This startling image should not raise alarms, because these rows and rows of swastikas are auspicious sanskrit symbols. But it hits you in the stomach. Swastikas became tainted in the 1930s, when fascist Hitler took the Aryan cross and tilted it to the right to represent the Third Reich.
Reverence for Adolf Hitler – who is hailed as a hero in textbooks in the Hindu nationalist-ruled state of Gujarat, while Mein Kampf remains popular at bookstores – is one of the many sinister aspects of “rising” India today. This cult of Hitler as a great “patriot” and “strategist” grew early among middle-class Hindus. MS Golwalkar, the much-revered Hindu leader and ideologue, wrote in 1938 that Nazi Germany had manifested “race pride at its highest” by purging itself of the “Semitic races” – and yet Golwalkar was also an admirer of Zionism.
This simultaneous veneration of Hitler and Israel may appear a monstrous moral contradiction to Europeans or Americans who see Israel as the homeland of Jewish victims of Nazi crimes. However, such distinctions are lost on the Hindu nationalists, who esteem Nazi Germany and Israel for their patriotic effort to cleanse their states of alien and potentially disloyal elements, and for their militaristic ethos. Many Indians and other colonised peoples hoped for Nazi Germany and Japan to at least undermine, if not defeat, the British Empire. My grandfather was among the Indians with a misplaced faith in Germany’s military capacity. He would have been horrified by the facts of the Holocaust if he had encountered them. But like so many Hindu nationalists, his main political anxiety during those years after the Second World War was whether Mother India would be partitioned into two countries; the subsequent creation of Pakistan as a separate state for Indian Muslims pushed all other historical traumas, especially those of distant Europe, out of view.
So Pankaj Mishra writes in Purification Rites, a personal and analytical essay in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.
It's important to examine the pitfalls of facism, particularly when the new Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Liberman prides himself on intolerance and demands loyalty oaths. "Those who want peace should prepare for war," Lieberman barked in his first official speech, confirming the fears of those who anticipate that Israel's new government will assume a belligerent and more aggressive posture. But then Lieberman's main preoccupation this week was a police interrogation on personal graft. Way to go, Avigdor!
It is also timely to note that these two nuclear powers, Israel and India, are trading arms in a big way. Israel now is the number two supplier of weaponry to Mother India, trailing only after Russia. Eh, Lieberman? A scandal about kickbacks is unfolding and tainting some of the middlemen. That odd song and dance clip from Rafael comes to mind.
Mishra goes on to say:
My grandfather had no interest in Judaism, or in any of India’s many faiths. Like many Hindu nationalists and Zionists, he was a secularist, impatient with religion’s unworldliness. He admired Israel for its proud and clear national identity – for the sharply defined religious and cultural ideology of Zionism and the patriotism it inculcated in Israel’s citizens. Israel, which was building a new nation in splendid isolation, surrounded by Arab enemies, knew what India did not: how to deal with Muslims in the only language they understood, that of force and more force...
India and Israel started out as formally democratic and economically left-wing. A mere decade separates their political transformations, when hardline right-wing groups long deemed marginal – the Likud in 1977 and the BJP in 1989– began to dramatically change the political culture of the two countries. Unrest in occupied territories (the intifadas that began in 1987 and 2000, and Pakistan-aided insurgency in Kashmir from 1989), helped give the postcolonial nationalisms of India and Israel a hard millenarian edge. In the 1990s both countries embarked on an economic and ideological makeover – the rejection of ideals of inclusive growth and egalitarianism in favour of neoliberal notions about private wealth-creation.