Hitler a political icon in ... India?

The good news? That dopey restaurant is changing its name.

The bad news?

“Mein Kampf” is a hot seller at many Indian streetside book stalls. When a German writer, Georg Martin Oswald, came to India recently on an exchange program, he wrote in an online diary of being stunned at the book’s popularity.

Newspaper surveys have found that significant numbers of Indian college students rate Hitler as an ideal model for an Indian leader. A 2002 survey by the Times of India, an English-language daily, noted that Hitler signified discipline, efficiency and nationalism to the students. Hitler also holds appeal for some Hindu nationalists who dream of a more assertive, conquering India cleansed of its Muslim population

Then there is the swastika. Before it was Hitler’s symbol, it belonged to ancient Hindu tradition. Many Indians believe that Hitler was endorsing their culture when he co-opted the symbol. So common is the perception that it prompted Deutsche Welle, Germany’s international media outlet, to publish an essay last year entitled “The Indian View on Hitler – A Deep Misunderstanding.”…

Sabhlok and a friend, Ajeesh Nambiar, said they had never learned much about Hitler’s Germany. “We are not very strong in history,” Nambiar said. “Hitler has never come to India, so we don’t know about him.”

“They say he killed Jewish people in gas chambers,” Nambiar went on. “So many people are talking about it, so it must be true.”

When asked how many Jews he thought were killed in the Holocaust, he said 600. Sabhlok revised it upward: 100,000.

Their ignorance about the Holocaust is actually a comfort here, up to a point. It’s one thing to admire Nazism without understanding its consequences. It’s another thing to admire it because of its consequences. Education about the ends will surely reduce support for the means.

Which brings us to the not-so-comforting question of why so many appear to support the means notwithstanding their ignorance of the ends. That’s bad news under any circumstances, but in a burgeoning superpower with nuclear weapons that the west is counting on to be a bulwark of Third World democracy? Bad news.

The irony is, the jihadis might be helping to solve the problem. India’s newfound alliances with Israel and the United States are, in many respects, a response to the Islamist threat they face from fanatics across the border in Pakistan. The more influence we have there, the better we can counter their totalitarian impulses. Which — double irony — might prove especially useful to Indian Muslims if the Hindu nationalists ever do come to power.