Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Why Hitler is Popular in India ? By Subhash Gatade

Image courtesy- Holocaust Encyclopaedia  

“History teaches, but has no pupils,”

- Antonio Gramsci 1 

J’admire .....

An innocent question sometimes comes up with very troubling answer(s).

J’admire( I admire)... a simple exercise given to students to know from them whom they appreciate as a great historical figure or a hero, became a great learning experience for a teacher who taught French at a private school.

Writer and Journalist Dileep D’souza, who has authored many books, and writes on social-political causes shared the experience of his wife who posed the said question before them during a discussion. What she was expecting that they would mention Gandhi or Bhagat Singh or other luminaries of India’s struggle for freedom and progress but none of her predictions came true. There was a lone student whose choice was Mahatma Gandhi but nine out of 25 students in her class admired Hitler as hero or as a great historical figure.

Explaining his choice the 10 th grader talked of Hitler’s ‘fantastic oratory’, how he loved his country, how he was a ‘great patriot’ and how he helped restore ‘a sense of pride’ to Germany which it had lost after the defeat in the first world war. He had not much sympathy for the millions he slaughtered, his response to it seemed to rationalise it, that ‘some of them were traitors’. 2

There are n number of reports which tell you that this particular school is no exception.

‘Hitler’s Cross’ that was the name of a new restaurant which had come up in Navi Mumbai. It had caused a tremendous uproar then which sort of forced the owner to change it . Commenting on this episode late Praful Bidwai, the left wing journalist and anti-nuclear activist had shared how Hitler’s admirers can be spotted among the modern urban elite as well which dominates corporate jobs, the professions and the administration. And what he said about youth’s opinion about Hitler is worth quoting in toto :

..[F]or instance, applicants for admission to India’s top-rated college, St Stephen’s College in Delhi, are asked at the final interview who’s their hero or role-model. “A shocking 60 percent of the candidates say it’s Hitler”, college principal Anil Wilson told IPS.

The figure is astounding. The reason most students cite for their choice is Hitler’s fierce nationalism: he gave Germany “self-esteem”, lifting it from the humiliation heaped on it by the Versailles treaty; his butchery of six million Jews was so much “collateral damage”...3

A decade and half ago a poll by a leading newspaper in elite educational institutions across the country had similarly revealed how 17 per cent among them favoured Hitler as the kind of leader India should have. The only saving grace was that Gandhi came first with 23 per cent supporters 4


At the beginning of the Great War, or even during the War, if twelve or fifteen thousand of these Jews who were corrupting the nation had been forced to submit to poison-gas…then the millions of sacrifices made at the front would not have been in vain.

- Adolf Hitler, Mein Campf (My Struggle)


Hitler keeps popping up in India from time to time more than seventy five years of his death.

Right from Hitler movies, Hitler cafe, a Hitler fashion store and to even Hitler ice cream cones have cropped up around his image.2 Consciously or inadvertently or so one can spot attempts to humanise him by presenting a rather sweet version of him. And Bollywood is not far behind in these efforts.

Hitler’s presence can be observed even in daily conversations of people as well where the word Hitler is equated with being a strict person. Few years back a soap opera in Hindi, which remained mildly popular for quite sometime, was on air whose title ‘Hitler didi’ ( literally Hitler Sister but figuratively Auntie Hitler) did not lead to any objection from any quarter then.

And if you happen to be a frequent traveller or a book lover you can easily spot Hitler at most of the bookshops. Right from the ones which are on the pavement or even at traffic signals - which ( mostly) sell pirated versions of  books - to the upmarket bookshops,  you can find him everywhere. A Spanish film maker who worked in India for a while had even written/published a photo essay of sorts (with very little text) about Hitler’s ‘presence’ in India at very many places.5

There can be occasions when Hitler’s magnum opus - which he had written from his jail - Mein Kampf which is partly autobiographical, part manifesto, filled with lot of anti-semitic diatribe but basically provides instructions on how to gain power, can be found giving company to ‘Diary of Anne Frank’ - the young Jewish girl who had become a victim of Hitler’s anti-Jewish policies. Interestingly, many publishers have published ‘Mein Kampf’ here. A rough idea of the business they may be making can be had from the fact that this book has been a bestseller even on Amazon’s Indian website - where people have no qualms in paying tributes to him or his style etc. An old report tells us that a leading Indian publishing company had sold over 1,00,000 copies between 2000 and 2010.

