MANY BOOKSHOPS IN INDIA carry copies of “Mein Kampf” by Adolf Hitler, translated into English. They are not hidden away from view but are displayed openly in bookshelves alongside books with less offensive texts. The books are not old and tatty, but look brand new, suggesting that they are bought frequently and replaced by new stock. Why this book should still be on the shelves in India so many decades after it was first published has always puzzled me. So, when I saw a book “Hitler and India” published by the historian Vaibhav Purandare in 2021, I bought a copy. I was hoping that it might help me understand the prevalence of “Mein Kampf” in Indian bookshops.
Purandare’s book is an easy read and quite interesting. He points out very effectively that Hitler had no love for Indians. Furthermore, he felt that it was right that the British rather the Indians than should rule India. And, in his opinion, he felt that should Germany ever rule India, the Indians would yearn for the return of what he considered to be the too lenient rule of the British. Hitler wrote that: “I would, despite everything, still far rather see India under English than under some other rule …”
Hitler had no desire to support those fighting for the freedom of India because, believe it or not, prior to WW2 he hoped that Britain and Germany might eventually become allies. Purandare also details how Indians in Germany suffered at the hands of the Nazis and their security forces. It was only after Britain and the Soviet Union became enemies of Germany that he entertained the idea of providing limited assistance to those, like Subhas Chandra Bose, who were fighting to free India from the British. Even then, the assistance he authorised was very limited. He did ship Bose out to Japan, but there was little more to his help than that. It must be remembered that he only did this as a way to undermine the British war effort; he did not believe that an independent India was either feasible or desirable. All of the foregoing is well described in the book.
Unfortunately, what the book failed to do is what I hoped when I purchased it. It brings me no closer to understanding why “Mein Kampf” appears in so many Indian bookshops, and evidently sells. What Purandare does make clear is that Hitler’s book contains passages that are insulting to Indians. As for its appeal to Indian bookshop browsers, his book has not brought me any closer to understanding it.