THE recent violence in Leicester, UK, by a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-inspired Hindutva mob has sent shock-waves across the country and beyond. Leicester is home to over 100,000 Muslims and Hindus, many of whom are Gujaratis and trace their origins to Africa, mainly Uganda, Kenya and Malawi. The common heritage has fostered respect between Muslims and Hindus in the city, allowing Leicester to become a model of multiculturalism.
All this began to change over the past few years. Since August, there have been Hindutva mobs marching in the streets. In one of the demonstrations, an over 200-strong mob marched with their faces covered, intimidating Muslims. The arrests that followed revealed half of the individuals were from outside Leicester.
The violence in Leicester does not only have national but also international links. The disturbance of peace stems from a neofascist ideology inspired by the RSS. The origins of Hindu nationalism are traced from the British Raj period to Vinayak Savarkar, who defined the concept of Hindutva.
Hindutva has come to mean several things. But fundamentalist followers of Savarkar understand Hindu identity as of ‘pure’ Aryan blood and belonging to what they term Akhand Bharat (Greater India). The neofascist ideology was taken up by K.B. Hedgewar, the founder of RSS and his associate M.S. Golwalkar.
Groups supporting Hindutva are painting Muslims as a threat.
They were disillusioned by the inclusive anti-colonial political project of Mahatma Gandhi and Sheikh Hussain Ahmad Madani, with Gandhi being murdered by Nathuram Godse, an RSS sympathiser. Golwalkar forged an ideological alliance with Italian fascism and German Nazism and wrote that all non-Hindus “… must ... merge in the Hindu race, or may stay in the country, wholly subordinated to the Hindu Nation, claiming nothing … not even citizen’s rights”.
The Hindutva drive to construct India as a Hindu nation remained on the fringes until the 1990s when the Bharatiya Janata Party and Narendra Modi portrayed the Muslims as a threat to the Hindu majority. And since coming to power, the champions of the Hindutva ideology have been at the forefront of marginalising and targeting Muslims across India on the pretext of violating Hindu sensibilities. The BJP’s political success has resulted in Hindutva claiming authority over Hinduism, making it synonymous with Indian nationalism.
In the diaspora, the Hindutva trajectory took a separate line. Loosely it can be summarised as a call for Hindus to maintain their Hindu identity. The official UK chapter began in 1966 with the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS). This outfit now claims to have over 60 branches in addition to other Hindutva-affiliated organisations.
The main functions of these organisations are welfare. However, in some, the ideals of Hindutva, of Hindus as a race descended from Aryans and India as an exclusive Aryan homeland, are promoted. It is a small step from here to see the parallels with the xenophobic mother RSS organisation in India finding its way to making Muslims targets in the UK. In 2015, a UK wing of HSS was investigated by the Charity Commission after one of its teachers was shown saying, “the number of good Muslims can be counted on one finger”.
The emphasis on promoting Hindu identity has led to a Twitter campaign by students, Hindu on Campus, stating “We are Hindu! Not South Asian!! The Hindu marking is a call to disassociate from anything Muslim — Pakistan and Bangladesh. The promotion of Hindu identity in the UK thus resonates with RSS ideology. That is, Hindutva supporters in the UK, like in India, are trying to provide meaning to their identity by distancing themselves from Muslims.
The Hindutva ideology has spread to the US, Canada and other countries as well. In Canada, the public call to kill Muslims by an RSS supporter has led to an arrest. The Los Angles Times reported in September that Hindutva nationalists are “ratchet[ing] up tensions among immigrants in the US”. Further, in New Jersey, the Democrats passed a resolution requesting the FBI and CIA to investigate Hindutva groups.
The reorientation of some Hindus outside India towards Hindutva has gained traction because of the political victory in India of RSS-allied parties. It has made far-right extremist Hindutva ideology respectable and thus transported to the diaspora Hindus.
The RSS project to Hinduise India at the expense of Muslims is being taken up at varying degrees by Hindu organisations outside. And the Hindutva-allied organisations, from the US to UK and Australia to Africa, are constructing Muslims as a threat. In this sense, the fringe racist project of Golwalkar that stated that Muslims are the number one “internal threat” has become a global threat to Muslims wherever there are extremist Hindutva supporters.
The writer is author of The Muslim Problem: From the British Empire to Islamophobia, chairman of NGO Friends of Al Aqsa and a visiting research fellow at the University of Leeds.
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2022