Last month, a political science professor at Sharda University in Uttar Pradesh posed this exam question to his students: “Do you find any similarities between Fascism/Nazism and the Hindu Right (Hindutva)? Elaborate with the argument. The teacher was suspended by university authorities, on the grounds that even asking the question was ‘totally opposed’ to our country’s ‘great national identity’ and ‘may have the potential to foment social discord’.
This column seeks to answer the question that the professor at Sharda University had no right to ask his students. I use, as my main sources, the writings of the Italian historian Marzia Casolari, in particular an essay she published in the Economic and political weekly in 2000 entitled “Hindutva’s Foreign Tie-up in the 1930s”, and a book she published 20 years later, entitled In the shadow of the swastika: the relationship between Indian radical nationalism, Italian fascism and Nazism
Casolari’s work is based on a prodigious amount of research carried out in archives in Italy, India and the United Kingdom and also draws on primary material in several languages. She demonstrates that in the 1920s and 1930s the Marathi press covered the rise of fascism in Italy with great interest, and above all with admiration, believing that a similar ideology in India could also transform a backward agrarian country into an industrial power. rising and bring order and peace. regimentation to a protest society.
spirit of militarism
These glowing articles on Benito Mussolini and fascism, several of which are quoted by Casolari, may well have been read by KB Hedgewar and MS Golwalkar (the prominent leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) and by VD Savarkar and BS Moonje (the prominent leaders from Hindu Mahasabha) – all four had Marathi as their mother tongue. Thus, as Casolari writes, “By the late 1920s, the Fascist regime and Mussolini had many supporters in Maharashtra. The aspects of fascism that most appealed to Hindu nationalists were, of course, the supposed shift of Italian society from chaos to order, and its militarization. This manifestly undemocratic system was seen as a positive alternative to democracy, seen as a quintessentially British institution.
A key figure in Casolari’s research is Dr. BS Moonje, a major ideologue on the Hindu right. Moonje visited Italy in 1931 and met many supporters of the fascist regime. He was deeply impressed by Benito Mussolini and his ideology, and his desire to instil the spirit of militarism among the youth.
At his request, Moonje secured a meeting with Mussolini himself. When the Duce asked the flattering Indian visitor what he thought of fascist youth organizations, Moonje replied, “Your Excellency, I am very impressed. Every aspiring and growing nation needs such organizations. India needs it most for its military regeneration.
Of his conversation with the Fascist dictator of Italy, Moonje remarked, “Thus ended my memorable interview with Signor Mussolini, one of the great men of the European world. He is a tall man with a broad face, double chin, and broad chest. His face shows that he is a man of strong will and powerful personality. I noticed that the Italians liked it.
Moonje was impressed by Mussolini’s personality and carried away by his ideology, with its glorification of perpetual war and its contempt for peace and reconciliation. He quoted with approval statements of the Italian dictator such as this: “War alone brings to its highest tension all human energy and puts the seal of nobility on the peoples who have the courage to face it.
And this one too: “Fascism believes neither in the possibility nor in the usefulness of perpetual peace. It thus repudiates the doctrine of pacifism which was born from the renunciation of the struggle and [is] an act of cowardice in the face of sacrifice.
Moonje was the mentor of future RSS founder KB Hedgewar. As a young student in Nagpur, Hedgewar stayed in Moonje’s household, and it was Moonje who sent Hedgewar to study medicine in Calcutta. After his trip to Italy, Moonje and Hedgewar worked hard to bring the Hindu Mahasabha and the RSS closer together. Casolari informs us that in January 1934, Hedgewar chaired a conference on Fascism and Mussolini, with Moonje giving one of the main speeches.
Standardization of Hinduism
In March of the same year, Moonje, Hedgewar and their colleagues had a long meeting in which Moonje remarked, “I thought of a scheme based on the Hindu Dharm Shastra which provides for the normalization of Hinduism all over India… But the fact is that this ideal cannot be implemented unless we have our own swaraj with a Hindu as dictator like Shivaji of yore or Mussolini or Hitler of today in Italy or in Germany. But that does not mean that we should sit with folded hands until such a dictator arises in India. We should formulate a scientific scheme and make propaganda for it.
Moonje drew a direct parallel between Italian fascism and the ideology of the RSS. Thus he writes: “The idea of fascism brings out in a striking way the conception of unity between peoples. India and especially Hindu India needs such an institution for the military regeneration of Hindus…Our institution of Rashtriya Svayamsewak Sangh of Nagpur under Dr. Hedgewar is of this type, although quite independently designed .
Casolari observes that “the RSS recruitment method was virtually identical to that of the Balilla youth organization in Italy. Members of Shaka, for example, have been grouped according to their age (6-7 to 10; 10 to 14; 14 to 28; 28 and older). This is strikingly similar to the age brackets of the hierarchical organization of fascist youth organizations… The hierarchical order of RSS members, however, came after the founding of the organization and may well have been derived from fascism.
Casolari quotes a police officer’s note from 1933, which said of the RSS: “It is perhaps no exaggeration to say that the Sangh hopes to be in future India what the ‘fascists’ are to Italy and the “Nazis” to Germany. The memo further observes: “The Sangh is essentially an anti-Muslim organization aimed exclusively at Hindu supremacy in the country.”
Casolari’s research also has some interesting insights into Savarkar’s worldview. She writes that “[in] Around 1938, Nazi Germany became the main point of reference for the Hindu Mahasabha, under the presidency of Savarkar. Germany’s rabid policies on race have been taken as a model for solving the “Muslim problem” in India. »
Among Savarkar’s remarks quoted by Casolari are the following:
“Germany has every right to resort to Nazism and Italy to Fascism and events have justified that these isms and forms of government were imperative and beneficial to them under the conditions prevailing there.”
“Nationality did not depend so much on a common geographical area as on the unity of thought, religion, language and culture. For this reason, Germans and Jews could not be considered a nation.
“In Germany, the movement of the Germans is the national movement but that of the Jews is a community movement.”
“A Nation is formed by a majority who live there. What did the Jews do in Germany? Being a minority, they were expelled from Germany.
“[T]indian Muslims are on the whole more likely to identify themselves and their interests with Muslims outside India than Hindus living nearby, such as Jews in Germany.
Savarkar is, of course, an emblematic figure of Hindutva regime in power in India today. Casolari’s book also contains a passing reference to another Hindutva icon, Syama Prasad Mookerjee. In the interwar period, the Italian government aggressively sought to cultivate Indian intellectuals and politicians who might be sympathetic to fascism.
Their work was continued by Giuseppe Tucci, the most eminent Italian orientalist of his generation and himself a supporter of fascism. Tucci corresponded regularly with Moonje, and in the 1930s was also in contact with S. P. Mookerjee, then vice-chancellor of the University of Calcutta, and at the fullness of time to become the founder of the Jana Sangh, the predecessor of the Bharatiya Janata Party. . Writing to his mentor, fascist philosopher Giovanni Gentile, Tucci describes Mookerjee as “our most important collaborator” in Calcutta.
Marzia Casolari is not the first scholar to explore the parallels between Hindutva and fascism. However, she did it with more rigor and more detail than anyone. His research shows that the teacher at Sharda University had asked his students a legitimate and important question. By not allowing them to answer them, and by suspending the teacher himself, the university administrators demonstrated their fear of the truth. And perhaps, even more, the fear of their political bosses, who would like us to forget that the founders of Hindutva were greatly inspired by European fascism.
Ramachandra Guha’s new book, Rebels against the Raj, is now in store. His email address is [email protected]
This article first appeared in The Telegraph.