What makes Vinayak Damodar Savarkar brave

India

Dr. Maria Framke

Dr. Maria Framke is a historian. She wrote her doctorate on the subject of "Perceptions and appropriations of fascism and National Socialism in India between 1922 and 1939". She has been doing research as a post-doctoral student at ETH Zurich since 2013.

Ignorance and transfiguration shape the image of National Socialism in India

The confrontation with National Socialism in India began as early as the 1930s. It was characterized by a selective perception of the regime and an insufficient examination of ideology. Little has changed in this to this day, because the Holocaust of European Jews, for example, hardly plays a role in the assessment of the National Socialists. Even more: Many Indians see in Hitler a personality with largely positive characteristics, which sometimes produces strange blossoms.

Street vendor in Chennai, South India (& copy Stefan Mentschel)

Many travelers to India, especially those coming from Germany, are confronted with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime during their stay. This happens, among other things, through the public sale of "Mein Kampf" and the omnipresent swastika (swastika) - an auspicious symbol in India with a very old tradition that went far ahead of National Socialism. In conversations it can also happen that reference is made to the "Aryan" friendship or even kinship between Indians and Germans or that Hitler is praised as the innovator of a strong Germany - be it out of ignorance or ignorance of history. Both lines of argument are by no means new, but already existed in Indian disputes with the Hitler regime in the 1930s.

Little criticism of the ideology of the National Socialists

The Indian subcontinent was still under British colonial rule in the interwar period. Although the Indian national movement, which alongside the moderate Indian National Congress (Indian National Congress, INC) also included more radical groups such as the Hindu nationalists, focused primarily on domestic political goals and the achievement of independence from Great Britain, the view of the rest of the world did not remain closed. Indian politicians from all camps, intellectuals and the nationalist press observed and commented on developments and political programs in various countries. The focus was always on the question of how far they could promote decolonization processes and what visions they had for an Indian Nation in the Making (analogously: nation under construction) had to offer.

In the case of Nazi Germany under Hitler's leadership, there was interest in economic, social, foreign and educational policy, the youth movement, but also in racism and anti-Semitism. In addition, phenomena were discussed that corresponded more to the global zeitgeist and were not only characteristic of National Socialism - including the question of uniformity, obedience to a leader and the alleged ideal of a strong, healthy body.

Dealing with these topics in India ranged from positive presentations and advice on accepting certain aspects to criticism and rejection, as well as real interactions and participation in concrete knowledge transfers between the two countries. In most cases, however, there was no detailed discussion of the ideology of National Socialism and, if at all, was carried out by people or in such media who were predominantly critical of the situation.

Examples of such extensive occupation were Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of post-colonial India, and the magazine Congress Socialistpublished by the socialist wing of the national movement. The lack of engagement with the underlying ideology of National Socialism often meant that the Indian discussions were characterized by eclecticism and mostly concentrated on only a few aspects.

Selective perception of the Nazi regime

Before the outbreak of World War II, Indian politicians and intellectuals criticized Hitler's foreign policy, particularly in connection with the invasion of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Germany's aggressive behavior was rejected as territorial expansionism. There were only a few Indians, such as the president of the Hindu nationalists Hindu Mahasabha, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, or Subhas Chandra Bose, one of the important leaders of the INC, who saw Germany as a strategically useful partner.

Bose worked with the Axis powers during World War II, hoping to free India from British colonial rule in this way. Ultimately, however, Bose did not get the full support he wanted from Hitler. In addition, even after the outbreak of World War II, Hitler hoped for an understanding with Great Britain; a country that remained a role model and ideal ally for him.

With regard to economic policy (especially in the area of ​​economic planning and unemployment policy), however, Hitler's Germany was assessed much more positively and was perceived as a reference model by various Indian intellectuals and politicians. In their opinion, it represented a possible alternative to the British model of parliamentary democracy and liberal economic order, which were rejected due to their own colonial experiences.

In addition, Germany appeared to some Indians as a "fellow sufferer" whose relations with Great Britain, as in the Indian case, were not based on an equal status. While its own problems were seen as the result of British colonial rule, it was believed that Germany would have suffered badly from the outcome of the First World War and the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler was accordingly perceived on various occasions as a renewer of the country and as a "liberator" from British arbitrariness. In addition, National Socialism was seen as a modern movement and thus Hitler's Germany was seen as a model that could help to overcome India's "backwardness"

"Asian jugglers": Racism against Indians

National Socialist racial theory and racial politics were also of great interest in India. Above all, Hindu nationalists such as Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar was impressed by the racial discrimination policy of the National Socialists and ascribed the category "race" a relevance in the constitution of the Hindu nation. However, in contrast to the National Socialists, the Hindu nationalists did not fall back on biological racial theories and rejected the idea of ​​“keeping the race clean”.

The Indian public also discussed the status of India and the Indians in the racial ideas of the National Socialists and how the Hitler regime dealt with Indians living in Germany. Among the National Socialists (e.g. Nazi ideologist Alfred Rosenberg) there were definitely people who recognized the historical achievements of Indian civilization, who spoke out in favor of cooperation with the oppressed peoples of the world and who worked towards cultural and economic cooperation between the two countries. The general tenor of the regime, however, remained characterized by racism.

