From October 27 to 29, 2019, an unofficial delegation of around 30 Members of the European Parliament met India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Some of them subsequently visited the northern Indian region of Kashmir, currently out of bounds for foreign journalists and Indian politicians.
The delegation was made up mostly of MEPs representing European right-wing to far-right parties, including the Alternative für Deutschland (Germany), Rassemblement National (France), Law and Justice (Poland), the Brexit Party (UK), Vlaams Belang (Belgium) and the Vox party (Spain). French, British, Italian and Polish politicians were the most numerous among the delegates. Only four delegates can be considered from the political center.
The delegation preceded a state visit of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel by a mere two days,1 and was scheduled only a month after the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) regions have lost their special status and were reduced to two "union territories."
Formerly, Article 370 of the Indian constitution gave special status to J&K—a region which has been the subject of dispute between India, Pakistan, and China since 1947—conferring it with the power to have a separate constitution, a state flag and autonomy over the internal administration of the state.
The government of India revoked this special status in August 2019 through a presidential order and the passage of a resolution in Parliament, while in parallel thousands of politicians were detained. In the meantime, some have been released and restrictions have been relaxed, but the area remains closed to foreign journalists and Indian politicians.
The EU representation in New Delhi stated upon press requests that the delegates were there in a private capacity, and were not part of an official EU delegation.2
The visit of the delegation started out at Modi's private residence, followed by a briefing "about the situation in the state by national security adviser Ajit Doval, whose office is said to be facilitating the visit."2 One of the MEPs, the AfD politician Bernhard Zimniok, had noted that the official invitation to the event was extended by the New Delhi-based International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies (IINS),34 while "the organisation of the mission was mainly done by Mr Henri Malosse, former president of the European Economic and Social Committee and Mrs Madi Sharma, EESC member."5 Two IINS staff members had approached representatives of all political groups in Brussels, another AfD delegate, Lars Patrick Berg, said.1
Both AfD delegates, Zimniok and Berg, are reserve officers of the German army (Bundeswehr), and both are known for their Islamophobic campaigns. Berg has gained negative attention with his excessive filing of parliamentary inquiries, which i.a. dealt with illegal border crossings,6 the number of Muslim child marriages,7 and Salafism8 in Germany, which he described as “an acute threat to our democracy.”
Bernard Zimniok is a former army lieutenant-colonel of the German army, who later had worked as a diplomat in Damascus and Islamabad, before becoming a private security consultant in Pakistan. His AfD campaigns often revolve around an alleged “Islamization of Germany,” while he rallies for immigration control and an increase of domestic and foreign security measures.910
While Indian politicians are barred from entering the Jammu and Kashmir regions since August 2019, and instead a handpicked delegation of foreign MEPs were invited to report back on the local situation, their appearance was quickly revealed to be a PR stunt.2 Given the highly orchestrated tour of the delegates, chances are little that they could get a realistic impression of the local conditions. Not only have they received particularly preferential treatment, including a romantic boat ride, but their trip to Srinagar, J&K's capital, on the 29th of November consisted merely in a quick drive there, protected by a heavily armed escort.
On the spot, the delegates were given the opportunity to talk to the press, not much to anyone's surprise in a manner that if not favors, at least does not criticize, Modi's J&K politics. Aforementioned AfD politician Bernhard Zimniok was quoted at length in The Indian Express:11
If Pakistan and India make a new attempt to normalise their relations, I believe that the European community should, if desired, act as an honest broker and mediator ... Should India and Pakistan also seek a solution to the deadlock, I and my colleagues from the AfD, who I was travelling with, will promote and deploy for it. If both sides are keen in incorporating us a neutral mediator, we must not stand aside.
Looking up other names in the delegation, it appears that some of the people invited have spoken favorably about India's Pakistan politics in other contexts. For example, when in September 2019 the situation in Kashmir was discussed in the European Parliament, the Polish Ryszard Czarnecki of the right-wing to far-right Law and Justice party had expressed understanding for India, which would "only react to terror threats," and accused Pakistan: "These terrorists did not come from the moon. They come from the neighboring country. We should support India."1
The Süddeutsche Zeitung had noted about Czarnecki:1
Czarnecki is one of the MEPs who could not only talk to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for half an hour. They were also briefed in detail by his security adviser Ajit Doval, which documents the government's great interest in the visit.
But there may be more somber reasons to the choice of delegates than merely whitewashing Modi's politics in the Jammu and Kashmir regions. There are long-standing ties between the ruling party of India, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and European fascists, which reach back to before the foundation of the party.
