“The media slandered you as extremists, they attacked you, they sided with the radical Islamists […] that’s not going to change: none of them fear the Hindu community. The time for being scared is gone.”
This statement could have come from any politician in Narendra Modi’s Hindu supremacist government: a call to arms designed to strike fear into the hearts of Muslims (euphemised as “radical Islamists”). But this statement didn’t come from an Indian government minister. These were the words of Steven Yaxley-Lennon, aka Tommy Robinson, in a direct-to-camera address to British Hindus.
Robinson’s one-and-a-half-hour interview with Op-India was conducted by the Indian media outlet’s editor-in-chief Nupur J Sharma, an ex-spokesperson for India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Sharma had reached out to Robinson following the violence in Leicester last September, but was forced to postpone the broadcast following a public outcry at the attempted platforming of a founding member of the EDL. The interview was finally broadcast at the end of 2022, and has since been viewed almost 10,000 times. Multi-ethnic and internationalist – welcome to the new far right.
The term Hindutva was first coined 100 years ago by the Hindu nationalist politician Vinayak Damodar Savarkar. It is the animating ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the paramilitary that emerged in the 1920s with the aim of establishing total Hindu hegemony within India.
Disengaged from the struggle for independence from colonial rule, the RSS focused on cadre-building, establishing shakhas (cells) across the subcontinent, delivering political and spiritual education and training up street gangs. In this it was inspired by Mussolini’s blackshirts, as well as by Nazi models of “race pride”, obsessing over the construction of a new masculinity viewed as essential for building a Hindu rashtra (nation). The narrative that “Mother India” had been ravaged by Muslim men (constructed as aggressive and hyper-sexual) led to MS Golwalker, the second supreme leader of the RSS in the 1960s, to state of his cadres that “more than anything else, mother needs such men – young, intelligent, dedicated and more than all, virile and masculine. Such are the men who make history – Men with a capital M.” Today, the RSS has approximately five million members. The BJP is its political wing.
Modi himself joined the RSS aged eight, and was later assigned to the BJP by the leadership, eventually rising to general secretary. Modi was elected home minister of the state of Gujarat and oversaw the Muslim genocide of 2002, during which he stated that his only regret was poor media handling. Despite this, in 2014 he was elected prime minister. We are now nearing the end of the first decade of BJP rule in India – a decade of state-sanctioned Hindu supremacy.
It is impossible to overstate the scale of fascist power in India today, where Hindu supremacists secure the arrest of dissident journalists for tweets, bulldoze Muslim settlements, ban schoolgirls from wearing the hijab, lynch Muslims suspected of consuming beef, destroy Muslim places of worship, and detain Muslim migrants. A state where programmes of coerced Hindu conversion run under the ghar vaapsi (returning home) programme, Sikh dissidents are tortured with the active collusion of foreign states, and Adivasis (indigenous or “tribal” people) are urged to side with their Hindu compatriots over the communists who have fought alongside them in the jungles, under which bauxite mines offer fertile opportunity for corporate profit. Where academics use the language of indigeneity and decoloniality to celebrate freedom from supposedly western frameworks of human rights and secularism.
And as Hindu supremacists inch closer to total hegemony in India, their networks in the diaspora are also growing – and finding unlikely allies.
The international wing.
In 1966, in an apartment in Croydon, AK Chesterton met with a coalition of rightwing groups that would become the National Front. The same year, another set of meetings was taking place in London, unnoticed.
On the face of it, these men had little in common with Chesterton’s. For a start, they were south Asian – many of them “twice migrants” from ex-colonised African nations – and more liable to be victims of fascism rather than its bedfellows. Their tactics also differed: rather than a political party organising street violence, they were primarily organising yoga sessions, meditation retreats, games clubs and educational programmes, through these aiming to construct communities of religious and ethnic supremacists.
