March 22, 2017

‘Give Hitler a chance’ - Manimugdha S Sharma

The Times of India - March 21, 2017

‘Give Hitler a chance’

We are living in interesting times. Ever since the elevation of Yogi Adityanath to the post of Uttar Pradesh chief minister, there has been a flurry of activity in both the mainstream and social media. Every day, new posts pop up, arguing that the boss of Gorakhnath Math is, in fact, an understated Vikas Purush.
Journalists, self-proclaimed neutral political watchers and average social media commentators have all been rattling a litany of praises for a man who, unfortunately, has had a steady record of making incendiary remarks, has a slew of criminal cases against him, and is a known rabble-rouser.

Mainstream media is also awash with reports of Muslims being very happy with the Yogi. Some have even given examples of how the Yogi personally touched their lives (and made them better). While these project a markedly different image of the man, one also wonders if these are bids to make the Yogi look more acceptable.
But the most common refrain of the backers is this: give the Yogi a chance, as he will be controlled by Narendra Modi. Only time will tell if the commentators are right or if theirs is a delusional hope springing from a misplaced faith in dog-whistle politics. But there are some striking similarities between this expression of hope and the faith reposed by the liberal West in the intentions of Nazi Germany in the early 1930s. Of course, I don’t mean to make apocalyptic comparisons between the two eras and regimes; I am only trying to find similarities in the approaches taken by the western press then and the Indian media now.

Over 80 years ago, Germany had got her Vikas Purush in Adolf Hitler. And while Germany was floored by this “messiah of hope and development”, with the Fuehrer commanding unquestioned devotion and even inspiring coquettish love, the liberal West was also smitten by him.
This can be gauged from the numerous laudatory articles that kept on appearing in the British and American press at regular intervals, as also quotes by the who’s who of the time. One of the earliest admirers of Hitler in the West was British MP Sir Thomas Moore. In 1933, he wrote in the Sunday Dispatch: “If I may judge from my personal knowledge of Herr Hitler, peace and justice are the key words of his policy.”

In 1934, Moore made a case for the “absolutely honest and sincere” Fuehrer by writing: “Give Hitler a chance.” But Moore wasn’t going to be the last of the fanboys. Former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George joined the Hitler fan club after a visit to Germany in the mid-1930s.
In a newspaper interview, Lloyd George had said, “Germany does not want war. Hitler does not want war. He is a most remarkable personality, one of the greatest I have ever met in the whole of my life, and I have met some very great men.”
The former PM had seen unmistakable signs of a growing personality cult, but he wasn’t alarmed or horrified by it. “Affection is a quite inadequate word to describe the attitude of the German people towards Hitler. It amounts almost to worship. I have never seen anything like it. Some men I met who are not Nazis told me that they did not know what the country would have done without him. They are inclined to blame Hitler’s supporters for some of the things which they do not approve, but there is no whisper of criticism of Hitler. It is just like our motto: ‘The King can do no wrong’,” Lloyd George had said, adding that Hitler was “the George Washington of Germany”.
But how were the people of George Washington’s land reading Hitler? American journalist and public intellectual Walter Lippmann wrote in the New York Herald Tribune on May 19, 1933: “We have heard once more, through the fog and the din, the authentic voice of a genuinely civilized people. I am not willing to believe that, but it seems to me that all historical experience compels one to believe it.”
Lippmann had heard a speech of the German chancellor and had called it a “genuinely statesmanlike address” that gave “evidence of good faith”. What’s worse: Lipmann, a Jew himself, argued that the persecution of Jews was a way of “satisfying” German yearning to “conquer somebody”, and therefore, the German Jewry were “a kind of lightning rod which protects Europe”.
A couple of months down the line, when more and more reports surfaced in the foreign press about atrocities on Jews, the New York Times front-paged a laudatory article in its edition dated July 10, 1933. “There is at least one official voice in Europe that expresses understanding of the methods and motives of President Roosevelt—the voice of Germany, as represented by Chancellor Adolf Hitler,” read the opening lines of the article headlined ‘Hitler seeks jobs for all Germans’.
The Times-Picayune, a New Orleans daily, published a cartoon that expressed a rather naive belief that conservative political and industrial leaders would prevent Hitler from implementing his radical ideas. It’s exactly the kind of argument put forward by Narendra Modi backers when he was voted to power in 2014, and Yogi Adityanath apologists today.
But while the American press was hailing Hitler, the British press had gone even further. The Daily Mirror actually called him “a Man of the People” in an exclusive interview they managed with the Fuehrer. The “man of destiny” made an “appeal to reason” through Britain’s leading daily.
Finally, it was the Daily Mail that set the bar even higher for fellow apologists. It was so taken in by the Fascists that it gave them a “hurrah”. It also derided the British socialists, giving voice to the general conservative opinion that abhorred the idea of a socialist British PM.
In today’s India, socialism is a taboo word; and if you criticise the government of the day or the party in power, or Narendra Modi himself, then you are branded a “Leftist” and “Congressi”, and therefore a “traitor” and “anti-national”. But as history has shown, it were the same derided socialists who had realised what Hitler was even before the rest of the world took note.