The BJP was preceded by a still existing Hindu nationalist paramilitary volunteer organization founded in 1925, called Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (lit. "National Volunteer Organisation" or "National Patriotic Organisation", RSS), "a group that espoused openly militant Hindu activism and the suppression of minorities in India."12 During World War II, RSS leaders openly praised Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini, and the second chief of the RSS, Madhav Sadashiv Golwalkar (1906 – 1973), took inspiration from Adolf Hitler's ideology of racial purity.1312
That Modi, who is a member of BJP and RSS, has not broken with this heritage, but rather actively cherishes it, can be deducted from his political campaigns aimed at changing the country’s historiography. Just recently, in January 2019, Modi arranged for the renaming of three islands in the Bay of Bengal in commemoration of the collaboration of Indian nationalists with the Axis powers.14
One of them, Ross Island, is now bearing the name Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945), who was the leader of the Nazi-collaborationist Indian Legion / Free India Legion (Azad Hind) (1942 - May 1945), comprised of some 4500 Indian soldiers who had been captured by Erwin Rommel's Deutsches Afrika Korps,15 later subordinated to the Waffen SS (Indian Volunteer Legion of the Waffen SS).
The Indian Legion was deployed in the German retreat from the Allied advance across France and the Netherlands, fighting mostly against the French resistance. One company was sent to Italy in 1944, where it saw action against British and Polish troops and undertook anti-partisan operations. Its members swore the following allegiance to Hitler and Bose: "I swear by God this holy oath that I will obey the leader of the German race and state, Adolf Hitler, as the commander of the German armed forces in the fight for India, whose leader is Subhas Chandra Bose."16 With German backing, in 1943 Bose declared the foundation of a provisional Indian national government in exile under his leadership.
The renaming of the other two islands, both of them among the touristically most explored in the Andaman archipelago, pays tribute to another axis-ally, Japan. Nearby Neil Island was renamed to Shaheed (Martyr) Dweep on Modi's initiative, while the third Island, Havelock Island, previously named after a British general, is now called Swaraj or Independence Island.14
To understand this historic pun, one has to look back to the times when the Japanese took possession of Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1942, and renamed them Shaheed and Swaraj Islands, meaning "martyr" and "independence" respectively. Subhash Chandra Bose had also collaborated with axis-allied Japan, when he took over the leadership of the Japanese-supported insurgent Indian National Army (INA) (August 1942 - September 1945). Subsequently, a small contingent of the Indian officer corps and leadership of the still Germany-based Indian Legion was transferred to the Indian National Army in South-East Asia.
While it appears understandable why references to British colonial rule in India would be abolished, the fact that they are being replaced with references to India's axis-collaboration in the country's fight for independence, is tale-telling for Modi's Geschichtspolitik.
Journalists have for years pointed to a creeping veneration of the Third Reich in India, and of Adolf Hitler in particular, which appears to be also reflected in popular culture. A politician of the Nationalist Congress Part in Meghalaya state named "Adolf Hitler" had made it to the state assembly in 2008.17 In 2012 an Indian romantic comedy film called Hero Hitler in Love was widely shown in Punjab cinemas. In 2018, a visitor to the Andaman Islands had photographed a cigarette brand sold there called Hitler Black. Others have reported of an Indian ice cream dealer selling Hitler ice cream in Delhi,18 or a cloth chain calling itself after the Nazi leader.17
List of Delegates
Below a list of all delegates based on the names provided by the Indian Telegraph.2
- Tom Vandeldriessche (Vlaams Belang)
- Thomas Zdechovsky (KDU-CSL)
- Bernhard Zimniok (AfD)
- Lars-Patrick Berg (AfD)
- Dr. Nikolaus Fest (AfD)
- Thierry Mariani (Rassemblement National, RN)
- Julie Lechanteux (RN)
- Virginie Joron (RN)
- Maxette Pirbakas (RN)
- France Jamet (RN)
- Nicolas Bay (RN)
- Fulvio Martusciello (Forza Italia)
- Guiseppe Ferrandino (Democratic Party)
- Gianni Gancia (Lega)
- Silvia Sardone (Lega)
- Ryszard Czarneki (Law and Justice, L&J)
- Kosma Zlotowski (L&J)
- Bogdan Rzonca (L&J)
- Elzbieta Rafalska (L&J)
- Joanna Kopcinska (L&J)
- Grzegorz Tobiszowski (L&J)
- Peter Pollak
- Hermann Tertsch (Vox)
- Nathan Gill (Brexit Party)
- Bill Newton Dunn (Liberal Democrat)
- Alexandra L. Phillips (Brexit Party)
- James Wells (Brexit Party)
- David Richard Bull (Brexit Party)
- 1. a. b. c. d. Matthias Kolb and Arne Perras, "Kaschmir-Konflikt:Orchestrierte Normalität," Süddeutsche Zeitung, October 29, 2019, https://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/eu-abgeordnete-indien-kaschmir-1.4660842.
- 2. a. b. c. d. Anita Joshua, "Europe’s MPs are welcome, not India’s," The Telegraph, October 29, 2019, https://www.telegraphindia.com/india/europes-mps-are-welcome-not-indias/cid/1715095.
