It is weirdly unsettling how frequently Adolf Hitler figures in India’s political/cultural discourse. It is weird because more often than not it is an absurdly fantasist version of Hitler that appears in this discourse. It was only on August 3, 2014 that I wrote about this bizarre Indian version of Hitler. Here is what I wrote:
“In many Indians’ ridiculous perception, a dictator is one is who is a strict but essentially well-meaning disciplinarian who knows better than you what you need to lead a noble and fruitful life. He—and it is necessarily a male—is the sort of man whom you can hug and cuddle in his more amiable moments, of which there are many. There was and there still is a sizable number of Indians who see Adolf Hitler in this light. For them Hitler is this cute boy who never really grew up and never tired of dressing and playing dictator. Of course, all this is unforgivably absurd self-delusion.”
In a post on August 30, 2012 about how a business owner in Ahmedabad named his store ‘Hitler’ I wrote, “It might surprise many to know that in parts of India, including Ahmedabad, Adolf Hitler transcends his real persona as someone who presided over one of history’s most horrifically sick killer regimes. For them Hitler is this cutesy caricature of a charmingly dictatorial uncle who dispenses tough love and is a strict disciplinarian, whose bark is worse than his bite even as at his heart he is a genuinely caring man. In the perverse imagination of some Hitler is a man of admirable virtues such as adherence to strict discipline who might have minor character flaws. This deeply offensive dilution of what the man actually stood for is a result of both willful and genuine ignorance about the horrors that he unleashed. Even when those who hold such a view of Hitler denounce him as a mass killer there is always a “but” followed by some ridiculously mitigating explanation of his actions.”
Two more references to the man have cropped in a span of the last couple of days. The news channel NDTV had a news story yesterday that said, “Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao today admitted he had been called a Hitler and he was not ashamed about it. ”I am a Hitler and I will be worse than Hitler if need be, to stop illegalities," he said.”
In an unrelated story, senior Congress Party leader Digvijaya Singh in a tweet described Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the Hindu regimental organization Rashtriya Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), as Hitler for saying that India is a Hindu nation and “Hindutva (Hinduness) is our nation’s identity.”
It is practically impossible to use Hitler as an abhorrent if accurate adjective to describe either an individual or an ideology in the Indian context for obvious reasons. Take the example of the Telangana state chief minister. Going strictly by the comments attributed to him by NDTV, he thinks Hitler was a selfless moral crusader who rid the world of corruption or "illegalities" as he so charmingly puts it. I don’t think Rao is fully aware that a) For him to be already "a Hitler", he would have had to commit a comparable holocaust and b) Then do something even worse. There is an element of pride in his comment because he seems to think that as long as being likened to Hitler means someone who is uncompromisingly against corruption, he is okay with it. The whole premise is so stunningly flawed but as my friend and fellow journalist Kajal Basu describes it, this kind of diminution has been in existence in India for a long time. I had pointed out in my August 3 post a casual reference to Hitler in the 1966 movie ‘Nayak’ by a personage no less eminent than Satyajit Ray. He was, of course, reflecting his character’s mindset and not endorsing it.
On the face of it, the Congress Party leader’s tweet may have some merit in so far as it pretends to dig a little deeper than the other references. In its nearly 90-year-long history the RSS has been known to propagate the idea of Hindu being the overarching cultural identity of all Indians irrespective of their religious persuasions. It is a clever and crafty approach which has had a highly limited and debatable success. In my judgment, after hammering it for 90 years the RSS is barely anywhere close to achieving its purpose other than succeeding it in making it as part of the national political discourse. Coming to the folly of describing Bhagwat and his ilk as Hitlerian, it is like saying that Hitler asserted that all Germans, irrespective of their religious and cultural persuasions, were pure Aryans. That is nothing like what Hitler said and tried to prove through horrific exterminations. In terms of the label Hitler denoting some sort of exclusivist racial superiority, what Bhagwat has said is nowhere comparable. It may be ridiculous and offensively anachronistic but it is not comparable.
Here is a piece of simple advice to anyone who feels compelled to invoke Hitler to describe any ridiculous situation, don’t unless the person concerned or the ideology in question has carried out the magnitude of horrors that he and his thugs did. By pegging Hitler so low, you are indulging in an unpardonable reduction of his crimes. Of course, someone still might make a case that unless revanchists, exclusivists and revisionists are constantly challenged, even inaccurately and unfairly, they may succeed.