German-Indian relations are close and harmonious today, but despite cultural and economic ties that date back centuries, both countries only really got to know each other after India gained its independence from Britain in 1947 and the Federal Republic of Germany was founded in 1949.
Jawaharlal Nehru had sympathies for West Germany and German unity
Both India and the then West Germany had one important challenge in common. They each had to come to terms with the partition of their countries, and they had to construct a new political identity for themselves. In March 1947, before India became independent, Jawaharlal Nehru, who was to become its first prime minister, wrote that India could not be indifferent to Germany's future, and called for Germany to be reunited at some time in the future.
Nehru's sympathy for the new West Germany quickly found expression in Indian diplomacy when India became one of the first countries in the world to recognize the Federal Republic. In doing so India ended its state of war with Germany and did not claim any reparations - although the country had, as a part of the anti-Hitler coalition, lost almost 24,000 soldiers in World War II.
It established a military mission in Berlin in 1948, which was converted into its embassy in 1952. And despite India's close relationship with the Soviet Union, Nehru himself and his daughter, Indira Gandhi, who also served as Prime Minister after his death in 1964, turned down all requests by the Soviets and the East Germans to recognize East Germany until inner German detente took off in the 1970s and West Germany no longer objected to India having ties with East Berlin.
Controversial military interventions
Nehru, who had earlier visited Germany privately, made his first official trip to Bonn in 1956. But the relationship did not develop smoothly. When Indian troops occupied the then Portuguese colony of Goa in 1961, Germany stood by the Portuguese dictator Salazar and condemned India.
And India's support for the liberation movement in East Pakistan, which led to the establishment of an independent Bangladesh in 1971, also met with criticism from Germany and its allies. They argued that India was betraying its own philosophy of non-violence and interfering in the internal affairs of a neighbouring country. In response, India's Prime Minister Indira Gandhi slammed the international community, explicitly comparing the situation in East Pakistan with Germany under Hitler:
"Why didn't you say, ‘let's keep quiet and let's have peace in Germany, let the Jews die, let Belgium die, let France die?’", she asked, adding that the crisis in East Pakistan "would never have happened if the world community had woken up to the fact when we first drew their attention to it."
Things were to get even worse. In 1974, India tested its first nuclear device. And the Indians accused Germany of arrogance when the German media asked how a poor country like India could afford to develop the atomic bomb.
The dream of reunification
On the other hand, Western criticism of Gandhi's emergency rule in 1975, was received more positively. The Indians themselves were unhappy that their young democracy was being tampered with in this way.
The fall of the Berlin Wall and Germany's reunification in 1990 were celebrated as miracles in India, as many still dreamt that India and Pakistan could be reunited in a similar way.
Reunification also boosted Indo-German relations. Politically, India and Germany cooperate closely in international organizations. Their economic relations have also become much more dynamic. The trade volume between the two countries went up from 2.7 billion euros in 1990 to 13.4 billion euros by 2008.
During her visit to India in 2008, Chancellor Angela Merkel highlighted another aspect of Indo-German partnership: "a core issue during my trip is our cooperation in the field of science and technology. We are going to deepen the strategic relationship in certain areas of research and want to attract more Indian students to come to Germany."
At present, there are more than 5,000 Indian students at German universities, up from only 600 in 1990.
Author: Ram Yadav / Thomas Bärthlein
Editor: Grahame Lucas