GERMANY has a stated commitment to live down its Nazi past and stand firm against fascism anywhere in the world. That is why there have been protests when the German Ambassador to India, Walter Lindner chose not only to visit the RSS HQ at Nagpur but even to touch the feet of RSS founder Hedgewar’s statue and be photographed with a picture of RSS founder Golwalkar. Both Golwalkar and Hedgewar are well known to be open admirers and advocates of Nazism. The RSS is a fascist organisation with fascist aims.
Lindner also tweeted to describe the RSS as the “world's largest voluntary organisation, though not uncontroversially perceived in history.” A storm of protest followed, spearheaded by a German expert on South Asia, Pieter Friedrich, who tweeted, “Germany bears responsibility, in part, for inspiring the rise of the RSS during its Nazi regime. They should be held accountable for legitimising the RSS today through Ambassador Walter Lindner.”
A US-based historian of Mughal India, Audrey Truschke, also joined in, tweeting, “Chancellor Merkel has condemned Donald Trump's racist, dangerous comments against Ilhan Omar and other congresswomen. But she's OK with her own ambassador visiting a group who thinks of Muslims similar to how Nazis thought about Jews. Seriously? I'm really blown away by the depth of immorality and ethical irresponsibility of Ambassador Lindner here. Giving a template of hate to the RSS in the first half of the 20th century is one of Germany's darkest legacies in India. Couldn't you at least stay away from the RSS now?”
In response, Lindner told The Hindu that he knew about the RSS links with the Nazis, but that he had visited the RSS HQ to “understand” and “educate himself” about the RSS. He added that“The RSS is one part of the mosaic that makes up India. You can’t deny that this is a mass movement and whether one likes it or not, it is out there.”
Pieter Friedrich responded to this by saying, “The Nazis were also a mass movement. You can't deny that, @AmbLindnerIndia. You claim, “I went to educate myself about the organisation.” If that's true, why did you pay respects to RSS co-founder Hedgewar or pose w/portrait of Nazi supporter Golwalkar?” Friedrich posted a photograph of Lindner touching the feet of Hedgewar’s statue, asking, “Does this look like a man who is educating himself or a man who has already made up his mind? @AmbLindnerIndia pays respects to RSS co-founder Hedgewar. He knows about “accusations of fascism”, but German diplomat still gives homage to originators of Nazi-inspired RSS.”
Linder said that he asked Mohan Bhagwat “many questions on radicalism, and there are no simple answers to these questions.” Recently when German Chancellor Merkel was asked about Trump’s “Go back where you came from rhetoric” aimed at elected representatives who are women of colour, she did not hesitate to say that such rhetoric is hateful, racist, and divisive. She did not say there are “no simple answers”. Why then does Germany's India envoy say “there are no simple answers” about the RSS’ hate mongering which is directly inspired by Hitler and Mussolini?
Why describe RSS as “part of India’s mosaic”, while racist and neo-Nazi outfits in the US would never be described by a German envoy as part of US’ mosaic? The answer lies in an old tradition of Orientalism. India, in this racist tradition, is described as an exotic, mystical, and hard to understand “mosaic”, to which the RSS just adds colour. The truth is that bigotry and “radicalism” is as easy to understand in India as it is in Germany or the US.
The German Ambassador did not need to visit the RSS HQ to find RSS, he anyway meets RSS leaders like Modi or Kovind who are in India’s current Government and Constitutional positions. His decision to go out of his way to visit RSS at its HQ and pay homage to its leaders is a deliberate act of legitimising fascism in India.
RSS is not “part of India’s mosaic”, it is the fascist brush trying to paint “India's mosaic” in a single colour. To look for the “mosaic”, the Ambassador would need to meet groups that are actually trying to keep India’s diverse mosaic alive - the groups protesting lynchings, defending the rights of minorities, Dalits and women from the RSS onslaught. He instead chose to go and touch the feet of Hitler-inspired Hedgewar.
Below is the text of a petition drafted by Pieter Friedrich on change.org, which demands the resignation or recall of Walter Lindner as India’s Ambassador.
On July 17, 2019, Ambassador Walter Lindner (Germany's ambassador to India) visited the headquarters of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in Nagpur, Maharashtra. His visit condones the RSS paramilitary as well as its ideological and institutional inspiration by European fascist movements like those of Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy.
He was further pictured with a photo of RSS leader M.S. Golwalkar, who wrote glowingly in support of Nazi racial policy.
Golwalkar believed that being Indian meant being Hindu. So he wrote, “Only the Hindu has been living here as the child of this soil.” Just in case his reader misunderstood his intentions, he also phrased it another way: “We repeat: in Hindustan, the land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu Nation.”
Golwalkar thought that the only true Indian “patriots” were people who aspired to “glorify the Hindu race and Nation,” claiming, “All others are… traitors and enemies to the National cause.” He called it “treason” for an Indian to convert away from Hinduism, writing, “It is not merely a case of change of faith, but a change even in national identity. What else is it, if not treason, to join the camp of the enemy?”
In 1935, the Nazis began redefining “national identity” in Germany when they passed the Nuremberg Laws, stripping Jews of citizenship and banning relationships between Germans and Jews. This was followed in 1938 by Kristallnacht, the first Nazi pogrom against Jews.
In 1939, as the Second World War broke out in Europe with Nazi Germany’s invasion of Poland, Golwalkar detailed the RSS’s vision for an ethno-state:
“The foreign races in Hindustan must either adopt the Hindu culture and language, must learn to respect and hold in reverence Hindu religion, must entertain no ideas but those of the glorification of the Hindu race and culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation, and must lose their separate existence to merge into the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing, deserving no privileges, far less any preferential treatment — not even citizen’s rights.”
Declaring that “our Race Spirit has once again roused itself,” he compared this new racial consciousness to that washing over Nazi Germany. “The ancient Race Spirit, which prompted the Germanic tribes to over-run the whole of Europe, has re-risen in modern Germany.”
Denouncing Judaism as “an intolerant faith,” he wrote, “To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races — the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here.” He concluded that Germany had set a good example by showing how it was supposedly “impossible” for different “races and cultures” to be “assimilated into one united whole.” Thus, Golwalkar proclaimed the Nazi policy towards the Jews as “a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
Germany must in no way demonstrate any tolerance for fascism, especially for fascist movements like the RSS which have a demonstrated record of admiring and seeking to model themselves after Nazi Germany and other affiliated fascist movements.
We, the undersigned, demand that Ambassador Walter Lindner resign or, failing that, be recalled. We demand immediate intervention by Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Heiko Maas to achieve this goal.