German Ambassador Walter Lindner called the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh a “mass movement” in India, The Hindu reported on Saturday. He said he had visited the organisation’s headquarters in Nagpur to educate himself about it.

Lindner has faced criticism for visiting the headquarters in Nagpur and meeting its chief Mohan Bhagwat on July 17. An online petition demanded that he resign or be called back.

In an interview with The Hindu, the ambassador said he visited Nagpur to review progress in the city’s Metro project, which Germany has helped finance, and decided to also meet Bhagwat. “I went to educate myself about the organisation,” Lindner told The Hindu. “I had read very negative and very positive articles about it, everything from its social engagement to accusations of fascism, and I wanted to make my own impression. So I asked Mr Bhagwat many questions.”

Linder had tweeted after his visit to the RSS headquarters, saying: “Founded 1925, it is world’s largest voluntary organization – though not uncontroversially perceived throughout its history...”

Lindner said as a German, he was aware of the organisation’s history during the 1930s and 1940s and how some of its leaders had drawn inspiration from the Nazis in Germany.

“I can say that I asked many questions on radicalism, and there are no simple answers to these questions,” he said. “The [RSS] is one part of the mosaic that makes up India. You can’t deny that this is a mass movement and whether one likes it or not, it is out there.”

Lindner said Indians have to decide what influence the RSS has on their government. “The result of my visit was that there were no easy conclusions,” he said. “I thought it was a good idea to do, and now I will integrate it into my understanding of India.”

Lindner visited Nagpur as part of a tour to cities across India to discuss bilateral ties of the India-Germany summit in October or November this year, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel will visit Delhi. Reviving the Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreement and trade on top of the agenda.

“India and Germany believe in rules-based free trade, and we have an interest in making the agreement work,” he said. “I think the new leadership at the European Union will help kickstart the process of the BTIA.”

The diplomat was referring to the election of former German Defence Minister Ursula Von der Leyen as European Commission President.