Leicester calling

Mukul Kesavan

The symmetry of the responses of the Pakistani and Indian high commissions to the recent communal violence in Leicester neatly illustrates the evolution of the Indian State under the Bharatiya Janata Party. This is the first paragraph of the Pakistani statement: “It is with great concern that the High Commission of Pakistan to the UK notes the recent developments in Leicester. We strongly condemn the systematic campaign of violence and intimidation that has been unleashed against the Muslims of the area. This is not the first time such Islamophobic incidents have been reported in Leicester.”

And this is the entirety of the Indian statement: “We strongly condemn the violence perpetrated against the Indian Community in Leicester and vandalisation of premises and symbols of Hindu religion. We have strongly taken up this matter with the UK authorities and have sought immediate action against those involved in these attacks. We call on the authorities to provide protection to the affected people.”

Pakistan in the Muslim corner and India in the Hindu corner. No one in the world expects the Pakistani State to view violence of this sort through anything but a communal lens but such is the weight of India’s history as an aspirationally secular republic through the first fifty years of its existence that people still expect its missions to be neutral in matters of faith. The Muslim Council of Britain said in plaintive reproach that “… while it was the right of the Indian High Commission to speak against the desecration of Hindu symbols, it expects the mission to represent all Indians.”

You might think it’s a bit rich for a body called the Muslim Council of Britain to expect India to be even-handed in religious matters, and you’d be right. However, this quaint expectation of neutrality in the face of Narendra Modi’s frank commitment to Hindu supremacy is a tribute to the phantom afterlife of India’s founding principles. Secularism in India is the ghost that walks. 

The problem with the Indian high commission’s statement is that the ‘Indian’ community in Leicester is as Muslim as it is Hindu. Leicester is a middling city in the east Midlands with a large South Asian population. The religious demography of Leicester is made up of roughly equal numbers of Muslims and Hindus.

Twenty per cent of the city’s population is estimated to be Muslim while its Hindu population is two or three percentage points behind. 

Only a very small percentage of the city’s Muslim population migrated from Pakistan. The overwhelming majority of Leicester’s South Asian population consists of Hindus and Muslims who were expelled from Uganda and Kenya in the course of a decade after 1968. These were predominantly Gujarati trading communities of both faiths which had lived in East Africa for generations before being purged by Idi Amin’s bigotry. If they are to be defined as Indian in terms of their ancestral homeland, the majority of South Asians in Leicester, both Hindus and Muslims, are Indians….