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NAZI PROPAGANDA IN INDIA
DR. EUGENE J. D’SOUZA
Nazism was a fascist political movement that emerged in Germany during the post First World War period under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. Nazis were opposed to democracy, communism, socialism and other political systems that favoured or claimed to favour equality. After acquiring political power in 1933, Hitler prepared Germany for war. Meanwhile to build up support base the Nazi Germany undertook clandestine Nazi propaganda in India.
Methodology of Nazi Propaganda in India:
India was still groaning under the grip of British colonial rule. Following the enactment of the Government of India Act, 1935 and provincial elections in 1937, the national movement was losing its vigour. It was during this period that the Nazis through the German business interests and Nazi agents attempted to propagate Nazism in India.
The communal elements and certain individuals in the Congress were most easily accessible to Nazi propaganda. The totalitarian doctrines were quite popular in Bengal where revolutionary activities on the model of Sinn Fein were common for some years. Anti-socialism provided yet another plank for the Nazi-Fascist propagandists. With the emergence of the left wing in the Congress, capitalists and landlords became apprehensive about their future. Hence they too became receptive to the Nazi propaganda. The Nazi agents decided to translate Hitler’s Mein Kampf in all major Indian languages.
The Nazis started their propaganda and spying activities thorough various cultural and business organisations, both Indian and European. The Nazis had their business houses in India to mail pro-Nazi literature and to distribute advertisements to friendly publications and papers. Often Indians knowing German, Arabic and Persian languages were invited to German Clubs to listen to lectures on Nazism. Besides newspapers published by pro-German editors in India, the Nazis also used radio broadcasting from Germany to influence Indians through musical programmes like Moonlight on Taj Mahal.
In Bombay, the Nazis used to have clandestine meetings on board German ships in the Bombay harbour. When such activities were exposed by anti-Nazi elements, they used to meet secretly in the residences of local Nazis to discuss various issues. The Nazis in India decided to co-operate with the Japanese agents in India as Japan hoped to create trouble for the British in India if they refused to recognise the ‘new order’ established by Japan in the East. The Nazis and the Japanese had decided not to have anything to do with the Congress, which in their view was too much of a ‘leftist’ and pro-British organisation. Thus, they decided to concentrate on communal and sectional organisations.
It is paradoxical but true that the Nazi propagandists tried to influence both the Hindu and Muslim communalists. The Nazis used the Palestine issue in India as in other Muslim countries to win the support of the Muslims. Some vernacular newspapers specially belonging to Hindu Mahasabha openly preached National Socialism for India and a Hindu Fuhrer and their choice was Dr. V.D. Savarkar. The Nazi symbol Swastika and the Aryan race theory fascinated the Hindu communalist. For both Hindu and Muslim communalists the Nazis appeared as anti-Christian and anti-Semitic and the enemies of the British and democracy. The Nazis also carried on espionage activities. One German photographer sent a map of Bombay to Germany marking important and strategic locations.
Role of Newspapers in Nazi Propaganda:
Certain newspapers in India published both in English and vernacular languages carried on more direct Nazi propaganda. They received financial help and advertisements from the German firms. The German wife of a professor at the Aligarh University published the Spirit of the Times to gain support of the Indian Muslims to the Nazi cause. Salar-E-Hind published by an Iranian named Saif Azad, who had been in Germany and later migrated to Bombay, specialised in camouflaged Nazi propaganda. It promoted Nazi propaganda in the name of anti-Semitic and anti-Communist stance.
The Princely India, published by a controversial person named Gopal Pillai published articles on and news despatches from Germany and Japan. Charley Baptista, a nephew of ‘Kaka’ Joseph Baptista wrote a number of articles in praise of Nazism and Hitler. In one of the articles he wrote, “…. Hitler should go down as the man of the century. The Fuhrer has rightly proved himself to be a perfect specimen of a self-suffering hero. Why should we then despise such a Christ-like man”.
Nazi propagandists even tried to reach the interiors of India. The Karnataka Bandhu, published from Gadag in the Darwad District of Karnataka, published an article in its issue dated 12th July 1939 under the caption, The Germany we hear of is different. All that is reported in the newspapers is a meaningless hue and cry. Germany does not at all want war, the Nazis are peace loving people. The article contained the following praise for Hitler, “… The Germans regard their leader with unshakeable and unfailing feelings of awe, reverence, love and confidence, and believe him to be a thorough lover of peace. To every Nazi, man and woman, Hitler is not merely a political leader but an example of lofty spiritual life…The Germans have reposed an unshakeable trust in Hitler and they believe Hitler to be divine representative sent by God for the upliftment of the German people. That this belief is true will be evident from the service done by Hitler to Germany”.