Over the following six decades, the UK branch of the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, or HSS, would grow from an organisation operating a few shakhas in London, Bradford and Leicester to becoming the centre of a network of Hindutva organisations indirectly controlling the majority of mandirs (Hindu temples) and Hindu community centres in Britain. With the wave of east African Asian migration to Britain following policies of Africanisation that began in the 1960s, the shakhas fulfilled the necessary role of providing safe spaces and cultural hubs for the Hindu diaspora. At the same time, they helped develop Hindutva ideology abroad as it became the dominant force in India. Having established itself as a key player in the UK race relations industry, the HSS now directly influences UK politics at both national and local level, producing propaganda around elections in Hindu majority areas and acting between its sister organisations in India and British politicians.
In 1974, the HSS became a registered charity, and by the time the race relations complex reached its zenith in the 1990s it was well-placed to influence government policy under the guise of representing faith communities through sister organisations such as the Hindu Forum of Britain, Hindu Council UK, Vishva Hindu Parishad UK and the National Council of Hindu Temples (NCHT). The combined efforts of Sikh and Hindu organisations have successfully prevented caste from being included in the Equalities Act, for example, with then NCHT chair Satish Sharma claiming that caste discrimination doesn’t exist in Britain. Amrit Wilson and the South Asia Solidarity Group have extensively documented the increasing instances of Hindutva organisations in British politics, from bolstering the “Pakistani grooming gangs” narrative, whereby Hindu girls were allegedly targeted for abuse by Muslim men based on their faith, to the popularisation of the term “Hinduphobia”, reframing critique of Hindutva as racism. Yet it was the violence in Leicester last September between Hindutva activists and Muslims that represented the zenith of Hindutva activity in Britain in recent years, and ushered in an unlikely set of alliances.
Robinson claims that before being banned from Twitter, 15% of his following was from India; he has described the election of Modi as “the start of a populist revolution”. “Pakistani Muslims are aggressors,” Robinson tells Sharma in his interview. “They are into selling heroin, they control drugs, they control violence.” Hindus, by contrast, are a “peaceful, peace-loving migrant community.” He goes on to link the modern-day “oppression” of Hindus to the historical abuses of 17th-century Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. He’s clearly done his homework.
The most troubling part of the interview, however, comes as Sharma cites the dubious statistic from Hindutva organisation Insight UK that “about 200 [Hindu] families have been possibly displaced” following the violence in Leicester. Robinson pledges reinforcements: “I’ve been inundated by English men who don’t want to allow what’s happening […] all of them [men in group chats from every city in the country] are saying, ‘When are we going to Leicester?’ […] I’d bring hundreds of men to Leicester tomorrow [if the Hindu community asked for it].”
Robinson’s pledge is only the beginning. The terrain for collaboration between Hindutva organisations and the far right is extremely fertile: organisations like Patriotic Alternative and the EDL share a hatred of Muslims and queer people over their threat to white masculinity. The incursion of the LGB Alliance into India, with western transphobia repackaged for the subcontinent married to particular interpretations of Islam, Sikhi and Hinduism, opens up new avenues of potential collaboration between white supremacists in Britain and fundamentalists of all religions in India. With Hindutva as the dominant ideology of the Indian political class, the rejection of “western” values of secularism and human rights and the concomitant construction of a new Hindu masculinity has further intensified queerphobia despite the recent decriminalisation of gay sex. At the very least, this offers the potential for further, temporary alliances between supremacists of all colours.
This collaboration would be reinforced by the existing links between the Indian and British states, and the need for favourable trade agreements. The British government has long prioritised a good trading relationship with India over the welfare of its own citizens: British intelligence services reportedly passed on information to the Indian state that in 2017 led to the abduction, torture and unlawful detention of Jagtar Singh Johal, a British national documenting the genocide against Sikhs in the 1980s who continues to be detained arbitrarily in India; in 2020, India attempted to extradite the West Midlands Three following a meeting on trade between India and Britain. With Rishi Sunak’s father-in-law firmly in Modi’s pocket, this allyship shows no signs of weakening.
Towards the end of Robinson’s interview, Sharma claims that “even in India we are mostly sitting ducks […] street power is something that we lack. How do you suggest the Hindu community in Leicester prepares themselves for the onslaught that does not seem to end?” Robinson’s answer is instructive: “Reach out to other communities [..] and other countries. Form alliances.” Anti-fascists in Britain had better get used to recognising Hindutva in the media, in government and on our streets. This fight is over half a century old – and make no mistake, we’re losing.