If you think the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler has nothing to do with ice-creams, you’re wrong.
Photographs of an ice-cream cone manufactured in Uttar Pradesh and named ‘Hitler’ have been doing the rounds on social media, with the brand drawing severe flak from across the world. Media reports said the news had outraged many in Germany.
The brand’s cartons were adorned with a photo of a stern-looking Hitler dressed in a brown blazer and a cartoon of the Fuhrer doffing his hat. Attaching the viral photos, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor tweeted, “Height of tastelessness; Indian ice-cream named after Hitler. Would the Germans name a sausage after Godse?”
Neeraj Kumar, owner of Meerut-based MVF Products, which manufactured the cones, said cones were named after an uncle who was nicknamed “Hitler” because of his quick temper.
“In our Uttar Pradesh village,” said Kumar, “anyone who has a ‘karak mejaz’ is called Hitler. One of my uncles is a short-tempered and strict man, so we nicknamed him Hitler.
“While naming this particular batch of cones, I thought why can’t we have a little fun at the expense of my uncle and name the cones after him! That was how the name originated.”
Kumar wondered why photos of his product were making the rounds of the internet now, as the Hitler cones were sold out almost a year ago.
“The naming of the cone had nothing to do with who Hitler was. One batch of cones was called Chacha Chaudhary cones – we use names which connect with common people and are popular,” he said, adding his company’s wafer cones are mostly sold in Uttar Pradesh’s rural areas.
“And I don’t think we even scored some marketing points by using Hitler’s photos. I don’t think people who buy the cones, in UP villages, know anything about Hitler.”
But much of the response on the internet has been on the lines of how the brand name might reflect an ideological attachment to Hitler and his politics of hatred.
Hitler as a brand image
In India, the use of Hitler as a brand image has existed for a long time. In 2006, a cafe called Hitler’s Cross opened in Mumbai, complete with a portrait of the Nazi leader at the entrance, and in 2011, a pool hall named Hitler’s Den started in Nagpur. The names of both were changed after opposition from Jewish groups.
In 2007, a home furnishing firm in Mumbai used swastikas to promote its line of bed sheets and pillow cases called “The Nazi Collection”. The company maintained the name stood for “New Arrival Zone for India”.
Five years later, two businessmen in Ahmedabad triggered outrage among Jews by opening a clothing store named “Hitler”, its logo featuring a red swastika in the dot over "i".
Even in the world of cinema, there have been controversial references to the Nazi leader. The 2011 film “Dear Friend Hitler”, released in India as “Gandhi To Hitler”, focussed on the exchange of letters between Mahatma Gandhi and Hitler. The 1996 Malayalam film “Hitler” had as its protagonist a man nicknamed after the German leader for tough personality.
Reputed brands like Onida, Luxor and Hewlett-Packard have used Hitler imagery in their advertisements. The late Bal Thackeray publicly spoke about his admiration for the politics and policies of Hitler.
Mein Kampf, Hitler’s autobiography, remains a bestseller in India. A 2012 research paper published by the Economic and Political Weekly stated the book was a bestseller and that more than a dozen publishers, including noted ones like Jaico, print the dictator’s memoir in India.
Perception vs reality
So, what makes “Hitler” a name that has a mass-connect?
For many, Hitler is perceived as a strict authoritarian and looked up to as someone who could perhaps be a role model for those who want to bring order to a chaotic country like India. There are others who remember how Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, one of India’s greatest freedom fighters, reached out to Hitler for help in taking on the British.
Following the social media buzz, Kumar said he had checked the internet to see the photos of the Hitler cones. “I even read some foreign websites’ reports on the cones,” said Kumar.
What hurt Kumar was reading numerous comments on the internet which hinted that “Indians do not know history” or “Indians are unaware of the brutalities of Hitler”.
“I want to tell them repeatedly that the name was not given considering Hitler's bad political steps and what they call as the Holocaust. I was not aware of any such bad thing,” he said.
Kumar’s clarification strengthens what has already been said time and again: Holocaust awareness in India is limited and Hitler is understood by many as just another “strict and angry” historical figure who led Germany in World War II. Holocaust refers to the genocide of nearly six million Jews by Hitler’s regime.
“Large sections of Indians are not aware of who Hitler actually was and what the Holocaust meant. They do not understand the long-term implications of using Hitler as a brand image and the culture that it brings with it,” said N Bhaskara Rao, founder–chairman of the Centre for Media Studies (CMS).
But the disconnect between perception and reality becomes apparent when one talks to Rajesh, a pavement book-store owner in Delhi’s Connaught Place, who said he sells several copies of Mein Kampf every week.
Not only is the book sold in India in English, translations in Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Malayalam and Tamil too are available widely.
“Mein Kampf has a huge readership. I have been in the business for more than 20 years and every year it has sold well,” Rajesh said.
He said he knew nothing about Hitler’s political life. “Bande ne bas ek book likha aur wo bestseller bangaya. (The guy just wrote one book which made him a bestseller).”