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Indian exiles in Berlin

Dr. Benjamin Zachariah

The proposed project seeks to study the activities, milieu and social and intellectual engagements of Indian exiles in Germany in the first half of the twentieth century, and in particular in Berlin. In so doing, it seeks to study the transnational historical dimensions of a social and intellectual history of South Asia, and specifically the ideological movements of communism, fascism and nationalism, thereby contributing to histories that demonstrate the tendency of ideas to travel across contexts and state boundaries. Berlin was the hub of various international connections and events, as an eminently international metropolis. There could be found a group of persons whose contacts and connections, engagements, politics and personal relationships ranged across the world at a time of tumultuous change and potential revolution. Men like the communist MN Roy spent many formative years in Berlin, continually returning to it. The future Prime Minister of India, Jawaharlal Nehru, regarded Berlin when he visited it in 1926 as the hub of all that was exciting in the political and intellectual life of Europe; he met many of his enduring political connections there. Another side to this engagement with Germany has so far evaded serious study: some Indians were interested in the potential of fascism in general, and with its increasing successes with Nazism in particular, as a potential model for Indian politics. However, the polarities of communism and fascism should not be the only concerns of research in this area. Given that the cluster of ideas and influences that were available to intellectuals in the interwar period were not, at the outset, clearly separated into ideological camps there is much ambiguous space that requires exploration.