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Leicester Violence & Extremist Groups: Decoding UK Think Tank's Report

No consequences mentioned for Muslim side despite report clarifying attacks were perpetrated on both communities.

Published
Opinion
7 min read
Leicester Violence & Extremist Groups: Decoding UK Think Tank's Report
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The UK-based Henry Jackson Society published a report on the recent violence in Leicester. Authored by Charlotte Littlewood, a society fellow, and titled ‘Hindu-Muslim civil unrest in Leicester - Hindutva and the creation of a false narrative’, the report and its main conclusions that there was no involvement of Hindutva groups in the violence, and that there was a concerted effort to create that narrative, were widely reported in the Indian media.

The evidence exonerating Hindutva groups’ involvement produced by Littlewood are interviews with the Hindu youth accused of being Hindutva supporters, police reports of some of the events, and finally a detailed analysis of social media posts by the ‘Muslim influencers’ who are presented as the main instigators.

The violence itself, is said to be the result of “micro-community cohesion issue with Muslim and Hindu youth holding prejudicial attitudes towards one other."
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Report Debunking Hindutva-Led Violence Unquestioned

Surprisingly, while several Indian media outlets did run stories in the wake of Leicester violence on the growing activities of Hindutva groups led by the Hindu Seva Sangh, none of them have so far produced an analysis of the contents and the motivations for the report. No one has asked the question as to who has commissioned the report, what is the targeted audience, and what is the intended purpose.

One must first start with the history and activities of the Henry Jackson Society (HJS)—a ‘security think-tank’ with close ties to conservative and right-wing groups and with a special focus on Islamic radicalism. The Georgetown University Bridge initiative factsheet describes it thus:

"The HJS is a neo-conservative think-tank that has been described as having an ‘anti-Islam’ agenda. The HJS claims British University campuses are breeding grounds for ‘Islamic extremism’, and labels any Muslim-led community, advocacy, and legal rights groups critical of its work as ‘extremist’."

The factsheet goes on to list a long list of personalities associated with the HJS in line with right-wing agenda as well as the various activities of the HJS. These include hosting controversial speakers, making false claims and publishing research reports with questionable methodology.

In another report titled ‘The Henry Jackson Society: The Threat to British Democracy caused by Security Think Tanks’, three British academics discuss the threat posed to democratic freedoms by groups such as the HJS for repressive policies against Muslims and minorities across the UK.

It is perhaps not a coincidence that an organisation that routinely puts out questionable reports on extremism and has little credibility for being objective and balanced should come out with a report specifically exonerating Hindu extremism. We now turn to the report itself.
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Selective Posts Peddle Biased Narrative

The report starts by discussing the changing demographics of Leicester with the influx of newer migrants from India. The author Littlewood reports incidents starting from May onwards when youth from both communities attacked each other in sporadic incidents.

We are also informed of the disturbance experienced by several Muslim residents by the loud Hindu festivities which seem to have increased in recent times.

As evidence of the fraying social fabric, Littlewood provides three social media posts—all by Muslims. The first one announcing a cessation of loud Hindu festivities owing to Muslim action, the next, a post disparaging Hindu festivals, and then a tweet complaining about loud Hindu festivals blocking roads.

Strikingly, similar posts by Hindu groups or individuals critical of Muslims are absent. This is intentional and not an oversight. Throughout the report, Littlewood focuses almost exclusively on posts, messages and allegations by the Muslim influencers and other UK Muslims to the near exclusion on those on the Hindu side.

The crux of her contention is built on the argument that since there is no evidence of any of the Hindu men belonging to Hindutva groups, they cannot be said to be motivated by the same. As she says:

“A close review of the relevant police incident reports and interviews with those who organised the Hindu march and were accused of being RSS terrorists do not appear to show any clear or demonstrable links with known terrorist organisations."

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Hindutva’s UK Wing’s RSS Affiliation Is Evident

She also says that it is not possible to “assert there is no Hindu nationalist extremism in the UK”, yet dismisses the possibility that at least a section of the BJP supporters in the UK (which she acknowledges are vocal and numerous), including those involved in the violence, could be sympathetic to the ideas of the RSS and Hindutva, even if they were not formally affiliated with extremist organisations. Instead, their actions are taken as a way to protect their homes, property and places of worship.

This is problematic. While one does not have to believe the unfounded allegations made by the Muslim influencers that the Hindu youth were being organised from within India, something which the report belabours hard to disprove, there can be no doubt that several of their actions indicated identification with Hindutva ideals.