Hitler himself had denigrated the Indian nationalists in "Mein Kampf" as "Asian jugglers" and declared in a speech to German students in 1936 that the English had first taught the Indians to walk. These and similar disparaging remarks, which were made again and again by high-ranking politicians and in the German press, were rejected in India. The Indian criticism was directed primarily against the low position that the Indians occupied within the National Socialist racial hierarchy, but not against the idea of ​​a racist hierarchy in general.

"The Holocaust is seldom associated with Hitler in India"

German anti-Semitism and the beginnings of the persecution of the Jews before the outbreak of the Second World War did not go unnoticed in India and drew critical reports, especially after the Reichspogromnacht in November 1938. However, these fell silent during the Second World War and after 1945 there was no comprehensive study of the Holocaust in India. To this day, the topic has not played a major role and is rarely associated with Hitler. Why this is so has not yet been thoroughly investigated.

After 1945 in the final phase of British rule and during the division of the subcontinent, India sank into massive communal violence with murders, rape and expulsions. A trauma that had a lasting effect and is also often referred to as the "Holocaust" in India. In addition, in India, in which there is only a very small Jewish community, violent conflicts between members of different religions or castes occur again and again, but anti-Semitism hardly played or plays a role in this.

Hitler's "Mein Kampf" - box office hit with a huge circulation

Over the past ten years there have been repeated reports of Indian enthusiasm for Hitler. This can be seen in the sale of T-shirts with Hitler's likeness, Hitler souvenirs and, above all, in the steadily increasing sales of "Mein Kampf". The Indian publisher Jaico published the book in English for the first time in 1988 and published the 55th edition in 2010. According to the publisher, around 100,000 copies of "Mein Kampf" were sold between 2003 and 2010. This makes the book a bestseller for Jaico. But other Indian publishers also publish it - in English, but also in various regional languages. In addition, there are innumerable pirated copies on the market.

Bookstore in New Delhi: Hitler's "Mein Kampf" is next to the collected works of the Indian Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore and the Prague-born Jewish writer Franz Kafka (& copy Stefan Mentschel)
Although these numbers can seem shocking at first glance, especially in Germany, it is important not to lose sight of the comparative perspective. In India, "Mein Kampf" is sold in public in bookstores or street vendors. This may give the impression that there is particularly great sympathy for Hitler in the country. In North America and other European countries, however, the book can just as easily be purchased via the Internet or downloaded from online databases. Sales figures suggest a similar picture here as in India.

Who exactly makes up the Indian readership of "Mein Kampf" and why the book is acquired has not yet been scientifically investigated. However, in surveys, buyers give very different reasons for reading the book. In addition to the (critical) interest in history, ideological sympathies for the Nazi regime and the alleged role model function of certain aspects of National Socialism for today's Indian youth are mentioned. In addition, there are supporters of anti-imperialist nationalism who feel connected to the Nazi regime in the sense of "The enemy of my enemy is my friend", since Hitler's Germany fought against the former colonial power Great Britain in World War II.

Surveys at Indian universities and schools also showed that Hitler is seen as a role model for some of the young people. In 2002 about the newspaper polled The Times of India plus students from several elite colleges, including such renowned institutions as St. Stephen's and Lady Shri Ram in Delhi, St Xavier's in Mumbai and the Presidency in Kolkata. The result: 17 percent named Hitler as the right leader for India. He received more votes than Abraham Lincoln or Nelson Mandela. The young people attributed attributes such as patriotism, strength, assertiveness and discipline to Hitler. It was also declared that Hitler had "made Germany great again" after the First World War, "brought it forward economically" and returned "their pride" to the Germans.

Tactless naming: Hitler restaurant and Hitler shop

These positively connoted properties have in some cases produced strange blossoms in recent years. The Indian broadcaster ZEE TV produced a soap opera with the title Hitler Didi. The makers want the name to be understood as a synonym for a particularly strict older sister (Didi). There was hardly any public debate about the naming of the series, which now has more than 450 episodes. It was different than a restaurant with the same name in Mumbai in 2006 Hitler's Cross (Hitler's Cross) was opened. In addition to the swastika symbol, there was also a portrait of the Nazi leader in the entrance area. Violent protests by the approximately 1,000 members of the Mumbai Jewish community and the Israeli Consulate General finally led to the name being changed.

Six years later there was a similar case in the city of Ahmedabad in the western Indian state of Gujarat. There was a men's clothing store there Hitler been baptized. The dictator's name was emblazoned above the entrance, the I point was depicted as a swastika. The two owners were clueless in media reports: "According to our lawyer, we have not broken any Indian law," said one of the two. He also asserted that he and his partner had named the shop after an uncle who had been called "Hitler" because of his severity. They were not aware of the historical significance. The Israeli consulate general, however, spoke of a "tactless" naming. The Jewish community demanded a change. There were also massive protests against the company name on the Internet. Finally, the owners bowed to public pressure and looked for a harmless name for their business.

The examples show that admiration for Hitler and National Socialism in India today - as in the interwar period - is often completely unreflective and selective. It hides the persecution of those who think differently as well as the racism and anti-Semitism of the German regime. The Holocaust against European Jews hardly plays a role either. Nowadays, this eclectic perception and sympathy is based, so it is assumed, above all on the lack of knowledge about the exact background, the concrete details and the larger context of the history of National Socialism.