A few days ago, a controversy erupted in Pakistan when some people noticed that the newly-inducted Punjab Minister of Information and Culture, Fayazul Hasan Chohan’s twitter account had two people listed as the people he ‘likes.’ One was Hazrat Umar and the other was Adolf Hitler.
Now Umar ibne Khattab is universally known for his political and administrative skill and military planning. It was largely under his caliphate that the Islamic empire rapidly spread, annihilated the once mighty Sassanian Empire and even defeated the formidable Byzantine Empire. Hitler, on the other hand, is known mainly for two things: starting World War II for world domination, and annihilating over six million Jews, gypsies, and other minorities. It is indeed quite a remarkable mind which has put the two of them together in one line as inspirations!
But let us not deride the young minister just yet, and go across the Radcliffe line, to India. More than seven decades ago, the Radcliffe line was hurriedly drawn in just over six weeks to separate the two ‘nations’ of Hindus and Muslims. It was argued that both these nations were so different that they could not live together and so a separation had to take place, including the partition of the provinces of Punjab and Bengal along religious lines.
However, despite the fact that the line was drawn, with Muslim majority on one side and Hindu on the other, some common threads seemed to still tie them together. Go to any bookshop in Delhi, or better still, go to a pirated book hawker in Connaught Place, and you will find one book ubiquities: Mein Kampf. The autobiography of the German Fuhrer is still a best seller in India, and its pirated version is sold for a mere hundred rupees to avid readers. Rather than repulsed for being written by the man who mercilessly killed millions, these fans adore him for his ‘strength,’ ‘power,’ and ‘manliness’. The two countries are indeed divided by a line, but are certainly united in admiring hatred.
The partition of British India was supposed to have ended the violence between the two leading communities of India, but rather than stemming hatred and violence, it has only increased it. Why? One argument for this rise is that in both communities there was a palpable rise of fascism in the interwar years, which then spilled over into religious identity based conflict leading to a vivisection of the country. In fact, fascism never got a bad name in the British Indian Empire and self avowed fascists were widely feted as leaders and nationalists.
For example, Subhas Chandra Bose, a one-time president of the Indian National Congress, and still widely revered in Bengal as ‘Netaji’ was all praises for Hitler. At the height of the Second World War, Bose even met Hitler and offered his support. One have argued that Bose’s support for the Third Reich was tactical and was supposed to rid India of the British, but Bose actually agreed with the racial supremacy arguments of German Fascism.
Thinking that he too was of the same Caucasian stock, and hence the prime human being, Bose also thought low of other races and wanted a totalitarian regime of the ‘best’. The continued popularity of Bose, with little criticism of his support of fascism, clearly exhibits the acceptance and spread of fascism and its core ideals in India today.
Similarly, the Rashtriya Swamsevak Sangh, the RSS, the mother organisation of the Bharitaya Janata Party, the BJP, which is in power in India, also looked up to the Third Reich. Patterned largely on the Nazi squads, the RSS, also believed in racial purity, complete control and domination. The views of the RSS ideologue, V.D. Sarvarkar on India and ‘Indianness’ fundamentally primarily corresponded with those of Hitler. In fact, Mein Kampf was and still remains very popular within RSS cadres, and helps shape their view of the world.
On the Muslim side too, there was never any real antagonism towards fascism in the pre-independence era. There were few denunciations of the Third Reich, especially since there was little love lost between Muslims and Jews, and a number of Muslim leaders saw in Hitler a strong and able leader, who led his country out of the Great Depression, restored its self respect which had been lost in the humiliation at Versailles, and was leading the German nation towards self-assertion and domination in the world. Still nostalgic about the Ottoman Empire, these Muslim leaders admired resolve, strength and assertion.
People like Inayatuallah Mashriqi, an Indian civil servant, in fact, left the famed civil service and created a movement based on the Nazi party. The ‘Khaksar Movement’ with its daily drills, military uniform, and support for authoritarianism, exemplified the romance of certain sections of the Muslim society in India with the Third Reich.
Fast forward to today, and the acceptance of fascistic ideas in the interwar period in India between both Muslims and Hindus, is leading to the rise of intolerance and violence in both India and Pakistan, and even Bangladesh. In the casual acceptance of fascist leaders and ideals, people in this subcontinent have not realised that hatred and intolerance towards the ‘other’ forms the basis of fascistic beliefs, and violence towards the other gives it the nectar of life and growth.
The belief in the ‘greatness’ of the nation, be it the ‘Hindu nation’ in India, or the Muslim one in Pakistan, is predicated on the denigration, and even annihilation of the other, making violence an integral part of this endeavour. Any challenge to this ‘greatness’ is also seen not as something internal, but foreign induced, and hence it is always Pakistan’s fault for every problem in India, and only India causes issues in Pakistan, else the country would have been perfect.
But fascism is not just about the ‘other’. Eventually, the majority also succumbs to its rhetoric of power and control. Hence, there are almost universal curbs on the media, the freedom of speech, conscience, and association is curtailed — for everyone, not just the minorities, and eventually only a set path is laid for the people which has to be followed on the pain of imprisonment or even death.
Fascism also promotes a certain kind of ‘fake news’ which aims to confuse people so much that they are unable to distinguish between true and false, and it is in this state of mental obfuscation that they stake their thinly-veiled stake of full control. Since people are unable to take informed decisions themselves it is all the more important for a power to make these decisions for them.
Both Pakistan and India are now in the grips of rising fascism, and unless concerted efforts are made to counter it, it will spread its tentacles so deep that it would be almost impossible to root it out in the future. This countering of fascism therefore must begin with presenting to people the true face and agenda of fascism.
The largely positive image of fascism also needs to be broken and people made aware of its destructive force, not just for the society but for each individual. Almost a hundred years to the rise of fascism in Europe, it is again rearing its ugly head throughout the world, but nowhere is it more menacing, dangerous and far-reaching than South Asia. Unless we act now, Hitler might soon become the hero and inspiration for every child in South Asia.