Forget the fact that Hitler has made many disparaging remarks about Indians and did not support India’s freedom struggle. Commenting upon the film ‘Dear Hitler’ a writer had expressed surprise and dismay over its portrayal of Hitler which supposedly claimed that ‘Hitler was friend of India’ :

....Hitler never supported Indian self-rule. He advised British politicians to shoot Gandhi and hundreds of other leaders of the freedom struggle. Repeatedly, he expressed support for British imperialism. He only regretted that it was not harsh enough. “If we took India,” he once threatened, the Indian people would soon long for “the good old days of English rule”.6

Yes, there are occasions when such trivialisation or glorification of Hitler comes under scanner, but not because of some internal soul searching among Indians. The relatively popular serial Hitler Didi - which went on for around two years without any hassles - became an issue, when it provoked ‘Anti Defamation League’ - an international Jewish non-governmental organization based in the United States - to issue a strong statement when it was dubbed in Arabic and relayed in the Arabic world.

It could be argued that Indians are not the only people who admire Hitler.

“Foreign Policy’ a journal from USA had published a story detailing ‘positive perspective on Hitler’ in non-western world.  As opposed to his image of a mass murderer and a racist bigot who yearned for world domination prevalent in the western world, he is also seen as an “anti-imperialist rebel” due to his nationalistic struggle against “Anglo-French-American-Zionist domination.” It quotes the then President Mugabe who then happened to be Zimbabwe’s 92-year-old strongman, comparing himself not only to Christ but to Hitler in a speech in 2003

“I am still the Hitler of [this] time. This Hitler has only one objective: justice for his people, sovereignty for his people, recognition of the independence of his people and their rights over their resources. If that is Hitler, then let me be Hitler tenfold. Ten times, that is what we stand for,” 7

No doubt Indian’s love for Hitler is uncomparable to the rest of the world.

More than ten years back attention of the West was first drawn to this phenomenon when London’s Daily Telegraph, published an article with a  headline: “Indian business students snap up copies of Mein Kampf”(20 April 2009)

Question arises why Hitler is so ‘popular’ in India - especially among middle and upper middle class youth, professionals, etc ?  And this despite the fact that in his best seller book he specifically says that Indians are not capable of self-rule and he would rather see them under British rule than anyone else.

In his only visit to Hitler - during his around two year stay in Germany - when he was trying to cobble up an army to fight Britishers, the legendary freedom fighter Subhash Chandra Bose is reported to have asked him to revise this portion from his book which sort of denigrated Indians and glorified Britishers.

It is a different matter that Hitler did not pay any heed to it.


Could it be argued that the emergence of Hitler as a ‘role model’  or humanisation of his image, has its roots in the way we are taught history, the way social sciences textbooks are unable to inculcate a analytical attitude among students.

Everyone can remember from one’s own childhood or adolescent days how the textbooks themselves inadvertently or so served us with communal, gender, racial or even caste stereotypes. And not only textbooks, the material which was presented before us as ‘children’s literature’ was also loaded with different types of biases. For example, a painstaking research on the four decade journey of a very popular comic series  ‘Amar Chitra Katha’ which was instrumental in influencing at least two generations of people reveals how it :

“...fed into the idea of nation as religion in the sense that the nation transcended any specific identity based on region, locality, class, gender, caste, sect or religious group, it also contributed to the idea of an all-encompassing national religion. Yet the use of a religious vocabulary to convey a sense of the nation as sacred coincided bizarrely with a critique of the so called obscurantist and dogmatic aspects of religions. In a complementary move, the religion of the majority, Hinduism, then needed to be identified with the nation.” 8

Mere browsing of textbooks would make one thing absolutely clear why for the students it is bit difficult to take a stand if they are asked say pros and cons of dictatorship or say caste system. If they are not told about crimes against humanity perpetrated earlier and the perpetrators behind them, if textbooks end up in glossing over all such inconvenient details how can they comprehend that history is no mere collection of facts put chronologically but much more.

Coming to second world war one can hardly find suitable textbook having detailed information about the killings of innocents during those dark period, about the organising of concentration camps and how Hitler had prophesised all these things in his book magnum opus Mein Kampf. For example how many students have heard about Aushwitz concentration camp, remembered as the site of largest mass murder in a single location in human history, where a majority of the victims were just put inside a gas chamber where they died immediate death after inhaling a poisonous gas like cyanide.

