Disregarding allegations that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) has conducted anti-minority pogroms and drew inspiration from the Nazis, Australian High Commissioner Barry O’Farrell visited the paramilitary’s Nagpur, Maharashtra headquarters on November 15th to applaud its activities.
O’Farrell’s visit, which featured a meeting with RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat, instantly invoked memories of the international outrage that erupted after German Ambassador Walter Lindner visited the group’s headquarters in July 2019. The Jerusalem Post, one of many international media outlets to cover the scandal, reported, “The RSS shares the fascist ideology of the Nazi Party and supports extreme Hindu nationalism.” Indian journalist Siddharth Bhatia, one of many within India to criticise the visit, wrote that the RSS “has never made any secret of its love for Adolf Hitler,” adding, “Given how carefully Germany in the post-War years has worked to eliminate Nazism and all its manifestations, he also would have known what signals his visit would send. Yet, he went anyway.”
Lindner’s visit continues to make waves in Germany as, in October 2020, German Member of Parliament Margarete Bause stated, “The RSS is really a fascist group, which acts with hatred, which acts with violence, and the visit of the German ambassador to this group, I honestly cannot understand it…. The terrible thing is that, with this visit, the RSS can claim that there is some kind of recognition of their politics. Of course, they then also do their propaganda with the visit…. That is a wrong political signal, and it is also a fatal political signal. I criticize that unequivocally.” Echoing his colleague later that month, MP Michel Brandt stated, “I find it absolutely scandalous what the German ambassador has done.”
“Since arriving in India I’ve reached out to all sections of society, civil, business, government and politics, as I seek to gain a greater understanding of the country,” said O’Farrell about his visit. “During my political career I had an ‘open door’ policy, which served me well; I intend to continue it as Australia’s representative to India.”
O’Farrell’s visit, however, was not merely one of “reaching out” to the RSS, but appeared to legitimise the paramilitary as the official reason given for the meeting was to applaud the group’s COVID-19 relief efforts. Such was also the case with Lindner. “I went to educate myself about the organization,” argued the German ambassador, and yet his visit included paying homage to a statue of RSS co-founder and first chief KB Hedgewar.
Both Lindner and O’Farrell were also pictured with Bhagwat standing before pictures of Hedgewar as well as second and longest-serving RSS chief MS Golwalkar, who is known as the paramilitary’s “guru.”
In April 1925, Hitler founded the Schutzstaffel (Protection Squadron) — or SS — to protect the racial purity of a Germany of Germans. In July, he published Mein Kampf. In September, Hedgewar co-founded the RSS for the purpose of turning India into an ethno-state.
Hedgewar insisted that India was “a nation of Hindu people” which he compared to a “Germany of Germans.” The RSS’s goal, he said, was “to put in[to] reality the words ‘Hindustan of Hindus’” and protect against “daily onslaughts by outsiders.” Golwalkar, while praising Nazi racial policy in the process, made clear that all non-Hindus were considered as “outsiders.”
Golwalkar defined the “National Race” as the “Hindu Race,” declaring: “Only the Hindu has been living here as the child of this soil.” He insisted, “In Hindustan, the land of the Hindus, lives and should live the Hindu nation.” All non-Hindus, he argued, faced only two options: “Either to merge themselves in the national race and adopt its culture, or to live at its mercy so long as the national race may allow them to do so and to quit the country at the sweet will of the national race.”
Describing converts away from Hinduism as “traitors” who had joined “the camp of the enemy,” Golwalkar called them members of “foreign races” who are “internal threats” and demanded that they be stripped of citizenship rights unless they “lose their separate existence to merge in[to] the Hindu race.”
Most infamously, Golwalkar, writing in 1939 at the outset of the Second World War, overtly praised the European fascist movements. Extolling Mussolini’s Italy for awakening “the old Roman Race consciousness of conquering the whole territory round the Mediterranean Sea,” he also applauded Nazi Germany, declaring, “The ancient Race Spirit, which prompted the Germanic tribes to over-run the whole of Europe, has re-risen in modern Germany with the result that the Nation perforce follows aspirations, predetermined by the traditions left by its depredatory ancestors.” It was, he concluded: “Even so with us: our Race spirit has once again roused itself.”
It was four years after the Nazis passed the Nuremberg Laws (stripping Jews of citizenship) and a year after Kristallnacht (the first Nazi pogrom against the Jews) when Golwalkar pointed to Nazi Germany as a model. Denouncing Judaism as “an intolerant faith,” he wrote:
“To keep up the purity of the race and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races — the Jews. Race pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures, having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into one united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
With this xenophobic ideology as its foundation, the RSS has been repeatedly implicated in pogroms against Indian Christians and Muslims which have left tens of thousands — perhaps hundreds of thousands — dead in incidents of mass violence. It has been banned in India three times. The many atrocities in which it is implicated also include the 1999 murder of Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons in the state of Odisha.
Pratap Sarangi, who then headed the Odisha branch of Bajrang Dal — the RSS subsidiary accused of Staines’ murder — is now a Union Cabinet Minister.
O’Farrell is only the second top diplomat of any country to visit RSS headquarters. Lindner — the first to do so — invoked the spectre of Nazi Germany when he did, particularly as his visit occurred only a month after the first assassination of a German politician by a neo-Nazi since 1945. O’Farrell’s visit, meanwhile, falls little more than a year after the Christchurch massacre in New Zealand by Australian white supremacist terrorist Brenton Tarrant.
Notably, Tarrant said that he “only really took true inspiration from” from Norwegian white supremacist terrorist Anders Breivik, who was enamoured with the RSS. Praising the RSS for how they “dominate the streets” and “often riot and attack Muslims,” Breivik insisted that “our goals are more or less identical,” declaring, “It is essential that [… we] learn from each other and cooperate as much as possible.”
Considering how the RSS fascinates white supremacist terrorists to the extent that they call for collaboration, was inspired by and praised the Nazis, and has murdered minorities en masse, O’Farrell’s laudatory visit with the paramilitary must prompt his removal.[Reproduced with style editing. You can read the original work here.]
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Pieter Friedrich is a South Asian Affairs Analyst who resides in California. He is the co-author of Captivating the Simple-Hearted: A Struggle for Human Dignity in the Indian Subcontinent. Discover more by him at pieterfriedrich.net.