Some Swamp residents may not know what it means to “split” on Twitter – and probably lead full and happy lives as a result. Simply put, this means that the number of critical comments in response to your tweet significantly exceeds your approving retweets. It happened to me a few days ago. I was responding to a tweet by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi announcing that a statue of Subhas Chandra Bose, the country’s most controversial independence leader, would find a proud place in New Delhi’s India gate.
“Latest exhibition of Modi’s fascist ideology,” I tweeted. “Evil was an admirer of Hitler and a pawn of the Ash powers.” Those who want a look at Hindu nationalism’s darkest id should read a wealth of furious remarks below. Here is my disinfected summary: “Adolf Hitler was a much greater friend of India than Winston Churchill.”
Now, in fairness, Bose, or “Netaji” as his admirers call him, was a more nuanced figure than my comments implied. Yet Bose fought with the Ash forces and spent a year in wartime Berlin as a guest of Hitler. His Free India Legion, formed in Germany from 3,000 Indian prisoners of war who fought alongside the British, swore an oath of allegiance to both Hitler and India. Evil was then taken by submarine to Tokyo where he commanded the more enduring Indian National Army – mostly recruited after the fall of Singapore – which fought alongside the Japanese Imperial Army in the jungles of Burma.
It is certainly fair to say that Bose was more of an effective ally of Hitler – on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend – than that he was an admirer. It is also fair to say that Churchill had only slightly less racist views of Indians than Hitler (who made clear his racial contempt for Indians in my struggle). Churchill also perpetuated the war famine in Bengal that claimed 3 million Indian lives. It is rare to meet an Indian who feels anything but hatred for Churchill. I fully understand this (and my tweet never mentioned him).
Why am I raising it now? Because Modi’s choice of Bose to fill that central place sends a powerful signal. The pedestal has been empty since King George V’s bust was removed in the 1960s. Some wanted to erect Mohandas Gandhi’s statue there. Others have chosen to appoint Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister. Evil was alone among the Indian independence movement which the Nazis regarded as a lesser evil than the British Raj in its dwindling days.
It’s worth reading this extract of Nehru’s mellifluous Discovery of India about how he was opposed to both Italy’s Benito Mussolini and to Nazism – and indeed to Hitler’s path in Munich – long before that position became mainstream in Britain. Nehru was a principled and clairvoyant figure who had no trouble recognizing the world-historical barbaric threat posed by fascism. Modi’s choice of Evil, rather than Gandhi or Nehru, to fill that place is part of an ongoing effort to rewrite and erase the noble legacy of India’s freedom movement. Given the atrocities that the Japanese Imperial Army inflicted on the people of other Asian nations who occupied it – think of the 1937 rape of Nanjing, or the “comfort women” of Korea, the Philippines and elsewhere – it is ridiculous to think an Ash victory would have been pleasant for India.
None of this is academic. Politicians only rewrite history with contemporary purposes in mind. It is noteworthy that there has been a surge in sales of my struggle since Modi came to power in 2014. Hitler’s diabolical memoirs have been translated into several Indian languages, including Hindi, Gujarati, Tamil and Marathi. Nowhere else in the world, except for the neo-Nazi pockets in the west, is Hitler’s name so frequently and positively invoked. In some state curricula, Hitler is described as a “Inspirational tenant”. my struggle is used as a textbook to teach leadership skills in some Indian business courses.
It is also worth noting that Modi’s greatest hero – MS Golwalkar, former head of the right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the parent organization of Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP – was an outspoken supporter of Hitler. The RSS, founded in the 1920s, is deliberately modeled on Mussolini’s black shirts. Here is what Golwalkar, who regularly praised Nazi Germany’s “racial identity”, wrote in 1939 about the choice facing India’s non-Hindu people (mainly Muslims and Christians):
“Either to unite themselves in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at its mercy as long as the national race allows it and to leave the country on the sweet will of the national race.”
I have little doubt that Golwalkar’s is the statue that Modi would most like to give a place.
I do not predict a Holocaust in India. What I’m saying is that the country’s prime minister is a textbook fascist – a word I do not take lightly. The warning lights for India’s 200m Muslims are gradually flickering redder and we can not ignore what is happening.
Rana, I know the topic of this note comes somewhat from the left. My question to you is how much should we care about India’s internal political direction – or indeed that of any of America’s friends and allies? Or should we be pragmatic and turn a blind eye? I am aware that the US has its own domestic threats to confront.
