With the recent outbreak of violence in Leicester some commentators (and some racists) have tried to scapegoat recent migrants from the Daman and Diu communities for our city’s problems. Such lazy thinking must be categorically opposed; after all it remains a rather uncontroversial fact that far-right Hindutva activists associated with the Indian-based Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) have been spreading their divisive ideology in Leicester and beyond for decades.
One of the main sources of this far-right Hindu nationalism in Leicester has been an organisation which has a headquarters on Loughborough Road (in Belgrave) called the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh (HSS) UK. And here, a useful overview of the ongoing operations of RSS-linked groups like the HSS has already been provided in professor Christophe Jaffrelot’s book Religion, Caste and Politics in India (Primus Books, 2010). As Jaffrelot explains:
“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 stigmatized by too strong an ideological branding and thereby circumvent the legislation in force. Indeed, the British Charity Commission prohibits the funding of political and sect activities, while section 5 of the Indian Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act of 1976 (FCRA) forbids the RSS and its affiliates from receiving funds from abroad without prior authorization from the central government on a case-by-case basis. It is thus of the utmost importance for the components of the Sangh Parivar to distinguish themselves from transnational political movements which would be illegal to fund. Thus, the Press Officer of the NHSEF [National Hindu Students Forum] stated in November 2005 that ‘we have no direct link with them [HSS UK]; we are not funded or bonded to them, but there is a moral affiliation as with every other Hindu organization’.” (p.700)
He goes on to point out how the Indian-based Sangh Parivar, which is the umbrella body that contains the various Hindu nationalist groupings generated by 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. Hindu nationalist movement affiliates either in India or abroad therefore swear allegiance to the same decision-making centre, which certainly makes this movement qualify as a network. Not only do the members of the British Sangh regularly attend events organized by the Indian Sangh, but reports on the RSS activities in India are also presented in meetings of the HSS UK. More importantly, Rajendra Singh, the leader of the RSS from 1994 to 2000, presented his organization’s ‘Code of guidelines to workers, to HSS members in London on 21 April 1995.” (p.701)
Diaspora communities, although generally not promoting the same type of violent politics typified by the RSS outside of India, have however been successfully mobilised to fund pogrom supporting groups in India. Professor Jaffrelot adds:
“Since [around 1989] the main source of Sangh funds has come from abroad, as shown by the 2002 report on the India Development and Relief Fund (IDRF) and the one published in 2004 by the AWAAZ network, a human rights organization in South Asia, entitled In Bad Faith? British Charity and Hindu Extremism, on Sewa activities in the United Kingdom.’ The authors of these two reports, which caused a scandal in India, the United States, and Great Britain, lay bare the whole foreign financing structure of the Sangh Parivar through the IDRF and Sewa-UK, and reveal the institutional and personal relations that link the Hindu diaspora in these countries to the Sangh.
“…the British contribution is well known now thanks to the AWAAZ investigation. Sewa-UK, the main Hindu nationalist fundraising agency in Great Britain, proved to be extremely effective following the Bhuj earthquake in Gujarat in 2003, the Gujaratis forming the most solid Hindu nationalist support network in England. Altogether, Sewa-UK has allegedly collected £2,3 million nearly all of which-—£1.9 million of it—was transferred to the Gujarati branch of Sewa Bharti. A third of these funds apparently served to build Hindu nationalist schools, particularly in the tribal areas, whereas it was supposed to go to rebuilding destroyed villages.” (pp.706-7)
The details of Sewa UK’s fundraising for Gurjarat were also outlined in a Channel 4 report titled “Funding Gujarat extremists” that aired in December 2002 which can be viewed below. It should be no surprise that Sewa UK is based in the same Leicester-based building as the headquarters of HSS UK.
