Ghandi vs Hitler
Our journey through India began with one of the most famous women in India, so it seemed only fitting that we finished our six weeks in the country by visiting the abode of the most famous Indian man, Mahatma Ghandi.
A trip to Mani Bhavan near Chowpatty Beach in Mumbai made for a fascinating review of the milestones of Ghandi’s life. Anyone who has ever seen the Oscar winning biographical film about the Mahatma’s life (literally Great Soul in Sanskrit), or read Ghandi’s autobiography will be at least vaguely familiar with many of the events which shaped him as a young man. The museum which has been established at Mani Bhavan, Ghandi’s residence when he was in Bombay, does not simply rehash the facts; here you can see the room where he slept and some of his modest personal belongings, look through photos and read quotations which succinctly explain the philosophy of Satyagraha, which Gandhi is famous for.
Gandhi is an international inspiration with disciples such as Martin Luther King Jr, Einstein, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. His personal experience of discrimination in Apartheid South Africa is well known, as are the civil protests which he lead that morphed into a catalyst for change, eventually signalling the death knell for the British Empire. However, the most interesting exhibit at Mani Bhavan was Gandhi’s letter to Adolf Hitler.
Addressing Hitler as “My Friend”, the letter is written in the humblest of tones; Gandhi urges the Führer to retreat from the brink of war, but the strangest thing about this letter is the way it contrasts with popular thinking about Hitler in India today. Walking around Mumbai, we were able to find numerous booksellers stacking copies on Mein Kampf for sale. I interviewed one man who told me that it was a bestseller in India. When asked why the book was so popular, he explained that “Hitler was a Mastermind”, but was unable to expand on this claim.
His views are echoed by Jaico, the publishers, who are racing to produce at least two reprints per year to satisfy demand from young Indians who claim that it is a ‘management guide’. As Sohin Lakani, owner of the Mumbai- based Embassy books put it in a Telegraph interview “Students are increasingly coming in asking for it and we are happy to sell it to them…They see it as kind of a success story where one man can have a vision, work out a plan and how to implement it and then successfully complete it”.
The same article quotes an Indian reader, Ram Kumar: “In our country we need more pride and self-confidence. Hitler developed his country in a very short time through industrialization. Yes, he definitely had some bad qualities, but we can learn from his management style and leadership skills.”
Naturally, such admiration of an historical character, viewed as a monster by many in the West, is disturbing. Especially worrying is the lack of historical context in which the book is being distributed and that some young Indians mistakenly view the letters to Hitler as a sign that there was a relationship between Gandhi and Hitler. To add to the confusion, according to some academics, the Nazis borrowed the Sawstika, a Hindu motif and ideas about Aryan supremacy.
It is ironic that Gandhi wrote to Hitler some months before the beginning of WWII and pleaded him to abandon his warmongering and that President Obama described Gandhi as “The father of your nation” when he addressed the Indian parliament during his visit last November. However, some like Ram Kumar seem to be taking inspiration from a man who is the very antithesis of everything Gandhi stood for.