The British state must stop enabling Hindutva fascism
On Saturday 18 September, large groups of men marched in Leicester, chanting Hindutva slogans, approaching a mosque and intimidating the local population. These marchers were not peaceful, and eventually there was retaliation from a section of the Muslim community.
Proponents of Hindutva, a fascist Hindu nationalism originating in India, have had a UK presence for decades. But recent events signal an escalation that has created fear and concern, not just within the local community but in multicultural cities across the UK.
Reporting in the media, as well as analysis from at least one mainstream journalist, has attributed the unrest to 'communal tensions' and ascribed blame to 'both sides'. This is inaccurate and disingenuous.
''The ruling party's support of Modi, the BJP and the HSS/RSS by extension is nothing short of an enabling of fascism. Now, this fascism has reared its ugly head in the UK. If this government cares at all about keeping fascism off UK soil, it must acknowledge this threat and pull back its support. Although given the Conservatives' and BJP's aligned values, this is unlikely to happen.''
Events in Leicester must be seen in light of the rise of Hindu fascism via groups affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The political arm of the RSS is the BJP, India’s ruling party, led by lifelong RSS member and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
It’s therefore not surprising that following retaliatory violence, the Indian High Commission in London responded by condemning attacks on “the Indian community” and against “symbols of Hindu religion”. This signalled an effective erasure of Indian Muslims, who make up a large proportion of Leicester’s Muslim population and who were clearly targeted by Hindutva-supporting marchers.
Amrit Wilson, an activist with South Asia Solidarity Group, said in 2020 that “[p]eople often hesitate to use the word fascist but it is the only accurate description of the RSS”. Wilson has considerable expertise in the history of the RSS, its motivations, and its modus operandi.
When asked how she would respond to claims that the unrest was caused by a cricket match, Wilson said: “As people in Leicester confirm, the incidents of hostility against Muslims predate the cricket match. This is not surprising given the fact that Leicester has long been an important base for the RSS”.
Wilson went on to add that “Islamophobia circulates via family and community WhatsApp groups and spills over on to the street from time to time. What has happened over the last few days however is the arrival of coachloads of RSS supporters from outside Leicester”.
Pleased to meet members of the #Leicester Hindu community today. They are genuinely shocked by outside agitators. The fear of the #RSS network amongst ordinary Hindus is much greater than we had appreciated. Muslims and Hindus have worked together for decades to earn the good 1/2 pic.twitter.com/eggMireHRO— Majid Freeman (@Majstar7) September 20, 2022
Indeed, the arrival of “coachloads” of marchers from other cities suggests these were coordinated attacks as opposed to random inter-communal riots. Wilson has previously described in detail the history of the systematic establishment of RSS ideology among the UK’s Hindu Indian diaspora, dating as far back as the 1960s. It points not to isolated actors but to an organised network of Hindutva groups.
I also asked Wilson whether she felt Muslims and Hindus were equally to blame during recent events. She said: “The attacks on religious buildings and symbols must be condemned. That said, it is clear that the RSS's strategy has been to provoke a riot, if possible, so that they can use it to justify further attacks on Muslims in India and claim that it is Hindus who are victims of violent Hinduphobia”.
And while the mobilisation of the RSS in the UK is not new, this brazen form of provocation should ring alarm bells for anti-fascists. As Wilson said, “This signals a new phase of RSS activity in the UK and Leicester is a trial balloon, as it were. Whereas fundraising and online and WhatsApp hate will continue, there are likely to be further attempts to provoke Muslims”.
Lawyer Tasnime Akunjee also shared his thoughts. He said, “[t]he troubles in Leicester have been on a low boil since the first quarter of this year.” However, with Hindutva supporters arriving in Leicester from other parts of England, Akunjee said, “[t]his fact speaks to a level of nationwide organisation with the intent of violence on the part of the RSS”.
Akunjee also has thoughts on what might have motivated these supporters to mobilise on this particular weekend. He said “this provocation was calculated to time with the late Queen’s lying in state ceremony. The police security operation around the ceremony in London… necessarily had to draw on all spare police officers from all corners of the UK. This meant that outside of London, police forces had little capacity to deal with large scale flash violence”.
Akunjee believes that “the RSS appears to have seized this potential operational weakness as their opportunity to cause widespread violence”. He points out that the local community exercised “significant constraint”, and without it “the initially skeletal police presence in Leicester would have been overcome by the challenge”.
This escalation in the RSS’s provocation is not about India-Pakistan rivalry. And while the RSS are currently attacking Muslims, it’s also true that fascists tend to gradually cast a wider net. First they came for the Communists, etc.
Fascists also have a way of aligning with one another. RSS actors are already deploying tropes from the War on Terror in order to justify and normalise Islamophobic narratives.
It’s essential to note that the violence taking place on the streets of Leicester has not occurred in a vacuum. Rather, it happened because RSS elements have been allowed to thrive in the UK. In the 90s, Modi had support from both Labour and Tory MPs. Around 2017, the Tories backtracked on a law intended to end caste-based discrimination in the UK, something HSS (the RSS’s overseas wing) is in favour of.
In September 2014, Priti Patel wrote of a letter of support to the HSS, congratulating it on an event organised for the UK’s Indian diaspora. As Home Secretary, she encouraged immigration from India, and did so in an event organised by a group that appears to regularly invite BJP officials to speak.
Boris Johnson also had an open alliance with Modi. As part of its modern operations, the BJP successfully established itself as a capitalist safe haven and therefore gained the support of powerful corporations both within India and outside of it. As such, post-Brexit trade deals with Modi’s India have been a widely publicised part of Tory policy.
As parties that have similar values of favouring authoritarianism, propagating hatred of marginalised communities and prioritising capitalist interests over the needs of the poor and vulnerable, the BJP and the Conservative Party make likely bedfellows. Indeed, Patel has explicitly called them "sister parties".
But this alliance will prove ominous for the UK. No one in the current government, including current Home Secretary Suella Braverman, has condemned the RSS or denounced the violence carried out in the name of Hindutva fascism.
The ruling party's support of Modi, the BJP and the HSS/RSS by extension is nothing short of an enabling of fascism. Now, this fascism has reared its ugly head in the UK. If this government cares at all about keeping fascism off UK soil, it must acknowledge this threat and pull back its support. Although given the Conservatives' and BJP's aligned values, this is unlikely to happen.
And fascism, as we know, has a way of spreading its tentacles across society. It requires not greater police force - support from the establishment is what makes it thrive, as history shows - but grass roots resistance. Joining forces as communities and supporting anti-fascist groups is the best way to counter the RSS, and tell it that British communities will not tolerate its hate and violence.
Afroze Fatima Zaidi is a writer, editor and journalist. She has a background in academia and writing for online platforms.
Follow her on Twitter: @afrozefz
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