A young Chitpavan Brahmin, Madhav Kashinath Damle, schoolteacher by profession was greatly influenced by Fascist ideology of Benito Mussolini. He published a paper called Lokhandi Morcha (Iron Front). He took Italian lessons from Professor Mario Careli of St. Xavier’s College. In Lokhandi Morcha Damle published articles favouring violence and Nazi and Fascist activities. The Trikal published by S.L. Karandikar from Poona used to carry pro-Nazi news and articles. The news published in its issue dated 1st July 1939 highlighted the fact that Dr. Goebbels, the chief of the German Publicity Department had sent Nazi propagandists for extolling the Nazi system of government for India. Their chief targets were the Indian Princely States.
The British Government paid close and cautious attention to the question of Nazi propaganda in India. However, the government felt that the situation was not very serious and did not think of adopting any special measure to counter it, as it would have involved financial burden. Such lukewarm response of the Central Government emboldened the German agents to carry on their activities in different parts of India, especially in Bombay. As the war clouds began to gather on the European horizon, the British Government in India at last took some steps to prevent the growing problem of Nazi propaganda in India. The ‘Anti-Nazi League’ was founded in Bombay by a group of young Indians to counter the Nazi propaganda. T.K. Menon was its honorary Secretary. Through various activities the ‘Anti-Nazi League’ tried to educate the Indians about the dangers of the Nazi propaganda in India.
By the available documentary evidence in the Mumbai Archives, it may be presumed that the Nazi propaganda in India was active for a brief period from 1933 to 1939. Besides, the Nazi activities were restricted to cities like Bombay and Calcutta where the Germans had their business firms. Due to the vastness of the country and paucity of communication network the Nazi propaganda could not make much headway in India. The above-mentioned newspapers could not make much impact due to their minuscule circulation. Some of the journalists associated with these newspapers such as Saif Azad, Gopal Pillai and Charley Baptista were persons of questionable reputation. It is apparent that they were motivated more by monetary consideration than conviction in Nazi ideology. However, committed Hindu communalists such as Madhav Kashinath Damle and S.L. Karandikar, editors of Lokhandi Morcha and Trikal respectively were sincere in their attempt in spreading Fascist and Nazi ideologies through their newspapers as it suited their own ideology of Hindutva.
Though the Nazi propaganda, did not have much impact on general public, Indian communalists, especially the more militant among them such as the members of the Hindu Mahasabha were very much influenced by Hitler’s ideology and the Nazi organisation of Germany. Strangely enough the otherwise irreconcilable reactionaries and fanatics among both Hindus and Muslims were attracted to totalitarian doctrines though their approach was from two opposite directions. The pseudo mystical slogans of the dictators appealed to both. Militant Hindus as a vindication of their own doctrine of race and caste erroneously interpreted the Nazi’s glorification of the Aryan race. They regarded the adoption of the Hindu symbol of the Swastika by the Nazis as the manifestation of the proximity of Hitler’s philosophy to Hinduism.
V.D. Savarkar’s writings and speeches manifest his profound appreciation of Nazism and a desire to transplant the German experiment in India. His ideology of Hindutva bears an unmistakable imprint of Nazism. In one of his speeches Savarkar had remarked, “Nazism believed that the German nation should be the symbol of German culture, German language and German civilisation; in short, Germany for Germans only. There is no place for a community, which had no faith in German ideas. If this is called communalism, then I see no reason why I should not be dubbed a communalist”. In another speech he had said that the movement of the Germans was the national movement but that of the Jews was a communal one. Speaking at a meeting held at Poona on 14th May 1939 to honour S.L. Karandikar, editor and publisher of the Trikal, M.R. Tulsibagwale appreciated the former’s pride in Hinduism. He praised the Nazi organisation and compared it to the Hindu Sanghatana. Further he compared Savarkar to Hitler and S.L. Karandikar to Dr. Goebbels and the Hindu youth to the Nazi army.
The echo of the Nazi propaganda in India is felt even in present times. The Hindutva propaganda unleashed by the Sangh Parivar with an attempt to promote a ‘national culture’ and its minority bashing may lead to serious consequences in this great country known for its ‘unity in diversity’ and secular credentials.