A new poison has entered the bloodstream of some of Britain’s most multicultural inner-cities. It can cause hatred and division—and may even kill. We have seen it in action in recent disturbances in both Leicester and the suburbs of Birmingham.
It goes by many names but in India, where it originates, it is known as Hindutva. This is a form of nationalism that proclaims the superiority of Hindus above all others in India.
Hindutva’s adherents insist that India is now, and always has been, an exclusively Hindu nation. But, they say, that dream has been continually frustrated by invaders and foreign interference.
The champion of this ideology today is India’s hard right prime minister Narendra Modi and his BJP party. In the shadows beyond him stand fascist groups such as the RSS—a paramilitary street organisation
Modi and his many followers see enemies of India everywhere, from those that rail against caste oppression to women demanding justice for the victims of sexual crimes. But for those infected by Hindutva, there is no greater foe than Muslims
Historically, Muslims are charged with invading and occupying India under the Mughal Empire that spanned from the 16th to the 19th centuries. Today, they are said to be “the enemy within”, working to undermine the nation at the behest of India’s arch-enemy, Pakistan.
That poisonous idea has recently travelled to Britain with the aid of modern technology. Indian satellite TV bombards viewers across the world with chauvinistic bile.
And even many Indian family Whatsapp groups are contaminated by lurid stories of beastly Muslims and the glories of India’s Hindu defenders. But that alone would not have been enough for Hindutva to implant itself here.
It was aided by the British state and its open policy of Islamophobia—and by the acquiescence of both Conservative and Labour parties. Hindutva in Britain is a mutation that mixes Indian reactionary politics with Britain’s own brand of anti-Muslim hatred.
Riaz Khan is an educator and community activist in Leicester. Famed as the author of Memoirs of an Asian Football Casual, he knows the city and its people well.
If that had been away fans parading at a Leicester football game, the police would have been there in their hundreds. Instead, the cops allowed the march to continue
He told Socialist Worker about how right wing Hindus were behind the recent turmoil in the East Midlands city. “The tension between Hindu and Muslim young people in Leicester has been ongoing for around four months,” he said.
“But it reached a turning point earlier this month when a gang of about 25 people set upon a Muslim lad and battered him. Prior to that, there had been all sorts going on—people intimidating Muslim households and refusing to disperse. During that whole time the police did precisely nothing.”
Riaz says that despite rising anger, he and others were able to calm down Muslim youths that wanted to react to the provocations. “But then came last week’s right wing Hindu march,” he said.
“There were a few hundred of them marching from Loughborough Road to Green Lane Road. By the time they got to North Evington, they were masked up and chanting anti-Muslim slogans.
“And during the whole of that 2.5 mile march, which was completely illegal, the police did nothing. They had six officers walking alongside the marchers, but later top police officers here claimed they knew nothing about it.
“If that had been away fans parading at a Leicester football game, the police would have been there in their hundreds. Instead, the cops allowed the march to continue.”
When it got to the Muslim majority area of North Evington, Riaz says around 40 mainly Muslim men came onto the street to protect their locality. A small number of local Hindus joined them, saying the marchers didn’t represent them.
“We have to ask why this is happening now,” said Riaz. “When the Babri mosque in India was destroyed by Hindu mobs in 1992, nothing happened in Leicester. When the Gujarat anti-Muslim riots happened in 2002, nothing happened in Leicester.
“But in 2022, the Hindu right in Britain felt emboldened. That’s because they now have supporters, including Tory politicians such as Priti Patel, on their side.”
The Conservative Party has played a crucial role for Hindutva in Britain. As prime minister, Boris Johnson this year invited Modi to Britain for a state visit.
Modi had until 2012 been banned for his role in the Gujarat riots. Former Home Secretary Priti Patel calls Modi “our dear friend,” and says the Tories and the BJP are “sister parties”.
A viciously anti-Muslim activist from West Bengal, Ghosh and his group were implicated in physical attacks on opponents. British Hindutva reactionaries were only too happy to return the favour.
