India and Western countries: “Without India, nothing succeeds in this world”

Walter Lindner © Hans Scherhaufer

Walter Lindner, 68, is a lawyer and worked in the diplomatic service from 1988 to 2024. He was a counselor at the UN Embassy in New York, press spokesman for Minister Joschka Fischer, and Minister of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. As German ambassador, he lived in Kenya, Somalia, South Africa and Venezuela before taking up this post in India in 2019. He published a book about his time there together with author Heike Molter in 2024: “The Old West and the New South. What we must learn from India before it is too late”.

ONLINE TIME: Mr. Lindner, you have been ambassador to countries such as Kenya, Somalia, South Africa and Venezuela. More India you finally wrote a book. How could that be?

Walter Lindner: On the one hand, there were personal reasons: I grew up with the hippie movement and was interested in Indian mysticism and spirituality. After community service, I toured the world and spent six months in India. This country is extreme and confusing, but it really touches my heart. I always knew I would come back. When I returned as ambassador 40 years later, I got to know India in a different way – and saw how much we had to learn from the people there.

ONLINE TIME: You wrote: “before it's too late.” Late for what?

Lindner: We must learn from India before we are defeated by other countries in the world. We – and I mean the western industrialized countries – still think we know everything better. India is a very young country, with more than half of its population under 30 years of age. People are willing to take risks and are dynamic. They grow up with the stress of high competition, founding a start-up, failing, trying again. At the same time, they can adapt very well because they have to constantly do it.

ONLINE TIME: They refer to the cultural diversity of the country. A person from another state is already considered a migrant there. The majority speak several languages.

Lindner: Why are there so many Indian-born CEOs of large companies in all regions of the world? You can get along well. This country is much more advanced than us in terms of digitalization. I've paid for lemons on the side of the road with a QR code.

ONLINE TIME: India is also struggling with challenges that impact us all, such as climate change and growing social inequality. However, the conditions are more extreme.

Lindner: We can't imagine ruling a country this big. China makes it easier for itself as an autocratic country. But India is a giant democracy where everyone expresses his opinion loudly. Managing and advancing it is a major accomplishment.

ONLINE TIME: Many see India's democracy as threatened by the Hindu nationalism of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Journalists were threatened and foreign media such as the BBC were hindered in their work. Opposition politician Arwind Kejriwal was arrested on corruption charges, just before the national elections. They still believe in Indian democracy. Why?

Lindner: It cannot be denied that there are Hindu extremists who feel validated by the BJP and the Modi government has done little to curb them. At the same time, I consider India to be a very stubborn country and take part in many discussions that do not serve either Modi or the BJP.

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