A less discussed aspect of these textbooks as well as other popular and even to some extent scholarly literature seems to be the aversion to look at the past critically regarding fascination of a section of  people, mainly leaders - especially of the right wing - towards Mussolini as well as Hitler in precolonial times.

In her exhaustive writeup ‘Hindutva’s Foreign Tie ups in 30s’ 9MarziaKasolaritells :

..To them fascism appeared to be an example of conservative revolution. This concept was discussed at length by the Marathi press right from the early phase of the Italian regime. From 1924 to 1935 Kesri regularly publicised editorials and articles about Italy, fascism and Mussolini. What impressed the Marathi journalists was the socialist origin of fascism and the fact that the new regime seemed to have transformed Italy from a backward country to a first class power. Indians could not know then that behind the demagogic rhetoric of the regime there was very little substance....

In the same article she revisits the issue :

Apart from the militants of the main Hindu organisations there is reason to think that the Indian and particularly Marathi public opinion also was exposed to the views of some newspapers which echoed Savarkar’s declarations or published articles in favour of the dictators. In 1939 The Mahratta published a series of articles in favour of the international policy of Italy and Germany  whileKesri of December 8 and 15, 1939 published an article bearing the title failure of democracy and rise of fascism. There the same interpretation already expressed during the 1920s was repeated according to which fascism arose from the crisis of democracy. Fascism of obviously considered superior to democracy.

In fact India has on record many leaders - especially of the right wing - who have been unashamed supporters of Mussolini, Hitler and their policies.

A question can be posed which aspects of Fascism appealed to the HindutvaSupremacists ?

One, militarisation of society

Second, transformation of society exemplified by shift from chaos to order.

For Marzia Kosolari :

The appreciation of  anti-democratic system as a positive alternative to democracy had it ‘s basis in the understanding that democracy was seen as a typically British value.

A key leader of the right wing happened to be Dr Munje, who was associated with Hindu Mahasabha and was also one of the founders of RSS, had even toured Italy, met Mussolini and visited different institutions built by the Fascist regime  to inculcate feeling of nationalism and discipline among youth and was much impressed by them and even decided to replicate it here - the most prominent among them were the Balilla institutions an idea conceived by Mussolini for the ‘military regeneration of Italy’ and Munje  resolved to to develop similar institutions here.

Whether the popularity of Hitler has its roots in the popularity of the ‘common Aryan links between Indians and Germans’ which was popularised by Sir William Jones, in late 18 th century, who was an English Judge in Bengal and a scholar in his own right. Looking at his scholarship he was asked to look into scriptures of Hindus and Muslims - with due help from interpreters but which he himself looked into to go to ‘the fountainhead himself’.

 “The Aryan race is tall, long legged, slim. The race is narrow-faced, with a narrow forehead, a narrow high built nose and a lower jaw and prominent chin, the skin is rosy bright and the blood shines through …. the hair is smooth, straight or wavy – possibly curly in childhood. The colour is blonde” 10

Or can it be seen as the reflection of fondness of Indians towards the theory of the superiority of Aryan race put forward by Hitler. Remember Indians - especially Hindus consider themselves descendants of Aryans. For Hitler the ‘Aryan race’ had a duty to control the world which had the most “pure blood” of all the people on earth. In his schemata of things non-Aryans were seen as impure and even evil. The ‘superiority’ of Aryans was threatened by the ‘inferior’ people - the likes of Jews, Gypsies and black people. We are told that Alfred Rosenberg (1893-1946) a leading Nazi theorist, - who was executed after the Nuremburg trials - author of a seminal work of Nazi ideology, The Myth of the Twentieth Century (1930), even viewed India as the ancestral home of the Aryans.

Post independence period also there is no dearth of leaders who have no qualms in praising Hitler.

In the end, whether this quest for a Hitler - which could be considered a synonym for a strong leader - has also arisen because of the uncertain times we live in and a prevalent (false) notion that such leaders are the ‘most successful and admirable.’


Strong Leaders, Uncertain Times ?

The central misconception, which I set out to expose, is the notion that strong leaders in the conventional sense of leaders who get their way, dominate their colleagues, and concentrate decision-making in their hands, are the most successful and admirable. While some leaders who come into that category emerge more positively than negatively, in general, huge power amassed by an individual leader paves the way for important errors at best and disaster and massive bloodshed at worst.” 11

Why do people prefer strong leaders ?

