Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Hitler and Hindutva

The word Hitler sounds like the Hindustani 'hutti' (obstinate). In ordinary parlance to say so and so is a Hitler means that person is strict and unyielding on questions of principle. Many years ago, I was translating a Jain book and was astonished to find a Sadhavi (nun) described as a Hitler. She was nothing of the sort, as I can personally testify. She radiated gentleness and, in addition to all her other tasks and duties, was a fine artist. Yet the scholarly young Nun to whom I explained my objection to letting the epithet stand in the English translation was reluctant to sanction the change I requested. I tried to explain that the name Hitler, in the English language, is synonymous with Evil incarnate. My appeal fell on deaf ears. No doubt, Hitler had done bad things but that was just politics. After all, Ashoka paid a bounty of a gold coin for the head of every Jain monk- thousands were slaughtered- until, one day, the head of a Buddhist monk, whom he personally reverenced, was brought to him. At that point Ashoka called off the massacre.
The important point was that he was an Emperor and, for some inscrutable reason, the Govt. of India had selected him as one of the Great and the Good.
Incidentally, what had kindled his ire against the Jains was the report that some members of their creed described Lord Buddha as belonging to their own Nigrantha tradition- scarcely a sufficient provocation for Ashoka's pogrom- but, well, that's politics.
I should mention, the Sadhavi in question was not alone in thinking 'Hitler' a term of praise. President Zail Singh astonished the world when he said something of that sort. Since Mrs. Gandhi was routinely described as a Hitler in the '70's her supporters naturally thought Hitler was worthy of praise. In any case, during the Second World War, Zail Singh was being tortured in the dungeons of the Maharaja of Patiala because of his stalwart role in the Freedom Struggle. As Niradh Choudhri points out, at that time, almost all the Nationalists wanted Hitler to win the War.  Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, though a Socialist at heart, did not scruple to travel to Germany to solicit help from the Fuehrer himself.
Nehru and Indira, however, were never seduced by Hitler's personality cult. Indira expressed her horror and revulsion at the events of the Kristallnacht (attacks on Jewish temples and places of business triggered by the assassination of a Nazi in Paris). Both adopted a double standard towards Stalin and the Soviet Union but that fitted well enough with India's geopolitical needs and, in any case, the West was at that time still deeply Racist. America was merciless towards its own 'colored' population and perfectly happy to Nuke gooks in far away places if they failed to bend the knee to what Wall Street thought best.

The question now arises as to whether the Hindutva parties gain a competitive advantage by appropriating the 'Hitler' epithet? While Mrs. Gandhi's legend still lived in the minds of the voters, this was simply a non starter. Now things have changed.Sonia and Rahul emphasize their empathy for the poor and steer clear of anything that smacks of 'India Shining'.
Perhaps, at present, Narendra Modi can get away with laying claim to that mantle- but only because he was successful in ending the cycle of riots that began in 1969. But, it increasingly appears, his charisma is not exportable to the Hindi belt. This is a good thing as Gujerat might easily slip back to its bad old ways without him.

More generally, the question arises- could Hindutva bring forth a Hitler? But who was Hitler? An Austrian. The Hapsburg's had only allied with the Germans because it kept their own fractious German minority on side while the dynasty explored ways of conciliating other nationalities. This, at any rate, was Hitler's view. He himself, like the Hapsburgs, involved Germany in a second and more ruinous war simply so as to shore up the position of Germans like himself who resented the rise of other nationalities in territories on its borders.

Perhaps, with demographic changes in the East, a new type of Hindutva might arise amongst Hindus expelled from their homes which, however, lie within India's borders. From amongst them a Hitler might emerge who, being excluded from local and State level Politics, has no option but to spearhead a Pan-National movement.
It seems inevitable that India will face its own financial melt-down a few years down the line and, coupled with loss of territory in the North after a humiliating military defeat arising out of corruption and a collapse in morale amongst the armed forces, perhaps then and not sooner we might expect to see a Hindutva Hitler.

The provision of Gas chambers and so on, however, in view of fiscal constraints, will continue to be the responsibility of the Private Sector and though Union Carbide can no longer be inveigled into a second Bhopal, globalized Private Equity will certainly step forward to supply the deficiency, always provided of course that the present Administration honors its commitment to cap liability at acceptable levels.

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