British elections and the Hindutva campaign
December 3, 2019
LONDON: Yesterday the UK’s Hindu Council supported Rabbi Mirvis’ claim that the Labour Party is anti-Semitic, adding that it is "anti-Hindu" too. Meanwhile, WhatsApp messages are circulating urging the UK’s Hindus to vote Tory, because the Labour Party Conference passed an Emergency Motion criticising Modi’s policies in Kashmir, and Labour, the messages say, is therefore "anti-India"123.
One may well wonder why, in a striking analogy to the way Modi’s government labels internal critics as ‘anti-national’, Labour’s criticism of the Modi regime has been equated so readily with being "anti-India" and now "anti-Hindu".
The answer is a long running and systematic campaign by Hindutva organisations in Britain targeting Hindus in the UK.
These organisations include the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, the overseas wing of the RSS; charities like Sewa International, which together with the HSS was found to have channelled millions of pounds raised from the British public to RSS front organisations in India; the National Council of Hindu Temples and a plethora of religious and cultural organisations, from Hindu faith schools to meditation centres to yoga clubs.
For years their main aim has been spreading the Islamophobic, patriarchal, upper-caste and militaristic political ideology of Hindutva.
At the same time and overlapping with the community-based initiatives there are activities in the world of finance and business by people like the suave Manoj Ladwa, HSS member and Narendra Modi’s chief strategist in the UK and Alpesh Shah, hedge fund manager and columnist for the pro-Modi Asian Voice newspaper, who in line with India’s increasing closeness to Israel recently wrote an open letter urging Modi to follow Israel’s example:
“the first determinant of your relations with any foreign government must be their treatment of their Hindu population within their borders. It has to be the business of this [India’s] government how Hindus are treated worldwide… This doctrine is not novel in International Relations. The people of Israel provide protection for Jews wherever they are in the world, of whichever nationality. We shall extend no less protection to Hindus”.
The Hindu Far Right’s displeasure with the Labour party has in fact been simmering for decades. Earlier it was primarily over the issue of caste discrimination and abuse which is rife in the Asian communities.
From 2000 on, Dalit groups (which had the support of Corbyn) have campaigned for a law against caste discrimination. The Hindutva organisations have opposed them vigorously.
Despite their opposition however, in 2010 the Labour Party then in power effectively passed such a law, but could not implement it before the Conservatives replaced it in government.
The Tories have all but scuppered the law with the support of politicians like MP for Harrow East, Bob Blackman who is well known, among other things for inviting the rabid Islamophobe Tapan Ghosh to the House of Commons.
Despite these conflicts, the Hindutva groups hedged their bets and continued to try and build relationships with both the Labour and Conservative parties. For example Manoj Ladwa organised receptions for the Labour Friends of India and the relationship with the Labour Party continued through certain key MPs like Keith Vaz and Barry Gardiner, who can only be described as fan boys of Narendra Modi.
Even as late as 2014, Ladwa was gushing about the “deep relationship” between the Labour Party and India… calling it a veritable “Labour of Love we should all feel proud of”.
But this loving relationship was to be swept away by profound changes in Indian and global politics. Modi came to power in May 2014. Almost immediately the RSS’s storm troopers unleashed a violent campaign of hate in India which has continued and now reached epidemic proportions.
At the same time the ever-present antipathy with Pakistan was whipped up by Narendra Modi with open warmongering, particularly in the run up to the 2019 Indian election which returned the BJP to power.
Through all this the regime’s policies of extreme neoliberalism has sold India to corporate robber barons, particularly cronies of Modi himself. This is inextricable from a hatred for the Left, expressed by Modi’s acolytes, on social media and in public spaces in the virulent language of fascism.
At the 2014 World Hindu Congress for example, which was sponsored by multinational companies, a pamphlet was distributed naming the five enemies of Hindu society – five fingers in the claw of the demon Mahasur, among them Marxists, “the thumb of the demon’s claw,” which has given birth to “multiple bastard offspring like Communists, Socialists, Liberals, Maoists, Anarchists and all other forms Leftists,” and Muslims who are the “poisonous fruit of Islam”.
On an international level Modi is the first Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. He has embraced Netanyahu with open arms both literally and metaphorically, and is increasingly replicating Israel’s policies in Palestine, in Kashmir. Massive deals of weapons and surveillance equipment have followed, accounting for some 50% of Israel’s arms sales and making India today Israel’s largest arm purchaser.
Modi’s closeness to Trump has been demonstrated most recently by Trump’s attendance of the Howdy Modi event in Houston, Texas. As though to strengthen and widen the coalition of the far-right, Modi has now invited Jair Bolsonaro to be the chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations. Boris Johnson would fit comfortably into Modi’s circle of friends.
In the same period, in the UK Modi’s influence on the Conservatives has increased. In 2016, Priti Patel, his ardent admirer was appointed International Development Secretary by Theresa May. Patel has been close to the RSS for a considerable time; in September 2014, as MP for Witham, she congratulated the HSS for inviting RSS leader Dattatreya Hosabale to the UK to attend an event titled ‘RSS, a vision in action – a new dawn’.
Now under Boris, Priti Patel, who was forced to resign over a secret visit to Israel with a lobbyist to meet Israeli officials, is back in government as Home Secretary and two new admirers of Modi, Rishi Sunak, son-in-law of Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy, and Alok Sharma have joined the government.
Not surprisingly, the BJP wants the Tories to remain in power, to ensure if nothing else that there are no criticisms from the UK on the future actions it is planning, which are likely to include not only further repression in Kashmir but the tearing up of India’s secular Constitution and declaring India a fascistic Hindu Rashtra or state, something RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat has said is “non-negotiable”.
It is against this background that we must understand the BJP’s attempts to influence the UK’s general elections. Before the 2017 election too the National Council of Hindu Temples were eulogising Theresa May and condemning Corbyn and other Labour Party “grandees… determined to foist Caste labels upon British Hindus”.
May was welcomed to the Swaminarayan Temple in Neasden by representatives of a range of Hindutva organisations including the HSS. Manoj Ladwa was quoted saying “Labour has lost its way to the point that the relationship between Labour and the British Indian community often feels adversarial”.
Despite these views however, in 2017 the Labour Party had the largest number of Indian-origin MPs.
Will the latest strategy of the Hindutva groups have an impact on the election results? Satpal Muman, Chair of Caste Watch UK, the largest Dalit organisation in Britain says “It is not really going to make much difference—the well-off, upper caste Hindu businessmen always voted Conservative anyway. One in four Hindus are Dalits and the vast majority of them are likely to vote Labour.”
Beyond the issues of caste, many people of Indian origin, including many Gujarati Hindus see the horrifying escalation of racism under the Tories and the appalling effects of austerity on their lives and those of their families as the central issues in this election.
As the Labour Party’s radical manifesto hits the streets, they are increasingly enthusiastic about Corbyn. They are disgusted too by the interventions by Modi’s spokespersons in the community. As Suresh Morjaria, a 67-year-old shopkeeper from Harrow puts it: “They don’t have to interfere in the politics here… I am happy for them to do what they want with Modi, but this is a different country.”
A version of this article appears in OpenDemocracy.
First published in The Citizen.
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