At the 2019 general election, the Overseas Friends of the BJP UK claimed to have run a vote Tory campaign in 48 marginal seats with large Hindu electorates. “We have a team in each constituency which is going round with the Tory candidate leafleting, speaking to people and persuading them to vote Tory,” Kuldeep Singh Shekhawat told the Times of India newspaper.
A number of Hindu temples have gone further, inviting racist speakers, including on occasion the British Nazi Tommy Robinson, to address the faithful. The price of this agitation is already being paid in Leicester and Smethwick, but could soon spread further.
Nevertheless, Riaz is hopeful that organic connections between Hindu and Muslim young people can break down the tensions. “This won’t get solved by the ‘community elders’ who at the moment are sitting around drinking tea and eating biscuits with each other,” he said.
“But it might come from the youth themselves. Hindu, Muslim and Sikh kids grow up together here. They go to school and college together and visit each other’s homes.
“Right now, a lot of people are too scared to speak out, but we must find a way of getting communication going. Personally, I just want things to go back to how they were. I far preferred the days when we all united to fight the fascists of the National Front off the streets to what is happening now.”
It’s not just in the Tory party where Hindu chauvinists are helping set the agenda. They are also deeply embedded in Labour—and nowhere more so than in Leicester.
Learning lessons from the way right wing supporters of Israel mobilised against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, they claim any negative reaction to India’s government is anti-Hindu racism. On the eve of the 2019 general election, six Labour councillors published a letter to the then leader. It said the party had treated the British Hindu community with “disdain and disrespect.”
In it, they railed against Labour’s conference that had passed a motion on Kashmir. The motion condemned the Indian government for its repression in the contested territory, and called for international observers to be allowed in to monitor the situation.
As it became clear that the Labour right and Hindu nationalists were both mobilising around the issue, Corbyn wrongly backed down, and Labour changed its position.
Now, the party said Kashmir was an “internal issue” for the Indian and Pakistani governments. But, just as with antisemitism, the climbdown only fed the chauvinists’ appetite.
Lots of dirty deals are done behind closed doors. The local leadership want to engineer it so different religious communities balance each other out
Alan is a long-standing, left wing Labour member in the Leicester East constituency. He told Socialist Worker that the party is a “nest of vipers”.
“Giving up the Kashmir position was terrible, and that’s coming from me as a supporter of Corbyn,” he said. “It gave the right here the chance they’d been looking for.
“The councillors that signed that letter are open supporters of Modi and the BJP. Some of them even supported Trump and the most right wing interpretation of Brexit. How they are allowed in the party, let alone into positions of authority, I just don’t know.”
The party’s logic is steeped in communalism, said Alan. “Lots of dirty deals are done behind closed doors. The local leadership want to engineer it so different religious communities balance each other out,” he said.
“They allow Muslim areas to elect Muslim councillors, and likewise with Hindu areas. This is supposed to appease everyone.
“But it allows right wing, mediocre Labour members from a particular ethnic group to win important positions, which in turn legitimises their politics. That’s how right wing BJP supporters have built their base here.”
Alan says that an iron grip on party meetings means there is little room for dissent, and that complaints to the party machine are useless. “If you challenge a Hindu councillor’s politics, you are accused of racism,” said Alan.
“That means communalism goes unchallenged, despite the threat that it poses to the party and labour movement.” The tragedy, says Alan, is that none of the current religious divisions are inevitable.
“Many people here from different backgrounds—Hindu, Muslim and white—have known each other for a long time. Many of the Asians that came to Leicester from Uganda in 1972, and those that followed after, grew up here together. They had to face the same battles together.
“But that calm has been shattered by Indian politics. In the past, most Hindus here would have supported the Indian Congress Party with its apparently secular politics.
“Now they think Modi is good and he has turned India into a superpower. That has to change the nature of their relationship to their Muslim neighbours, doesn’t it?”
Like Riaz, Alan thinks there can be a solution, but that it has to come from below. “The council can’t do anything because they are locked into this sectarian system,” he said. “But I hope that the battles over pay and the cost of living will draw people together.
“We need unity in action over our livelihoods. But we have to take the divisions that exist head on without ducking the question of the Hindu right—both inside and outside Labour”.
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