Socialising With RSS: German Diplomat’s ‘Direct Contact’ Approach?
Germany’s Ambassador to India, Sir Walter J Lindner, shocked countless Indians by meeting with Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat on 17 July 2019 at the RSS headquarters in Nagpur, Maharashtra — posing beneath a portrait of MS Golwalkar.
Seventy years earlier, Golwalkar was just about to become chief of the RSS. “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,” he wrote in his 1939 manifesto, ‘We, or Our Nationhood Defined’. He penned those words at the dawn of the Second World War which began as Nazi Germany launched its invasion of Poland.
‘Diplomats Should Reflect On Broad Society’
Lindner, 62, was appointed as ambassador just three months ago. Described as “unorthodox,” he first visited India in 1977 as a backpacker. He is learning Hindi, calls himself an artist, wears a pony-tail (an unusual choice in a suit-and-tie oriented Western world), and believes that diplomats should reflect on “broad society.” He expresses commitment to transparency, commenting, “In some countries where the press is not free, social media is the only way of communicating. I think it’s also a great way for today’s diplomacy. Earlier, diplomacy was all about something done by grey eminences behind closed doors…. Today’s diplomacy has to be different: closer to the people and more approachable for the young generation.”
By his own admission, though, Lindner doesn’t use that sort of rhetoric. “Normally a diplomat would talk diplomatic language,” he says. “Forget this. You won’t hear diplomatic language from me. We will go right to the heart of the matter.” Going right to the heart of the matter, therefore, let’s consider why — ideologically — the RSS is “not uncontroversially perceived.”
A Fascination With Fascism
After its inception in 1925, RSS leaders like Golwalkar repeatedly expressed admiration for Nazi racial policies, continuing to do so throughout Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. The mentor of RSS founder KB Hedgewar — BS Moonje — was also enamoured by Europe’s fascist movements. Upon traveling to meet Italian dictator Benito Mussolini in Rome in 1931, Moonje analogised the RSS to Mussolini’s fascist outfits.
Specifically praising the Opera Nazionale Balilla (a fascist youth group) for its contribution to “the military regeneration of Italy,” Moonje wrote, “India and particularly Hindu India need some such institution for the military regeneration of the Hindus.” Rhapsodising about how “the idea of fascism vividly brings out the conception of unity amongst people,” he declared: “Our institution of Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh of Nagpur under Dr Hedgewar is of this kind.”
When Hedgewar died in 1940, the leadership of the RSS passed to Golwalkar. Like his predecessor's mentor, he too was fascinated by Mussolini’s Italy — as well as Nazi Germany — and compared the RSS’s goals to those of both fascist countries.
The ‘National Race’ Is The ‘Hindu Race’
“Look at Italy,” wrote Golwalkar. “The old Roman Race consciousness of conquering the whole territory round the Mediterranean Sea, so long dormant, has roused itself, and shaped the Racial-National aspirations accordingly. The ancient Race spirit, which prompted the Germanic tribes to over-run the whole of Europe, has re-risen in modern Germany with the result that the Nation perforce follows aspirations, predetermined by the traditions left by its depredatory ancestors.”
Thus, he continued, “Even so with us: our Race spirit has once again roused itself.” As a result, he insisted that there belonged to “every Race the indisputable right of excommunicating from its Nationality all those who, having been of the Nation, for ends of their own, turned traitors and entertained aspirations contravening or differing from those of the National Race as a whole.”
The “National Race,” in Golwalkar's mind, was the “Hindu Race.” The only “nationalist patriots,” he wrote, are those “with the aspiration to glorify the Hindu race and Nation next to their heart.” And who were “traitors” to the nation?
Who Were The ‘Traitors’ According To Golwalkar?
In his 1966 book, Bunch of Thoughts, he explained that anyone who converted away from Hinduism was a ‘traitor’. “So we see that it is not merely a case of change of faith, but a change even in national identity,” he wrote. “What else is it, if not treason, to join the camp of the enemy leaving their mother-nation in the lurch?
Lindner, of course, may not have read Golwalkar or Moonje.