But the problem is that even if these said individuals were found to be formally associated with known UK Hindutva groups, it would not make much difference for the purposes of the report.
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RSS’s Overseas Outreach

The report speaks of the central Hindutva group in the UK— the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) UK as being similar in outlook and practice as the parent RSS, yet goes on to exonerate the HSS of instigating Hindutva or extremism under the pretext that it has never carried out any terror activities in the UK.

Instead of discussing the actual activities of the said organisation, Littlewood satisfies herself by listing the purpose listed in the charity registration. She also includes an interview with the HSS where in the traditional RSS style, the HSS functionary denies having a formal list of members and having any members participate in the violence.

The report goes on to add: “However, links to RSS in the UK is problematic for community cohesion and does require further research." However, a lot of research has already been done on the overseas activities of the RSS, which Littlewood seems not to have consulted. For instance, Professor Christophe Jaffrelot in his book Religion, Caste and Politics in India (2010) writes:

“Like their Indian counterparts, the various components of the British Sangh are in constant contact but strive to mask the links they have with the RSS to avoid being overtly stigmatised by too strong an ideological branding and thereby circumvent the legislation in force”….”The RSS has managed to reproduce most of its structure abroad, except that the HSS is not at the system’s hub: the centre continues to be the RSS.”

Likewise, a 2004 investigation by the rights organisation Awaaz concluded that:“The HSS is the core body to which the other UK sangh parivar organisations report…The HSS UK headquarters is in Leicester.…This Leicester address is also the official address of several Hindutva organisations in the UK…”
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UK’s Hindu Community at Odds With Rising Hindutva

The faulty methodology of the report is evidenced by the fact that not only does it fail to identify the HSS with the RSS, it also fails to acknowledge the numerous concerns voiced by prominent members of the UK Hindu community over the rising popularity of right-wing Hindutva ideas in the UK as elsewhere in the Indian diaspora, and this particularly after the BJP came to power in 2014.

A major part of the report is devoted to the Muslim influencers, who are portrayed as playing a key role in galvanising community action. Littlewood discusses in great detail the previous positions taken by the influencers, such as being influenced by the D-gang, much of it irrelevant in the present context.

That social media disinformation and amplification played a part in the disturbances is no surprise given the polarising nature of social media made evident in conflicts around the world. But as alluded to earlier, the report makes it seem that disinformation was used exclusively by the Muslim influencers, despite ample evidence that social media was used by both sides to spread misleading information and drive narratives.

India’s Role in Social Media Disinformation Campaign

More damningly, a BBC monitoring report found that a disproportionate amount of tweets spreading disinformation emanated actually from India. These Twitter handles, many of which the BBC found to be very recent and thus, suggestive of pushing a narrative, used hashtags such as #HindusUnderAttack and #HindusUnderattackinUK and shared links to articles written by right-wing propaganda site— OpIndia.

Incidentally, the BBC report further mentions that one of the OpIndia articles cites Charlotte Littlewood herself where she claimed that Hindu families were forced to leave Leicester, which was later denied by the police.

The HJS report does mention the disinformation campaign orchestrated from India, but does not press it further under the pretext that this activity took place after the initial clashes.

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Continuing with the skewed nature of the reporting, we are presented with a set of claims which Littlewood sets out to disprove one by one: RSS Youth in Leicester, BJP Organised Bus to Bring Hindutva Extremists to Leicester, Hindutva Extremists, Sadhvi Ritambhara Speaking Across Temples in the UK. As will be observed, any claims made by the Hindu side are not taken for examination and debunking.

Likewise, under ‘Consequences of Misinformation’ at the end, we have: Attack on Hindu businesses, Attacks on Hindus, Temporary relocation of Hindus, Taking down of Hindu symbols owing to fear.

Apparently, there were no consequences worth mentioning for the Muslim side despite the report making it clear elsewhere that there were attacks and incidents perpetrated on members of both communities.
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Now that we have covered the report in some detail, we are in a position to answer the questions raised at the beginning. The report is commissioned by a right-wing think tank known for producing dubious research. Its intended audience is the conservative leadership in the UK and possibly right wing constituents in India. Its purpose is to create confusion and thwart discussion on Hindutva extremism.

For those looking to better understand the events, including the role played by social media disinformation, they must await the results of the official enquiry set up by the city mayor, due next year.

(The author works in the financial services industry and regularly writes on society, politics and culture.)

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Read and Breaking News at the Quint, browse for more from voices and opinion

Topics:  RSS   Hindutva   Islamophobia 

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