Karnataka Congress leader Jairam Ramesh tweeted a photograph of prime minister Narendra Modi and wrote, “The Sardar would have been shocked at such a salute. It is an insult to him.” This was retweeted over to 1,000 times and gathered more than 5,000 likes (archived link). Ramesh’s tweet was quote-tweeted by writer Farrukh K Pitafi. (archived link)

Ashok Swain, professor at Uppsala University, also hinted that PM Modi was mimicking the Nazi salute. “If Hitler can do why not Modi?” he wrote. His tweet was retweeted over 800 (archived link). Alt News has documented multiple instances when Swain posted misinformation in the past.

Nazir Ahmed, Member of Kashmir-based All Party Parliamentary Group, quote-tweeted All India Radio‘s tweet carrying a similar image of PM Modi. “Nazi salute by Modi,” he wrote (archived link).

Misleading narrative

PM Modi was taking an oath on the occasion of India’s first deputy prime minister Vallabhbhai Patel’s 144th birth anniversary on October 31. The event held in Gujarat’s Kevadia was broadcast by several channels, including Rajya Sabha TV.

The visual being shared can be spotted at the 35-second mark in the broadcast.

While the gesture made by PM Modi was equated with the Nazi salute and has been internationally recognised as one, oaths have been taken in a similar manner in India from time immemorial, including on the occasion of National Unity Day to mark Patel’s birth anniversary. It is commonly practised in schools as well.

Moreover, this is not the first time a political leader took an oath extending their arm in front. A 2018 image shows Congress president Rahul Gandhi with Kamal Nath and Jyotiraditya Scindia (former Congress member) making a similar gesture.

World War researcher and The Times of India editor Manimugdha Sharma elaborated on the practice of oath-taking in India and its possible linkages to the Nazi salute, if any. “The answer will have to be a bit complex. This style of salute originates from the American Pledge of Allegiance that was started in the late 19th century. The Italian fascists most likely took it from the Americans and modified it, and the Nazis took it from the fascists [Italians] – Hitler himself said that he took it from Il Duce (Benito Mussolini). But after the Second World War, the Americans had to abandon the salute due to its Nazi association and modify it to the present version where the right hand is kept over the heart. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Indians started using this for oath-taking, but my guess is from the National Pledge that was instituted in the early 1960s. That again was inspired by the American Pledge of Allegiance,” he told Alt News.

Sharma, author of ‘Allahu Akbar: Understanding the Great Mughal in Today’s India’, added, “It must be said, however, that Hindu nationalism borrowed heavily from European nationalist movements, mostly those of the fascist kind. And therefore, a lot of things started or adopted by the European fascists became part of the iconography of Hindu nationalist groups. After a while, these became divorced from their original contexts. That this style of oath-taking became popular in India after it was abandoned everywhere else or became a punishable offence only goes on to show how divorced Indian public consciousness was from fascism and the horrors it produced. Nationalism is still not a problematic term in India, and even its exclusivist forms are not frowned upon outside liberal circles when globally it raises worries. Linking Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s administration of oath on the birth anniversary of Sardar Patel with the Nazi salute is surely smart Twitter behaviour. But academically speaking, it’s lazy work. It would be wrong to assume that the Prime Minister is doing that just because the Nazis did so. In our schools and colleges, we have been taking similar oaths in a similar way for ages now.”

Congress leader Jairam Ramesh and others selectively criticised PM Modi whereas the oath-taking gesture that reminds many of the ‘Seig Heil’ salute has been used across India for decades.

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About the Author

Archit is a graduate in English Literature from The MS University of Baroda. He also holds a post-graduation diploma in journalism from the Asian College of Journalism. Since then he has worked at Essel Group's English news channel at WION as a trainee journalist, at S3IDF as a fundraising & communications officer and at The Hindu as a reporter. At Alt News, he works as a fact-checking journalist.