Like any outside visitor to India (especially one from Germany), he has probably also noticed the tall stacks of Hitler’s manifesto, Mein Kampf, which are piled high at the entrances of many mall bookstores. Media periodically reports how that book sells in the hundreds of thousands in India; as of this writing, it sits at #72 of the top 100 best-selling book on Amazon India.
The Struggle To Fully Exorcise Spectre Of Nazi Germany
As Germany, nearly 75 years after the end of World War II, still struggles to fully exorcise the spectre of Nazi Germany — even banning the use of the Nazi swastika and other associated symbols as well as prosecuting former death camp guards like Johann Rehbogen, 95, as recently as last year — the German ambassador ought to reckon with Golwalkar’s praise for Nazi racial policy.
“Race pride at its highest has been manifested here,” wrote Golwalkar in reference to the Nazi purge of the Jews. “Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
Beyond endorsing the purge, Golwalkar mirrored Hitler’s rhetoric about racial superiority, “national consciousness,” character-building, self-restraint, sacrifice for the fatherland, and the reunification of defunct territorial entities.
Hitler & Golwalkar’s Writings On ‘Absolute Superiority’, ‘National Consciousness’, Et Al
“From childhood,” wrote Hitler in Mein Kampf in 1925, the “entire education and development” of a “young fellow citizen” should be “directed at giving him the conviction of being absolutely superior to the others.” Golwalkar, in Bunch of Thoughts, declared that “the average man of this country was at one time incomparably superior to the average man of the other lands.”
Golwalkar in We, or Our Nationhood Defined’, proclaimed, “National consciousness blazes forth and we Hindus rally to the Hindu Standard, the Bhagawa Dhwaja, set our teeth in grim determination to wipe out the opposing forces.”
“With his physical force and skill,” argued Hitler, the German “has again to win the belief in the invincibility of his entire nationality.” To achieve “national prosperity,” Golwalkar argued, “the first thing is invincible physical strength.”
Hitler wrote, “The folkish State, in its work of education, has, besides the physical training, to put the greatest emphasis on the training of the character.”
‘Sacrifice At The Altar Of The Fatherland’; Lamenting ‘Loss Of Integral Parts Of Our Motherland’
Hitler claimed, “If in our public schools one had instilled into our young people a little less knowledge and a little more self-restraint, this would have been amply rewarded.” Golwalkar claimed, “The discipline nurtured in the Sangh is the spontaneous self-restraint of a cultured people.”
Golwalkar declared, “To offer one’s all, even his dearest possessions, at the altar of motherland is the first and foremost duty of every son of this soil.” Hitler urged, “We must struggle for the existence of our fatherland, our national unity.”
Furthermore, Hitler — who wanted to reestablish Germany’s past broad territorial sway — proclaimed, “What must guide us constantly today is the fundamental insight that the regaining of lost imperial territories is primarily a question of regaining the political independence and power of the motherland.”
He called for “the reuniting of the unhappy oppressed portions with the motherland.”
Golwalkar, for his part, deplored the loss of “integral parts of our motherland.” He claimed, “Reunification of those parts with Bharat would therefore be a welcome development and an act of liberation for them.”
Goals Of Territorial Expansion
Golwalkar understood Hitler’s goal of territorial expansion, writing, “Germany strove, and has to a great extent achieved what she strove for, to once again bring under one sway the whole of the territory, hereditarily possessed by the Germans but which, as a result of political disputes, had been portioned off as different countries under different states.”
Today, the RSS routinely enflames tensions by echoing Golwalkar’s thoughts about “hereditary” territory. As recently as March 2019, for instance, RSS executive Indresh Kumar commented, “People used to say there was no Pakistan before 1947. Till 1045 AD, the area was called Hindustan. It will become Hindustan again after 2025.”
In May 2019, immediately after he was appointed ambassador, Lindner had said that Germany is willing to back India in its fight against terrorism. That worthy goal, however, may be hampered in efficacy and appear inconsistent in approach, considering his visit with Bhagwat.
How Germany’s Aim To Back India In Anti-Terrorism Fight May Have Been Hampered
After all, one of the primary goals of any diplomat is to work for peace. Yet the RSS, whose founders left a legacy of divisive ideology and whose modern guides are often accused of instigating communal conflict, has also faced accusations of ‘tolerating terrorist attacks’.