My column this week looks at the fatal consequences of Angela Merkel’s 2011 decision to close Germany’s nuclear power sector. “Half of Germany’s gas supply comes from Russia,” I write. “In normal times it would be too many eggs in one basket. “In the middle of winter, with rising energy inflation and Russian units gathering on Ukraine’s border, it gives Putin a weapon.”
While we are in Ukraine, this note from the ever brilliant Adam Tooze provides a narrative timeline of Ukraine’s difficult internal journey that I have not seen better elsewhere. The story is less binary than is often portrayed in many of the Western media.
My colleague John Thornhill wrote a smart and thoughtful column about how the scramble for semiconductors is this era’s industrial Big Game. “Semiconductors, which control everything from smartphones to medical devices to F-35 fighter jets, have become the battleground for fierce geopolitical rivalry as the U.S. seeks to strengthen its technological hegemony and slow China’s rise,” John wrote.
Finally, in the week that the US Federal Reserve may have ushered in a new era of monetary policy, look at this fascinating debate on inflation between Larry Summers and Paul Krugman. It is fair to say that Krugman is probably the most influential member of “team passing”, although he now admits that he was wrong last year to reduce the risks of inflation. Summers has become America’s leading inflation whistleblower.
Rana Foroohar responds
Ed, I enjoyed reading this note – I admire your passion for the (very covert) India story and learn from it. I think one could argue that there are few allies who need to watch the US as closely as India. If we were to build any kind of non-China-centric economic power base in Asia, it would revolve around India. There are many for American companies to benefit from a large, English-speaking market, but there are also many potentially controversial issues here.
One that I thought of was the way Covid and the new, permanent reality of WFH could open up a new round of outsourcing of white-collar work. India would be a perfect place to place any number of them, as evidenced by the fact that many large conglomerates are there purchasing accent syringe software. Just as the US is making an effort to work with the EU on drafting new rules to make sure the world economy does not become even more of a winner-takes-all game (which in my opinion is behind many of the nationalism and polarization of our present moment), we must do the same with allies in the Indo-Pacific. Even the US cannot do it alone. Disconnecting with China cannot mean turning our backs on the world. In fact, it may mean we have to work harder and pay more attention to what is happening in places like India in an effort to make sure we secure our own orbit of allies. China is definitely trying to do that.
As for the “relationship” – I had no idea what it meant (I tend to use Twitter primarily as a news feed, rather than a real way of talking to anyone – it’s just too soul-destroying and time-consuming otherwise). But I’ll be curious to know in a future note if you get something very useful from Twitter thread comments, pro or con. I’m a pretty lagging indicator, but I do not spend much time with them and do not want much.
And now a word from our Swampians. . .
In response to ‘The rise and rise of crypto’:
“A facet of mayors who are happily looking to be paid in [digital currencies] promoting their cities crypto-friendly environments is at odds with protests over the search for carbon reduction. I read that the electricity consumption of mining bitcoins last year was the equivalent of using Argentina or the Netherlands. Much of this mining takes place in countries whose energy comes from sources that are anything but renewable. The bitcoin model requires that electricity consumption will only have to increase to sustain transactions. How will we react if the mayor of Houston wants to be paid in oil or that of Pittsburgh in coal to advance the resources of their regions? ” – Tom Healy, Lewes, East Sussex, United Kingdom
In response to ‘The Ukraine problem seems terribly insoluble’:
“Your preference for a neutral state solution in fact follows exactly what Zbigniew Brzezinski in the pages of the FT on February 23, 2014. And here we are, seven years later, sleeping in a crisis long predicted by those with the expertise to know. ” – Michael Keaney, Helsinki, Finland
“It is more than disgusting that the west should allow Russia to have its ‘own sphere of influence’ when it comes to accepting Crimea, Georgia and the Donbas. Russia (or Putin) can not be trusted under any theory. “Sphere of influence” means total control and effective subjugation of people. ” – Peter Bull, Chelsea, London
“Why not think of a solution where Ukraine is a neutral state, but not a ‘buffer’ one, but rather a key and valued component of a new European security architecture with equal guarantees for the security of all state? Such an arrangement would be the result of a new set of rules, worked out jointly by all those involved, sitting around the table with Europe playing a sovereign enabling role. – Georgi Pirinski, Sofia, Bulgaria