- 3. International Institute for Non-Aligned Studies, https://iins.org/.
- 4. Bernhard Zimniok, "Declaration of members' attendance pursuant to an invitation at events organised by third parties," European Parliament, November 5, 2019, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/mepdat/197489_TRAV_LEG9_1005077_EN.pdf.
- 5. "Henri Malosse (65) is a French business representative and the 30th President of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) (April 2013 – October 2015). He wrote an article defending the abrogation of Article 370 in the European Parliament’s monthly magazine, and slammed Pakistan for terrorist activities." See: Shubhajit Roy, "Europe should mediate if India, Pakistan want, says far-right EU MP," The Indian Express, October 30, 2019, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/europe-should-mediate-if-india-pakistan-want-says-far-right-eu-mp-bernhard-zimniok-jk-kashmir-eu-delegates-visit-6093586/.
- 6. “Kreis Lörrach: Mehr unerlaubte Einreisen,” Die Oberbadische, June 6, 2017, https://www.verlagshaus-jaumann.de/inhalt.kreis-loerrach-mehr-unerlaubte-einreisen.6d70960e-f8a4-4608-b183-1bb4449482cb.html.
- 7. “Antwort auf kleine Anfrage der AfD: 187 minderjährige Verheiratete in BW,” SWR Aktuell, August 7, 2016, https://web.archive.org/web/20170810232004/https://www.swr.de/swraktuell/bw/antwort-auf-kleine-anfrage-der-afd-187-minderjaehrige-verheiratete-in-bw/-/id=1622/did=18093334/nid=1622/1u980it/index.html.
- 8. “Extremisten: Zahl der Salafisten im Südwesten steigt an,” Stuttgarter Nachrichten, May 11, 2017, https://www.stuttgarter-nachrichten.de/inhalt.extremisten-zahl-der-salafisten-im-suedwesten-steigt-leicht-an.2570ff0e-245e-408f-b3f8-c882ab49bca4.html.“Extremisten: Zahl der Salafisten im Südwesten steigt an,” Stuttgarter Nachrichten, May 11, 2017, https://www.stuttgarter-nachrichten.de/inhalt.extremisten-zahl-der-salafisten-im-suedwesten-steigt-leicht-an.2570ff0e-245e-408f-b3f8-c882ab49bca4.html.
- 9. Johannes Reichart, “Diplomat mit islamkritischer Botschaft: AfD-Kandidat Zimniok,” Bayerischer Rundfunk, March 15, 2019, https://www.br.de/nachrichten/bayern/diplomat-mit-islamkritischer-botschaft-afd-kandidat-zimniok,RKb9D6m.
- 10. “Bernhard Zimniok | EU-Wahl '19 - Listenplatz 5,” AfD Kompakt TV on YouTube, November 17, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YT0J1uOL8kg.
- 11. Shubhajit Roy, "Europe should mediate if India, Pakistan want, says far-right EU MP," The Indian Express, October 30, 2019, https://indianexpress.com/article/india/europe-should-mediate-if-india-pakistan-want-says-far-right-eu-mp-bernhard-zimniok-jk-kashmir-eu-delegates-visit-6093586/.
- 12. a. b. Palash Ghosh, "Hindu Nationalist’s Historical Links to Nazism and Fascism," International Business Times, March 6, 2012, https://www.ibtimes.com/hindu-nationalists-historical-links-nazism-fascism-214222.
- 13. Stephen E. Atkins, "Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh," in Encyclopedia of Modern Worldwide Extremists and Extremist Groups (Greenwood Publishing Group, 2004), 264, https://books.google.de/books?id=b8k4rEPvq_8C&pg=PA264&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false.
- 14. a. b. George Martin, "Indian Prime Minister Modi rechristens islands named after British colonial figures in memory of Hindu nationalist who teamed up with Hitler and the Japanese in World War Two," Mail Online, January 1, 2019, https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6545325/Indian-Prime-Minister-Modi-rechristens-islands-memory-Nazi-sympathiser.html.
- 15. Romain Hayes, Subhas Chandra Bose in Nazi Germany: Politics, Intelligence and Propaganda 1941–1943 (Oxford University Press, 2011), 76.
- 16. Mike Thomson, "Hitler's secret Indian army," BBC, September 23, 2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/3684288.stm.
- 17. a. b. Dean Nelson, "India’s Jewish community condemn 'Hitler’ clothes shop," The Telegraph, August 29, 2012, https://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-two/9505660/Indias-Jewish-community-condemn-Hitler-clothes-shop.html.
- 18. Norman Ohler, "Hero Hitler in Love," Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, March 20, 2018, https://www.faz.net/aktuell/feuilleton/buecher/autoren/norman-ohler-faehrt-mit-seinem-buch-ueber-die-drogen-der-nazis-durch-indien-15499413.html.