Swami Aseemanand, an RSS pracharak (full-time worker), is one of the most egregious examples. Between 2006 and 2008, he was implicated in multiple bombings of Muslim targets — most notably the Samjhauta Express, the “peace train” connecting Delhi to Lahore. In 2010, he was arrested in connection with the terrorist incidents; in 2012, he confessed his involvement in interviews with Caravan magazine.
“It’s very important that it be done,” he alleges Bhagwat and Kumar told him. “But don’t link it to the Sangh. The Sangh will not do this…. If you will do this, we will be at ease with this…. If you do it, then people won’t say that we committed a crime for the sake of committing a crime. It will be connected to the ideology.”
White Supremacy & The Return Of ‘Neo-Nazism’
Meanwhile, neo-Nazism is making a resurgence in Germany alongside the rise of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) political party. In June 2019, Thomas Haldenwang, head of the country's domestic security agency, stated, “We currently have 12,700 rightwing extremists willing to use violence in Germany.” One of those is Stephan Ernst, who assassinate Christian Democratic Union (CDU) municipal politician Walter Lübcke on 2 June.
Subsequently, the CDU announced its refusal to ever consider alliance with AfD when forming a government. “Anyone who makes a case for a rapprochement or even cooperation with the AfD must know that he is seeking rapprochement with a party that consciously tolerates far-right thinking, anti-Semitism and racism in its ranks,” reported a CDU position paper in late June.
In New Zealand, for instance, Brenton Tarrant gunned down 51 Muslims in March 2019. His manifesto credits Norwegian mass shooter Anders Breivik as his “true inspiration”. Breivik murdered 77 white Norwegians in July 2011 — mostly children attending a youth camp for the Norwegian Labour Party.
Breivik also left behind a manifesto. Referring to the RSS as the Sangh Parivar, he called it a “positive thing” that they “dominate the streets... and often riot and attack Muslims.” However, instead of engaging in such “counter-productive” behaviour, he urged them to “consolidate military cells.” Terming the Sangh as a “resistance movement,” he concluded: “It is essential that the European and Indian resistance movements learn from each other and cooperate as much as possible. Our goals are more or less identical.”
German Ambassador Lindner’s Unorthodox Approach To Diplomacy
Why, even as Germany’s ruling CDU disavows the legitimacy of German right-wing political parties like the AfD, would the country’s ambassador to India countenance an ideological outfit like the RSS — a group whose leader, Bhagwat, boasted in 2018 is capable of raising an army faster than the Indian Army.
“When you are a diplomat, you spend most of your time in diplomatic circles,” says Lindner. “I am always trying to have direct contact with people, be it in factories or slums.” He frequently shares his experiences on social media. It is a refreshing take on an all too often elitist duty.
Perhaps it was not formally sanctioned by the German government, but merely an autonomous decision of his own. Diplomats are often entrusted with the power to set their own agendas — to a degree. Yet, why would he choose to fraternise with an organisation with such a ‘tainted’ pedigree? Was he recognising where the true power lies?
What Lindner Should’ve Considered Amidst Germany’s Ongoing Efforts To Heal Wounds Of Nazism
Responding to escalating criticism of his visit, Lindner insisted that he “went to educate myself about the organisation,” even though he is aware of “accusations of fascism” and that, as a German, “the images (of the RSS) always remind us of something.” He says he asked “many questions on radicalism.”
The wounds of Nazism are still healing as Germany makes ongoing reparations — on 20 July, for instance, promising up to USD 420 million in compensation to 8,000 Romanian Jewish Holocaust survivors.
Whatever his rationale, Ambassador Walter Lindner ought to consider how his visit appears in the eyes of many Indians, particularly minorities, who feel persecuted by the RSS, as well as what message it sends about modern Germany’s feelings for the six million Jews slaughtered in the Holocaust.
(Pieter Friedrich is an author and public speaker specializing in analysis of historical and current affairs in South Asia. He speaks frequently about issues such as human rights in India, the spread of nationalism, political ideologies and growing politicization of religious extremism, authoritarian government structures and policies, and the need to unify around doctrines of liberty. He tweets @FriedrichPieter. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)