegde even referred to the Muslim ruler as a “brutal killer, wretched fanatic and mass rapist”.

Reacting to the President’s statement, Union minister for statistics and programme implementation DV Sadananda Gowda called for a halt to the birth anniversary celebrations pending a public debate on the matter.

“We don’t dispute (the fact that Kovind spoke about the sultan on the basis of historical events), and we respect that. But, at the same time, there are other issues (raised by historians, writers and politicians) that need to be debated in public,” he said.

BJP leader R Ashoka blamed the ruling Congress government for Kovind referencing Tipu Sultan in his address. “The state government gave the speech to the President,” he said.

Chief minister Siddaramaiah denied the allegation, maintaining that Kovind had spoken of his own accord. “Neither did we prepare the speech, nor did the President ask us for suggestions,” he said.

Siddaramaiah also questioned the rationale behind state BJP chief BS Yeddyurappa’s opposition to Tipu Jayanti when he had actively participated in a similar event in 2013. Recalling how the former chief minister had dressed up as Tipu Sultan and held a sword aloft on that occasion, he said : “Yeddyurappa also swore on Allah that he would not go back to the BJP.”

Congress leader Dinesh Gundu Rao welcomed Kovind’s comments, stating that it has lent an air of respectability to the debate. “Tipu as a truly international figure from Karnataka. The BJP should now end the issue and join us in the celebration of Tipu Jayanti,” he said.

The President’s office, however, refused to comment on the matter.