The AWAAZ investigation that professor Jaffrelot referred to is also worth reading in its own right and was titled “In Bad Faith? British Charity and Hindu Extremism” (2004). The report is clear that:
“The Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh UK (HSS UK) is the UK branch of the RSS and shares the RSS’s aims and ideology. The HSS UK is a registered charity. Sewa International UK (SIUK), though not a registered charity, is the fundraising arm of the HSS UK.” (p.6)
“Sewa Bharati is the main recipient of funds from SIUK. It is the RSS service affiliate, founded in 1979. It became very important after 1989, when the RSS decided to expand its service sector. The senior vice president of Sewa Bharati, New Delhi, D. V. Kohli said,‘We make no secret of the fact that we are members of the RSS’. Sewa Bharati Madhya Pradesh was implicated in violence against Christian communities, leading the state government to revoke its license to operate there, and its role in violence against Christians continues.” (p.14)
And in defining the politics of the RSS the AWAAZ reports explains:
“The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS – National Volunteers Corps) is a paramilitary, all-male political organization founded in the 1920s and dedicated to turning India into an exclusive ‘Hindu nation’ based on ‘Hindu strength’ and ‘Hindu unity’. RSS founders were strongly inspired by Fascist and Nazi ideas and the RSS was modeled on Fascist youth organizations. The RSS and its allies have been repeatedly named by judicial inquiries for their role in religiously-motivated violence over several decades. The RSS has been banned three times in India, twice for its role in fomenting religious hatred and serious anti-minority violence. M. K. Gandhi’s murderer was an RSS activist.” (p.6)
Based in Leicester, the 2004 investigation concluded that:
“The HSS is… the core body to which the other UK sangh parivar organizations report. The HSS UK has a board of six trustees and ten office bearers for its central executive committee (Kendriya Karyakari Mandal). The HSS UK headquarters is in Leicester. The Leicester office is called ‘Keshav Pratishthan’ (institute), ‘Keshav’ being the first name of the Indian RSS founder. The inauguration of the office on 22 April 1995 was presided over by the then supreme leader of the Indian RSS, Rajendra Singh. This Leicester address is also the official address of several Hindutva organizations in the UK, including Sewa International UK (SIUK), the National Hindu Students Forum (NHSF), the Kalyan Ashram Trust (KAT) and the Hindu Sahitya Kendra. The HSS also has offices in Bradford and Birmingham.” (p.42)
Although it remains the case that the far-right politics of the global Hindu nationalist movement are supported by the British Conservative Party, for many years leading members of the Labour Party have similarly thrown their support behind Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) — the electoral vehicle for RSS. Hence as the 2004 investigation noted: “The director of the Labour Friends of India is also involved in the HSS’s Sewa International and FISI activities. He is the brother of the Overseas Friends of the BJP (UK) general secretary and HSS UK officer who organized the visit of Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi to the UK in 2003.” (p.51) Although not named by AWAAZ, the individual who was then serving as the general secretary of the Overseas Friends of the BJP (UK) was the late Anil Pota, and it was his nephew (not brother), Vikas Pota, who directed the work of Labour Friends of India. (Vikas Pota’s colleague and fellow director of lobbying firm Saffron Chase, Manoj Ladwa, went on to serve, in 2014, “as a member of the hugely successful Narendra Modi for Prime Minister campaign” and boasts of having been “instrumental in organising many of Prime Minister Modi’s diaspora engagements including at Wembley Stadium in 2015.”)
