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Why India will not be Hitler's Germany

By Amberish Kathewad Diwanji
Last updated on: October 03, 2013 17:29 IST
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Adolf Hitler rose to power when Germany was enveloped by a deep economic crisis'In this country of 1.2 billion, there may be a few Indians who might dislike Muslims and wish them ill. But the vast majority of Indians remain secular, no matter how grave Hindu-Muslim tensions,' says Amberish Kathewad Diwanji.

Any political analyst or historian watching events unfold in India today might be very tempted to draw an eerie parallel: Weimar Germany, circa 1933, and Congress India, circa 2013. Separated by over 80 years and thousands of miles, the similarities appear worrisome.

Then in Germany, as now in India, there was a single leader seen as the panacea for all the country's ills: Adolf Hitler in Germany, Narendra Modi in India.

In both cases, they were outsiders to the mainstream -- Hitler was from Austria; Modi is a backward class person in a party historically dominated by the upper castes -- who pushed for majorityism politics, both were/are backed by strong right-wing nationalist parties that had/have anti-minority agendas.

Besides these evident political events, there are other even more important economic events where one can draw parallels. Hitler's rise to power was linked to the global depression of the 1930s. That depression actually began in 1929, when the US markets crashed, leading to runaway inflation in Germany, which was still paying reparations for World War I.

In fact, inflation was so steep that at one point people did not count money, but weighed the notes that were to be paid for regular commodities.

Then, demographers have often noted that a sudden surge in the population of the young in a country where they cannot find gainful employment is a recipe for disaster. In the 1920s and 1930s, Germany had a youth bulge, but many of the young men were unemployed, thanks to the debts Germany was forced to pay, which limited investments in new jobs.

In their anger and frustration, the youth readily believed Hitler when he blamed all of Germany's ills on the Jews.

India is lurching towards a similar situation. In India, every year, some 10 million to 12 million youngsters join the workforce (this is the government's figure; according to some private analysts, it is more than double that).

Even going by the government figure, India has to create 10 million jobs a year, and over the next five years, 50 million new jobs.

In the current economic downturn, so many jobs are not being added to the economy. Tragically, even when India was booming in the last decade, jobs were not being added the way they should have been.

There is no doubt that if the present government is unable to create more jobs, and quickly, the country will be witness to hordes of young men roaming the streets.

In 1974-1975, when food prices rose dramatically following OPEC's decision to hike the price of crude, riots had broken out across India. People chose to believe in anyone but the government, be it George Fernandes (then a trade union leader) or Jayaprakash Narayan (the Gandhian activist).

This time, with neither a Socialist nor a Gandhian on the horizon, people are increasingly seeing their saviour in Narendra Modi. This might explain the rousing reception he gets wherever he goes, and the frenzy-like greeting of those gathered to see him.

Yet, more than the similarities between the India of 2013 and the Germany of 1933, the differences between the two countries might ensure that India won't go down the same path.

The first dissimilarity is the sheer size and diversity of India. Even if Modi and the BJP were to win (and there is as yet absolutely no surety of this), it will at best be a coalition government.

Coalition partners are unlikely to tolerate a party going berserk against the minorities. Mamata Banerjee or Naveen Patnaik may back the BJP, but will insist on secular policies.

Second, and more important, unlike Germany in the 1930s where the opposition was literally wiped out, this is unlikely to happen in India after the next election.

Despite all its scams, Rahul Gandhi may still push the Congress party to emerge as the single largest party. At worst, it will be the second largest party in the country. Thus, even if it goes out of power, the Congress will remain a potent force that will keep the BJP in check.

Third, and perhaps most important, are the people of India.

There is no denying that in this country of 1.2 billion there may be a few Indians who might dislike Muslims and wish them ill. But the vast majority of Indians remain secular, no matter how grave Hindu-Muslim tensions.

Indians are by and large a secular lot. This is what has kept India secular and remains the best bet for the future, no matter how grim the economic situation.

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