Vinod Mubayi

The reported communal riots in the town of Leicester in the UK are, at one level, an ugly manifestation of the Hindu-Muslim squabbles that have bedeviled the subcontinent for many years. What happened at Leicester and why and who was responsible will be established after the UK police enquiry is complete. Meanwhile the familiar, banal reasons were cited: tensions among rival fans after an India-Pakistan cricket match, and petty fights and ethnic slurs in public areas. These were followed by reports of attacks on a temple and a mosque.

London Mayor Sajid Khan in a heart-rending statement on the Leicester “riots” posted on twitter <https://twitter.com/MayorofLondon/status/1572655594229604352> said:

My grandparents were from India. My parents from Pakistan. I was born and raised in London and am proud to call Britain my home.

But like many Londoners who can trace their family history to different parts of the world, I feel a strong connection with my heritage, which means both India and Pakistan are dear to me and hold a special place in my heart.

That’s why I’ve found the ugly scenes in Leicester and Smethwick over the last week so heart-breaking. British Muslims and British Hindus have far more in common than that which divides us.

We should be eternally on our guard against extremist forces who seek to stoke up tensions between our communities for their own selfish ends.

For a generation, Asian families have lived side by side in the UK as friends and neighbours – not allowing the politics of the sub-continent to spill over here at home or to affect our relationships.

I remember the solidarity I had growing up in London with my Asian Hindu and Sikh neighbours, who along with Muslim, White and Black Londoners all stood together against the far-right of the 80s and early 90s.

The Asian immigrant story in London – and the sense of common struggle – is shared by people who have links to all parts of the sub-continent.

We cannot let current or past tensions, and the wider politics of the region, be used as a pretext to break that unity or stir up trouble on our streets.

What we have seen in the Midlands in recent days is completely unacceptable, and I wholeheartedly condemn all violence, harassment and intimidation.

Everyone in the UK and around the world should have the right to live in peace and to practice their religion without fear or threats.

British Muslims and British Hindus should always be allies, not adversaries. And any attempts to drive a wedge between our communities by a small minority should be called out and resisted by all. Now is the time for us to rekindle and strengthen our bonds of solidarity.

We need the silent majority to continue raising its voice and deploring this disorder.

Together, let’s take a stand against all forms of hatred, intolerance and extremism – wherever it is found.

As the UK’s Economist magazine put it: “Much about the lead-up to the “senseless violence”, as local leaders call it, remains obscure. Certainly, both sides bear responsibility. Young hotheads have drunk deeply from the wells of global Islamism or Hindu chauvinism. The mayor pointed to some “very distorted social-media stuff”. Yet the violence was shocking all the same. Leicester had long been a place where people of different faiths rubbed along.”

What was more shocking perhaps, although hardly surprising, was the reaction of the Indian High Commission in London that in a completely one-sided fashion condemned the “violence perpetrated against the Indian community in Leicester and vandalization of premises and symbols of [the] Hindu religion” as if Indian and Hindu are synonymous. This representation of the nation that ostensibly has a secular constitution has been increasingly projected within India by the ruling BJP regime. It now seems to be becoming the norm abroad too as Hindutva and communal conflict within India is now sought to be exported to the Indian diaspora

Several commentators have noted that Indian politics, which now functions as a mode of aggressive Hindutva, has infected the diaspora. Right-wing Hindu groups, led by local offshoots of the RSS, have infiltrated the social and cultural life of Indians in many foreign countries. As is the case in India, the toxic propaganda including fake-news perpetrated by these groups has begun to create conflict and even violence in some places.

In the wake of the farmers agitation in India against the black laws passed by the Modi regime, Hindutva fanatics attacked Sikhs in Australia. One of the attackers was deported back to India and he received a hero’s welcome there by others of his ilk. In Edison, NJ on India’s Independence Day, August 15, 2022, a group of Indian-origin businessmen representing the Indian Business Association (IBA) there, organized a parade featuring bulldozers adorned with the life-size portraits of the “bulldozer baba” Yogi Adityanath, chief minister of UP, notorious for ordering his government to bulldoze the residences and businesses of minority Muslims in his state who dared to criticize his policies or actions. Public protest and a condemnation by local US politicians forced the IBA to apologize afterwards. However, as the Leicester events show, these types of confrontations with their potential for violence are prone to occur in Indian communities abroad where toxic Hindutva is now manifested not only in the cultural and religious sphere but also receives official affirmation in Indian embassies.

As a commentator writing in The Wire stated: “Indian diaspora politics is mirroring what is happening back in India. The same polarization, the same social media campaigns, the same political and official patronage and the same violence. Dissent, even a different point of view, is not tolerated, neither from the local pro-Indian government groups nor by the diplomatic missions.

Meanwhile, the Modi regime in India by its recent ban for a five-year period of a Muslim political organization, the Patriotic Front of India (PFI), as well as its subsidiary organizations, and the arrest of several hundreds of its leaders and members under the draconian UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) has further demonstrated its willingness to use agencies of the state to repress minorities for nakedly political ends. To consolidate the majority around the Hindutva project of making secular India into a Hindu Rashtra, the ruling party needs periodic displays of shock and awe to polarize the public and paint the minorities, particularly Muslims, as alien elements.

While the charges against the PFI and its leaders of advocating violence and inciting terrorism will, hopefully, be tested in the courts, it is ironic that assorted Hindutva organizations such as Bajrang Dal, Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and more shadowy offshoots of the RSS and its affiliates that not only advocate and incite violence but are known to carry out violent, terror attacks, remain untouched by police and investigative agencies. This farce of withdrawal of very serious cases against Hindutva terrorists after BJP came to power in 2014 has been going on for several years.  Most recently, an ex-RSS member Yeshwant Shinde offered to testify in the 2006 Nanded bomb blast case and prepared an affidavit in that connection of the history of bomb manufacture and training by Hindutva groups but the Central Bureau of Investigation has opposed his offer to give testimony in court. For many months, some extremist Hindu preachers have been openly advocating genocide of Muslims but they have only received the proverbial slap on the wrist. This situation where the expression of dissent by minorities is met by incarceration under draconian laws while open calls to violence by extremist sections of the majority are tolerated if not ignored can only be sustained by authoritarian methods, further eroding whatever little remains of Indian democracy.

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