The following is a piece I wrote for Newscentral24x7 as part of a series depicting the parallels between Nazi Germany and present day India. It was published on the 22nd of May 2018.

How would the modern day Nazi party (assuming nothing like it existed before 2018) market itself? Would the slogans be the same? What would a hipster Hitler look like? Would the mustache give way to a beard? And given how influential the Indian diaspora is throughout the world, would Nazis be able to pervert the Hindu swastika to make of it a defining symbol of hate?

When the Nazi party came to power, one of its earliest actions was to attempt a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses. This boycott call on April 1, 1933 was met with indifference. But as Goebbels’ propaganda machine and its racist rhetoric gathered steam, things began to escalate. It started with minor incidents like writing “Jewish” or “Aryan” in front of stores and businesses, indicating which side of the racial divide the owners stood on. This set the stage for the atrocities that followed.

It is important to remember that it wasn’t just the SA (brown shirts) and such groups that hold sole responsibility for the horrors of Hitler’s Reich. Anyone that stood aside as a silent witness was also complicit. But way worse was the half hearted support of people that just wanted to play it “safe”. These were the folks that when the brown shirts called for a show of solidarity, meekly complied by waving a flag or two. Especially ones with the Nazi swastika.

Exhibiting a “swastika” did two things: It indicated that the person wearing it or hanging it out his window, was on the “right” team, i.e. not to be targeted (also, the person was probably connected to powerful people). Secondly, anyone not sporting one was to be viewed with suspicion. Symbols have always been powerful things. If that isn’t convincing, ask yourself what is the first thing that comes to your mind when you see any vehicle sporting the flag of a political party. How likely is one to take action if it say, swipes a car and jumps a red light?

Symbols are powerful. They are both indicative and exclusionary. The same can be said of symbolic gestures.

The very first year that the BJP took power, in the face of the plethora of all the challenges faced by the country, the PM thought it was imperative to celebrate the 25th of December as “Good Governance Day”. The excuse was that the date coincided with the birthday of former PM (and only other BJP candidate to hold that office), Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The fact that it also happens to be Christmas of course, was nothing more than mere coincidence.

To the residents of UP, it is now a common occurrence to see mobs of unruly youths holding “processions” for the sole purpose of expressing their “strength”. One of the more recent ones took place in Noida (a town in UP) on April 1, 2018. The “reason” for this was “Hanuman Jayanti”. One slight problem though, Hanuman Jayanti was on March 31. April 1, however, just “happened” to be Easter. Another one of those convenient coincidences that occurs with predictable frequency in Modi’s India. 

These armed gangs operate with no legal oversight openly brandishing swords and other weapons in public places while donning saffron clothing, waving saffron flags and showing off Hindu swastikas. One doesn’t have to look very hard for the presence of the “Lotus” either, the official symbol of the BJP.  Most telling of all though, is the slogan “Hindustan hamara hai” (India is ours).

Not yours, not mine. Theirs. Unless of course, you sign up to the club. And how does one do that? Easy, just hang a small flag near your front door. Or put a sticker on your car. Wouldn’t want to get mistaken for a traitor now would we? Safety first and all that.

The fact that such processions are directly in violation of the section 144 Criminal procedure code is conveniently skirted around. The same, admittedly colonial era law, has often been used to break up processions in the past but not these ones. “Freedom of expression” is one of the more flimsy defenses put up by apologists. What is telling of course is that these very mobs will begin frothing at the mouth when the same reasoning is used to level any criticism in their direction.

It seems like such a small thing, hanging a flag, or using a Hanuman 2.0 sticker on your car. Why take the risk of not doing it after all? Such a little thing. Only it is not. As I’ve alluded to before, exclusion is a very, very powerful tool. It sets the stage for atrocities, that at first, are impossible to envisage. And ignoring the warning signs makes them all but inevitable.

It is also worth remembering that for the longest time, the RSS rejected the tricolor as the official national flag, insisting that the country adopt their version instead. What was their version? A simple rectangular piece of cloth. Saffron, of course.

Only a small tiny fraction of the homes that hung swastikas form their windows in Nazi Germany would have supported death camps. But, each one of those flags empowered the monsters that yearned for genocide.

It is tragic that where the swastika was once perverted by the Nazis in 1930, it will be perverted yet again. This time, by militant Hindu nationalists. Once again, a symbol meant to indicate good luck might be twisted to proclaim an ideology of hate.