New Delhi: There was a phenomenon in Nazi Germany called “Working towards the Fuhrer”. It happened after Adolf Hitler took power and it contributed enormously to Hitler becoming the supreme and unchallenged leader of Germany till the end came in the Berlin Gotterdammerung. There are lessons of instruction in this for India as it lurches to the right after the general election.

“Working towards the Fuhrer” joined ambitions of high and low Nazi party officials with deeply held prejudices which found a dramatic outlet in Hitler’s Germany. While the Holocaust, the ethnic cleansing of other hated groups and nationalities like the Slavs, the Romany people, etc, the visceral loathing for Bolsheviks, Poles, homosexuals, the mentally ill and so forth have to be blamed on Hitler, he often did not set forth explicit directions for the atrocities. Indeed, throughout his dozen years of monstrous exercise of power, he rarely exhibited his deepest abhorrence to others, including his closest aides and fellow-travellers invited to extended lunches and interminable dinners. There were regular harangues but rarely clear cut directions.

For Nazi high officials and petty functionaries, it was enough that Hitler had created conditions for their inferiority complexes to be redressed. (If this could be true for a modern, highly industrialized and culturally advanced state, what’s to be said about so-called civilization?) The Holocaust, for example, did not occur suddenly. It came at the end of a tortuous process of distilling hatred for the Jews. It partly commenced with historical anti-Semitism in Austria-Hungary whose multinational tolerance provoked disaffection in others before Hitler. As Nazism migrated to and fro between Austria and Germany to become stronger in every cycle, anti-Semitism affected all walks of life. It infected Jew-non-Jew neighbours, exacerbated business rivalries and general inequalities, and destroyed the foundations of social peace. For a time, the Nazi leadership debated transporting Jews of Europe to Madagascar and even, when war with the Soviet Union was under preparation, to the desolate Russian Far East to die. The “final solution” came when these processes were exhausted.

The far-spread Nazi excesses cannot be listed in a short piece. It is a story of unremitting horror. It is more important to understand their drivers. Prejudices were one thing. Ambitions were another. Germany generally has an image of organization, structure and thoroughness. It accounts for the Wirtschaftswunder. Nazi Germany, however, was chaotic and over-bureaucratic reflecting the chaotic, controlling and visionless persona of Hitler. Competition was cut-throat among Nazi officials to rise in the hierarchy and to gain Hitler’s favours. This was especially true among his paladins like Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Goring, Joseph Goebbels, Martin Bormann and Albert Speer. Since this only made Hitler more central to the survival of the regime, he made no attempt to curtail competition. The murders of the mentally ill were not, as far as can be ascertained, Hitler’s fetching idea but he approved it post-facto. The horrible medical experiments on Jews and Soviet POWs had its grotesque provenance in scientific inquiry. Everything that fitted into Hitler’s racial theories, themselves derived from others, was par for course for experimentation and action. “Working towards the Fuhrer” meant ambition could be masqueraded as Nazism, and such masquerades multiplied in their numbers and boldness as Hitler deepened his control of Germany.

The instructive part about “Working towards the Fuhrer” is that not all policies for racial, religious and other forms of discrimination need arise from the top. They need not even be policies. Indeed, often, they are not policies but furtive actions. Written instructions are few and the Nazis pioneered the art of euphemism. The Wannsee Protocol is full of it. Hitler was troubled by the threat of world intervention at least initially arising from bitter memories of the 1918 armistice and left behind few records of personal horror. His subordinate instruments of unparalleled inhumanity followed his lead. All the same, the atrocities showed no let up and German organization and rigour did eerily creep into them. The Indian right constructed its worldview from the Nazi rise in the late nineteen-twenties and thirties but absorbed no lessons from the Third Reich’s crushing defeat in 1945 and the ruin of Germany.

There is a difference between the defeats of Germany in 1918 and 1945. Germany had sympathizers in the first instance like John Maynard Keynes who thought the reparation demands on Germany excessive. Although Woodrow Wilson did manage to put together the League of Nations to prevent another nationalism-driven world war, the US senate refused to ratify his singular creation. America was still in the mode of isolationism. That was not the case with World War II. Not only did the United States fight the war on two theatres, it ensured the centrality of its vision in the successor to the doomed League of Nations, the United Nations. Germany was divided and deprived of the means to start a third world war.

Between seventy-five and eighty-five million civilians and servicemen perished in World War II with the largest losses suffered by the former Soviet Union and China followed by Nazi Germany, Poland and Japan. There are two ways of looking at these extraordinary losses. The counter to Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan came late. If only Hitler hadn’t been appeased and Japanese imperialism aided by the British to counter Tsarist Russia, history may have taken another course. The second way to consider the troubled issue is that the counter did come though a trifle late. It set the precedent for world intervention should Nazi Germany-like conditions develop in other places. It also inaugurated the Nuclear Age with horrible attacks on Japanese cities reminding the world of Armageddon. Western apologists say the bomb was tested for the first time after the German surrender and so Japan became the target having held out. Others say Japan was not the target at all but the Soviet Union which makes it an Asian sacrificial goat.

Whatever the truth, the key takeaway from World War II and its aftermath is that no country is an island. The Indian right would be mistaken to think that it has obtained a free pass to do as it wishes. It took the decline of the Soviet Union for German reunification to become possible. Should similar circumstances visit India for any reason, history may not be so benevolent. (Japan still hasn’t recovered the Kuril Islands from post-Soviet Russia.) Despite its monstrous actions, Germany’s neighbours forgave it after the passage of decades. India, on the other hand, lives in a pitiless neighbourhood. If India loses social peace and weakens internally, anything is possible.