Finally, bringing us back to Leicester, the AWAAZ report highlighted how:
“It is important to also consider the role of former HSS UK full-time worker, Ram Vaidya. He is one of the two sons of M.G. (Baburao) Vaidya, a senior RSS figure and RSS media spokesperson. Ram Vaidya, himself a senior RSS propagator, was seemingly sent [to Leicester] in 1999 from the RSS in India to become a full-time worker for the HSS UK, to evaluate the operations and structure of the HSS UK, and to expand HSS work in Europe, including coordination of European annual training camps (Sangh Shiksha Vargs).” (p.48)
Ram Vaidya’s work is also mentioned in a discussion of the ongoing activities of the HSS and Overseas Friends of the BJP in the more recent book, Messengers of Hindu Nationalism: How the RSS Reshaped India (C. Hurst & Co, 2019). As the authors of this text explain:
“The HSS is very much politically active now—indeed, the drawing power of Modi’s overseas rallies owes much to the efforts of HSS activists in the three dozen countries where it has a presence. All national HSS units are administratively and legally independent from one another and from the RSS proper, though full-time RSS pracharaks from India are often assigned to them. Working closely with the HSS to organize Modi’s rallies is the Overseas Friends of the BJP (OFBJP), an administrative wing of the BJP operating from the party office in New Delhi. Current OFBJP coordinator, Vijay Chauthaiwale, a former non-resident Indian in the US, said his critical first task in orchestrating these rallies is to identify what he described to us as ‘talented, energetic, pro-Indian and selfless team players’ to work as volunteers with the local HSS. Chauthaiwale himself brings to these endeavours a legitimacy among overseas RSS members born of generations of RSS involvement by his family. His father was an RSS activist, his uncle a pracharak close to Golwalkar and Deoras; his wife is heavily engaged in the India Foundation in New Delhi (a think tank with close ties to the Modi government), while his daughter is involved in an affiliated organization. Another family with both deep RSS roots and a spirit of overseas volunteerism is the Vaidya family; the sangh’s joint general secretary (formerly its prachar pramukh) is Manmohan Vaidya, whose father Prof. M.G. Vaidya was the first prachar pramukh of the RSS, and whose brother Ram Vaidya, a pracharak, heads the HSS in Europe. This growing network of deeply committed RSS families—linked both to the sangh and with each other—is becoming a significant recruitment pool for RSS workers and sangh parivar activists.” (pp.45-6)
For further examinations of the role of HSS UK in promoting the extremist ideology of Hindutva, see:
- “Violence in Leicester and the Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh” (September 23, 2022)
- “The “Ideological Commonality” of the Far-Right RSS and the Leicester-Based HSS UK” (September 27, 2022)
To learn more about the role played by the RSS in the Gujurat pogrom of 2002 watch “Unreported World: Saffron Warriors” — a documentary that was directed by Burhan Wazir and was shown on Channel 4 in July 2002. The documentary includes important face-to-face interviews with both Modi and a leader of the RSS in Gujurat.
 “Since September 2003, Hindutva organizations resolutely present themselves as ethnic lobbies. On this date, some of them, including Hindu Forum UK, as well as several MPs of Indian stock launched an ‘Operation Hindu Vote’ modelled after the ‘Operation Black Vote.” (Religion, Caste and Politics in India, p.711)
 “Public sector grants to the HSS UK are modest, amounting to about £20,000 a year after 1999 (but reaching around £40,000 in previous years.) The HSS UK (including SIUK and the Hindu Marathon) have previously received public sector grant aid or funds from the London boroughs of Brent and Newham, the city councils of Bradford, Coventry and Leeds, as well as support from Nottingham and Derby councils.” (In Bad Faith?, p.54)
 “Most striking of all was the behaviour of these organizations in the wake of the Gujarat carnage in 2002 which left 2,000 dead and over 200,000 displaced and languishing in miserable refugee camps. The response of SIUK, the HSS, the VHP, the National Hindu Students Forum and every other UK Hindutva group to appeals for humanitarian relief was silence. This was despite considerable coverage of the carnage in the UK media and desperate major appeals by secular Gujarati NGOs. This is not surprising: the majority of the victims of the carnage were Indian citizens who were Muslim. They were victims of organizations such as the VHP, RSS and VKA whose work the HSS UK, the VHP UK and SIUK promote and glorify.” (In Bad Faith?, p.41)
 “The UK organizations pretend to be simply religious or cultural organizations that represent Hindus and they attempt to disguise their links with political extremism in India.” (In Bad Faith?, p.6)
 As Manoj Ladwa’s LinkedIn account explains: “Manoj campaigns actively on various community issues and strives for better political representation for people of Indian origin in the UK. He is a founder member and first President of National Hindu Students Forum UK. He is a former Director & Trustee of the Avanti School Trust and founder Trustee of volunteering charity SEWA Day.”