Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s overseas fan club is swelling. Among his new fans are the leaders of Germany’s Pegida ‒ a German acronym for the Patriotic Europeans Against Islamisation of the West group that was formed in Dresden in October. The organisation hit the global headlines in January when, in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre in France, 25,000 sympathisers turned out to protest Muslim immigration to Germany.

Pegida has since inspired the formation of me-too groups in other parts of Germany (Legida in Leipzig, Bogida in Bonn, Fragida in Frankfurt) and abroad (US, Canada and UK). It has continued to make its presence felt by organising street demonstrations in Dresden every Monday.

When interviewed the two top Pegida leaders ahead of their rally in Dresden last Monday, they were effusive in their praise for India’s prime minister. “We need a leader like him in Germany here,” declared Lutz Bachmann, Pegida’s head and founder. Bachmann had quit Pegida late in January after a photo of him styled as Adolf Hitler went viral but rejoined a month later. His aide Tatjana Festerling added,  “Not only in Germany, but the whole of Europe. We need courageous leaders who are positioning themselves against Islamisation.”

Old India hand

As it turns out, Festerling is a yoga practitioner who visits India regularly for meditation retreats. This, she insisted, gave her some insight into the challenges faced by the subcontinent. “I know you have a lot of problems there, wherever you are in your country,” she said. “We have lots of troubles with these people [Muslims] like you have.”

She added: “We are speaking against losing our culture. All northern European cultures are fading away. We have mosques all over. We have muezzins calling five times a day. In some cities, you will find totally different parallel societies. There is no concept of integration among them.”

In the first round of the mayoral elections in Dresden held on June 7, Festerling polled almost 10% of the vote. The surprising performance comes as a shot in the arm to Pegida, which critics was already being written off as a fading movement. Both Bachmann and Festerling were ecstatic and believe that the result is evidence that they have a political future not only in Dresden, but in other German cities as well. In the next one or two years, Bachmann hopes, Pegida will be able to have a strong footing as a political party.

Despite a heavy downpour, last Monday’s rally at Dresden’s historic palace square saw more than 1,500 supporters. The aged and disabled in wheelchairs, office-goers still in their ties, teenagers with tattoos and piercings, sympathisers from other German regions, and also from neighbouring countries, all gathered amidst heavy security presence to listen to their leaders. A procession meandered through the city.

A fixture

While the number of participants is falling, the demonstrations have become a fixture in Dresden. “It’s become a weekly city event,” said Alexander Schneider, a senior journalist with the local newspaper Sächsische Zeitung. “But the movement in itself has lost its fervour.”

Hans Vorländer, the professor of political science at Dresden Technical University who was part of a team studying Pegida, said that they group had lost its political purpose: now, he said, the demonstrators rally together for the company of like-minded souls, just like members of a sports club or revellers at a beer party. The gains it made in the city elections came not because voters were especially enamoured of Pegida’s ideals but because they were upset with the system. “It’s like a game they are playing, without purpose, or end, or strategy,” Vorländer said. “At some point it has to end.”

A major factor that will cause Pegida to fail, Vorländer said, is Germany’s strong civil society. Ever since the Pegida protests began, Germany has been witnessing counter-demonstrations all through the country. “Compared to other countries, in Germany it [Pegida] cannot be organised as a steady political party or movement just because of, for historical reasons, the strength of civil society and there are some social mechanisms of setting up taboos on certain issues, and these taboos can be considered as historical lessons from Nazism,” Vorlander said.

In the meantime, Bachmann has been trying several strategies to fuel the movement, which he says is not “anti-Islam”, but anti-Islamisation”. He has been inviting right-wing speakers from other countries to address the Dresden rallies. Geert Wilders, the right-wing leader from Netherlands, attended the demonstration on April 14 in which he heaped praises on Pegida supporters.

“We would like to get in touch with Indian politicians,” Festerling said.

Bachmann’s keen desire is to have Prime Minister Narendra Modi at one of his events. “Tell him that we invite him here in Dresden,” he said.