Walter J. Lindner’s visit to a ‘Nazi-inspired’ group sparked an outcry online, with many calling for his resignation.
Germany’s ambassador to India, Walter J. Lindner, has only been in the job for less than two months but has already ruffled some feathers.
On July 17, Linder made a controversial trip to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) headquarters, in Nagpur, to meet RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat.
Visit of Headquarters of RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) in Nagpur and long meeting with its Sarsanghchalak (Chief) Dr Mohan Bhagwat. Founded 1925, it is world’s largest voluntary organization - though not uncontroversialy perceived throughout its history... pic.twitter.com/B5cFUpw1ml— Walter J. Lindner (@AmbLindnerIndia) July 17, 2019
The visit caused an uproar on social media due to the symbolism of a German official associating with a far-right organisation, whose adherents have in the past praised the Nazis.
By sharing this story, Ambassador Lindner shows that a) he knows the RSS loves Nazis but b) he thinks it's ok to "reach out to, understand" and praise Nazis IF they are politically influential! I repeat - is this official German Govt policy? #GoBackLindner @FriedrichPieter https://t.co/9DvdnTLa7k— Kavita Krishnan (@kavita_krishnan) July 19, 2019
“There is something especially disturbing about the German ambassador, of all people, helping to cover-up the RSS's extreme bigotry (which was partly inspired by the Nazis. Seriously. Look it up if you don't believe me),” South Asia scholar, Audrey Truschke, wrote on Twitter.
In an interview to The Hindu, Linder played the visit down saying: “As far as the RSS goes, I went to educate myself about the organisation. I had read very negative and very positive articles about it, everything from its social engagement to accusations of fascism, and I wanted to make my own impression. So I asked Mr Bhagwat many questions.”
Founded in 1925, RSS is the ideological inspiration for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and has been a launch pad for many of its leaders including the country’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Vice President Venkaiah Naidu. It is a powerful Hindu far-right group, which advocates for India to be a Hindu nation.
Many historians argue that the group derives its inspiration from Nazi Germany and RSS figures have openly praised Hitler for his persecution of Jews.
For years the organisation has also indulged in anti-Muslim rhetoric, ostracising the country's 200 million Muslims.
The group has also been blamed for emboldening vigilantes and is accused blamed of for fuelling hate crimes. Mob lynchings are now frequent across Indian and most victims are Muslim.
RSS played a key role in garnering votes for its political wing, the BJP during the 2014 and 2019 elections and the BJP won by a landslide.
Though the group claims to be apolitical, many of its key ideas were included in the BJP manifesto. Those included the construction of the Ram Mandir, a Hindu temple on the disputed site of Ayodhya, and the scrapping of the special status for Indian-administered Kashmir.
A petition has been created online by South Asian affairs analyst Pieter Friedrich, calling for Lindner's resignation.
Now over 1500 signatures on petition demanding that #WalterLindner, @AmbLindnerIndia, Germany's ambassador to India, resign (or be recalled) 4 meeting w/RSS, paying respects to RSS founders, & being pictured w/Nazi supporter MS Golwalkar. Have you signed?https://t.co/DieUEbojdu— Pieter Friedrich (@FriedrichPieter) July 21, 2019
The petition claims that Lindner's visit to the RSS headquarters helps condone the RSS paramilitary, as well as its ideological roots in European fascist movements.
In the past, many diplomatic missions have met with the RSS. In 2017, the India Foundation, a pro-rightwing think tank arranged a meeting of diplomats from over 50 countries with RSS chief Bhagwat.