As the dusk looms over the River Cauvery here at Srirangapatna, one finds difficult to visualize the event of 1799 at the same spot that changed the course of history of modern India. I hate war stories, but this event I think one must know about history’s most tragic episode, but unfortunately has been sparking controversy in recent years, thanks to misleading by some vested interest groups.
5th April 1799, the peak of summer – the river was at its lowest level and could be easily crossed by the British Infantry united with the troop of Nizam of Hyderabad. The leader of the British troop was Major General David Baird, a hard-hearted enemy of Tipu Sultan. Twenty years earlier Baird had been kept captive for 44 months by Tipu. Now the time had come for the revenge.
As the infantry crossed the river, the first barrier was the defense that surrounded Tipu’s capital. It was necessary to open a breach in the fortification wall that ran parallel to the river. The eyewitness account by Beatson notes: ‘in the west curtain, a little to the right of the flank of the northwest bastion. This being the old rampart weaker than the new.’
As the dawn broke on 2nd May, the batteries of the Nizam of Hyderabad first succeeded in opening a practical breach in the outer wall. There was a bonus too as the mines that were laid under the breach were hit by artillery and blew up prematurely.
Once inside the fort, the British-Nizam troop had to wait till 1 PM, the hottest part of the day as it was the time for the refreshment of Tipu’s force.
The storming party first dashed across the river with covering fire from British batteries, and within 16 minutes had pulled down the ramparts and swept the Tipu’s troop quickly.
The siege ended with the tragic death of Tipu.
Being at the site with a friend none other than a descendent of Tipu, Syed Mansoor Ali Sahebzada your hairs are bound to raise. And if you are a patriot, you start arguing – Tipu was far from today’s petty politics and was undoubtedly India’s first freedom fighter to defend Mother India from the exploitation of the Company Raj. However, unfortunately these days you see the headlines on dividing politics between two major parties of Karnataka on Tipu as his fault was being a Muslim.