The worldwide rise of authoritarian or strong leaders is for everyone to see. From Trump in USA to Erdogan in Turkey, from Modi in India to Duterte in Philippines, these uncertain times have thrown up leaders which seem to allay voters’ worries about uncertainty and lack of control. In an interesting paper published in Harvard Business Review, two researchers - Hemant Kakkar and Niro Sivanathan - tried to analyse this emergent phenomenon. 12

Drawing on research from “evolutionary and social psychology, which distinguishes between dominance and prestige as two alternative pathways to leadership” it first tried to differentiate between both types of leaderships like how leaders ‘associated with dominance are assertive, confident, controlling, decisive, dominating, and intimidating’ whereas the ‘prestige pathway’ is associated with individuals who are respected, admired, and held in high esteem by others. According to them a “dominant leader becomes more appealing than a prestige leader when the socioeconomic environment is riddled with uncertainty. When it’s unclear what the future holds, people experience a lack of personal control and a sense that they cannot influence an outcome.” According to them endorsement of a dominant leader in uncertain times thus becomes  a response to restore one’s sense of personal control - which is ‘consistent with other research finding that a perceived lack of personal control leads individuals to support external entities — such as governments, gods, and hierarchies — that appear to possess greater agency.’

Of course, they did not forget to add a caveat that despite having the authority to enact economic regulations and political policies the possibility always exists that their reign can lead to further chaos and uncertainty which can further strengthen their appeal as well as hold on power.

There is a merit in what the researchers put forward but one can as well see that this fascination for a strong leader can also be related to modern man’s freedom from medieval ties where it is easier for him to submit to a great leader as Erich Fromm discusses in his book.

“In the book ‘Fear of Freedom” I tried to show that the totalitarian movements appealed to a deep-seated craving to escape from the freedom man had achieved in the modern world ; that modern man, free from medieval ties, was not free to build a meaningful life based on reason and love, hence sought new security in submission to a leader, race or a state” 13

The quest for a strong leader can also be seen as a reflection of the attempts at finding a new refuge by a atomised individual - who seems to be at the mercy of forces which are beyond his/her control - which make her/him feel powerless and insignificant. The growing sense of alienation fostered by such system coupled with a growing loss of sense of community or social/political institutions leads her/him to submit oneself before a great leader who supposedly can deliver.

Coming to India this fascination for a strong leader, a dictator has always been there - especially among the upper classes - even when times were not so ‘uncertain’, even when the newly independent nation was taking baby steps towards a life of self reliance and progress for all.

In a country where many Indians want to believe a strong leader can transform a society for the better, images of tens of thousands of Germans standing at attention before their Fuhrer seems to speak to them, despite the evil that those rallies gave birth to.”(‘Why Adolf Hitler is Popular in India’ 14

One can as well  revisit the piece penned down by late Praful Bidwai which finds mention earlier. Quoting noted political theorist Rajeev Bhargava it said that this praise for Hitler “[b]ears testimony to an authoritarian streak with the Indian elite, or at least its fascination with and admiration for strong-arm undemocratic methods of rule” It also talked about how “..[M]any upper class Indians believe that a dictator alone can solve the country’s myriad problems.” Discerning this authoritaria streak in India, it shares how sociologists

“..[r]elate this streak to the elite’s roots in India’s super-hierarchical caste system. Many upper-caste, upper-class Indians have not fully reconciled themselves to democracy, including the idea that their chauffeurs and cooks should have the same individual vote as them.”

Question of neo-liberal economic policies also comes up in the analysis where it quotes Kamal Mitra Chenoy as saying that how this “..[t]emptation to cynically use all and any symbols to make money” is growing under these policies and it means “spreading fascist forms of callousness towards the public good.”

Couched in the rather sophisticated language of efficiency or agonising over delay in arriving at decision, which any democratic mechanism necessary entails, they have talked of a Hitler.

For all such people the imagery of Hitler whose vision for future was based on the simple binary of ‘master race’ and the ‘’others” and who himself appears ‘decisive’, ‘strong’ and ‘patriotic’ suits the bill.


Notes and references :

1. Letter from Prison (21 June 1919), translated by Hamish Henderson, Edinburgh University Student Publications



4. Times of India, Dec 26, 2002




8. Page vii, Chandra Nandini, ‘The Classic Popular, Amar Chitra Katha, 1967-2007,Yoda Press, 2008


10. Leaflet from Nazi Propaganda, 1929

11. Brown, The Myth of a Strong Leader (2014)

12. .(

13. Page X, The Sane Society, Erich Fromm






Unknown said...

Must read to understand our times

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