Indians living in Leicester, England – like their counterparts in the US – come from diverse religious backgrounds, and have lived in harmony for decades. However, clashes between Hindu and Muslim Indians earlier this year in Leicester city have cast a dark shadow over community relations.
Since the election of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014, Hindu nationalism has made creeping and aggressive inroads into diasporan Indian communities. The ideological underpinning of the BJP is Hindutva, an aggressive Hindu nationalism that views India’s Muslim minority as a dangerous element. Intending to construct a Hindu-only state, Hindutva philosophy possesses striking similarities with white nationalism and Zionism.
Let’s be clear that Hinduism, the religion, is completely different from Hindutva, a political ideology. The latter, Sanskrit for the essence of being Hindu, is an ultranationalist philosophy which advocates Hindu communalist supremacy inside India. Hostile to the Muslim minority, this extremist ideology has found recruits and supporters among expatriate Indian communities. It is the followers of this divisive and ethnonationalist ideology who have waged violent attacks against Muslim Indians, such as in Leicester city earlier this year.
Leicester city has long been a beacon of successful multicultural integration. Ugandan Asians, refugees from Idi Amin’s regime, settled in that city back in the 1970s. Ugandan Asians were actually Indians, mostly from Gujarat, but also from other parts of India. As greater numbers of Indians arrived in Leicester – Hindu and Muslim – the Indian community confronted racism together, started and ran businesses, intermarried and socialised together.
When the Indian migrants arrived in the UK, they – along with other nonwhite immigrants – faced the racism of Anglo majority society. This was the era of Enoch Powell ‘rivers of blood’ speech, warning that rising numbers of immigrants would lead to racial conflicts in the streets. The racist National Front types were organising street actions, and clashes between skinheads and migrant youth took place.
Not only is Leicester home to thousands of Ugandan Asians and other Indian migrants, it has a mosques, Diwali celebrations, as well as Sikh and Buddhist temples of worship. So the clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Leicester is especially jarring and disturbing. One point though – clashes implies a kind of ‘equality’ in the perpetration of violence. That is not strictly correct.
Faisal Hanif, writing about the Leicester riots for Middle East Eye, states that the language of ‘communal violence’ may be factual, but incomplete. There were Hindus chanting ‘Death to Pakistan’ during the cricket match, and Muslim youths retaliated. However, these incidents are just skimming the surface. This is not just another ‘India vs Pakistan’ rivalry at which we can simply shrug our shoulders. Hindutva ideology has made inroads into the Indian diaspora community.
Hindu nationalist youths have organised at street level, attacking mosques and Muslim-owned businesses. Chants of Jai Shri Ram, appropriated as a war cry by Hindu nationalists and BJP fanatics in India, has been recycled by BJP supporters in the expatriate Indian communities.
It is not just in the UK where India’s ethnonationalist polarisation has erupted. The BJP has supporters among India’s expatriate communities in the United States, Australia and New Zealand. In the latter nation, Professor Mohan Dutta, who is researching the rise of ultrarightist sentiment among the Indian community in Aotearoa/NZ, has received death threats and been called a ‘brown servant’ by the partisans of Hindu nationalism.
The BJP has its ideological origins in the fascistic politics of the parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The latter, a Hindu extremist and ultranationalist organisation, was founded in the 1925 by Hindu ideologues sympathetic to the politics of Nazi Germany and fascist Italy. Officially named the National Volunteer Organisation, the goal of the RSS is to create an ethnically pure Hindu nation.
In the United States, adherents of Hindutva were deliriously happy during the visit of Indian PM Narendra Modi to that country. Modi, touring the US in 2019, expressed his warm admiration for then-US President Donald Trump. Sections of the US Republican Party allied themselves with the network of Hindu nationalist supporters among the Indian expatriate community. White nationalism and Hindutva bigotry find common ground across national borders.
In anticipation of some highly intelligent troll stating the obvious – not all expatriate Indians are bigots – let me make it clear. Of course not every Hindu Indian in the diaspora is an advocate of prejudice. There are many Indians bravely speaking out against the hateful politics of the BJP. None of this changes the fact that Hindutva nationalism is gaining ground in the expatriate communities.
Not every Ukrainian living in Canada is a vicious Nazi. This factually correct observation is wonderful – but this has not stopped the Ukrainian expatriate community in Canada from erecting monuments to Nazi war criminals and fascistic-minded Ukrainian racists. It is incumbent on all of us to unite and defeat the politics of bigotry wherever it emerges.