When German Ambassador to India Walter Lindner called on RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat on Wednesday at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, he may not have been the first foreign envoy to do so. But Lindner tweeted a photograph with a beaming Bhagwat standing with him with a portrait of RSS Guru Golwalkar looking down at them.
The tweet caused considerable outrage with people questioning the indiscreet conduct of the German Ambassador. While the mainstreaming of RSS is complete in India ( read accompanying pieces by Sujata Anandan and Satyendra Tripathi), a German diplomat nonchalantly posing at the RSS headquarters raised eyebrows because of Germany’s conscious and sustained effort to live down its Nazi past.
An apparently upset ‘expert’ in Indian affairs, Pieter Friedrich ( see pieterfriedrich.net), set the ball rolling by wondering what Ambassador Lindner was doing at the RSS headquarters. It was like the German Ambassador to the United States calling on the infamous Ku Klux Klan, he tweeted.
“The RSS is the KKK of India. #WalterLindner (@AmbLindnerIndia), Germany's ambassador to India, meeting the RSS is very much like if @GermanAmbUSA met w/KKK. The main difference? Germany endured Nazi phase & RSS founders were directly inspired by European fascists like Nazis.”
A large number of Indians on Twitter also reacted to the tweet by supporting or denouncing him. While those who found his outrage misplaced pointed out that the President, Vice President, the Prime Minister of India have all been associated with the RSS and that Germany has had no problem doing business and breaking bread with them, others were not amused.
“May we know what's a German diplomat doing visiting an organisation whose founders admired Hitler, and which imitates the party once known as National Socialist German Workers' Party, which I believe is considered bad form in Germany,” tweeted author and commentator Salil Tripathi.
Others also chipped in and felt that the visit was a diplomatic impropriety.
“Why's Indian media shy on German Ambassador RSS visit? @TheAsianAgeNews tiptoes around saying "alleged references" by "initial leader" to "certain policies" of Nazi Germany. Say RSS founders met Mussolini, praised Nazi purge of Jews, prescribed purge of India's Muslims,” tweeted Kavita Krishnan of AIPWA. The tweet was later deleted.
Writer and commentator Sujata Anandan ( who contributes to the National Herald) tweeted, “ I have German friends who refuse to be held responsible for what Hitler did before they were even born. They will not pay for his sins. They are good people and do not harbour any fascist thoughts. This action by Ambassador Lindner now jeopardises their entire standing”
Others rallied round Ambassador Lindner and felt that he was merely doing his job and trying to understand India’s power structure.
“I am not supporter of RSS but let me remind you that Pranab Mukherjee, Ratan Tata, George Fernandes and many renowned personalities have visited RSS headquarters. Were they foolish to visit ?” asked a Twitter user.
The reaction abroad has also been mixed with people admitting that while this was unorthodox diplomacy, the visit may have helped the Ambassador come to terms with the phenomenon of RSS in India.
“I think I’m going to go slow on calling for Lindner’s resignation. He’s not practicing orthodox diplomacy at all. I wouldn’t assume a meeting with Bhagwat means he aligns, sanctions or agrees with RSS/Sangh in any way,” was one of the more charitable views.
But an unfazed Friedrich started an online petition seeking the recall of the Ambassador. He had secured over 600 signatures by Friday morning and was targeting to reach 1000.
Explaining why he believed the visit was inappropriate, Friedrich in a series of tweets pointed out how similar Golwalkar’s views were to the Nazis.
“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 & should live the Hindu Nation.” Golwalkar thought the only true Indian “patriots” were people who aspired to “glorify the Hindu race and Nation,” claiming, “All others are… traitors & enemies to the National cause.”
He called it “treason” for Indians 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 1939, as WWII broke out in Europe w/Nazi 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 & culture, i.e., of the Hindu nation, & 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 & 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.”
Stepping to the beat of a marching band, columns of 100s or even 1000s of RSS members regularly parade through the streets of India’s cities, towns, & villages. Neatly uniformed & armed with lathis, they often perform intricate maneuvers. Gathering for special rallies at massive parade grounds, 10s of 1000s at a time turn out to drill with militaristic rigor. They salute a saffron flag, do yoga... chant slogans, and perform weapons exercises beneath the glare of the blazing hot Indian sun. RSS leaders watching from the high stages invariably stand in front of large — often garlanded — pictures of Golwalkar and Hedgewar.
Have you signed the petition demanding that Ambassador Walter Lindner (@AmbLindnerIndia) resign or be recalled for meeting with RSS & being pictured with Nazi supporter MS Golwalkar?”