Human rights campaigners have condemned what they see as an attempt by the Hindu Forum of Britain to portray critics of far-right politician Narendra Modi as enemies of Hinduism.
UK-based groups which belong to the ‘Hindutva’ movement, which its opponents describe as using the guise of religion for its extremist brand of politics, tried to prevent and then disrupt a meeting, titled 'Narendra Modi and the rise of Hindu Fascism', hosted at Westminster by John McDonnell, MP for Hayes and Harlington, and supported by Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North, on 26 February, they say. (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/20228)
On 28 February 2014, the Hindu Forum of Britain, with the National Council for Hindu Temples, National Hindu Students Forum and City Hindu Network, issued a joint statement attacking the meeting’s organisers, Awaaz Network and The Monitoring Group.
It alleges that speakers at the meeting "spewed vile unsubstantiated hate towards the Hindu community’. However most of those who spoke at the meeting were from Hindu backgrounds.
The Hindu Forum press statement also attacked moves to outlaw caste discrimination in the UK (though this would benefit many Hindus) and claims that "the Hindu community in Britain is being unfairly and aggressively vilified".
Their opponents say that the Hindu Forum make clear their opposition to free speech by stating that "We as a nation cannot and should not allow such extremist access to Parliament to peddle their lies and incite hatred."
Virendra Sharma (MP for Ealing Southall) had originally agreed to host the meeting, which focused on the role of Modi, Chief Minister of Gujarat and prime ministerial candidate for the far-right Bharatiya Janata Party in India’s forthcoming elections. But he withdrew after coming under pressure from supporters of Modi, who tried to force cancellation of the event. Some attempted to disturb the meeting, but did not succeed in silencing discussion.
A report, ‘Narendra Modi exposed: challenging the myths surrounding the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate’, was launched, and speakers including distinguished academics, examined Modi's rise through the right-wing paramilitary movement the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and his divisive and damaging track record.
Some of those who spoke represented organisations at the forefront of anti-racist, civil, women’s and human rights campaigns in the UK.
In response to the press release by the Hindu Forum of Britain, Professor Chetan Bhatt of the London School of Economics said: "This is a very cynical attempt by the Hindu Forum of Britain to equate the Hindu religion with the partisan, extremist politics of Narendra Modi."
Suresh Grover, one of the organisers of the meeting stated that "It is the leaders of the Hindutva movement who are discrediting Hinduism by trying to link it with their brand of extremism. These cheerleaders for Narendra Modi certainly do not represent the whole of the so called Hindu community, though sadly, like other religious fundamentalists, they wish to silence many critical and moderate voices. Perhaps the world’s most famous apostle of peaceful and tolerant Hinduism in India was Mahatma Gandhi. He was murdered by an RSS member and Hindutva activist in 1948."
He added: "We refuse to be intimidated by such tactics and are now seeking legal advice on the contents of the press release. It is a clear attempt to wrongly discredit us publicly. It is time for all who care about democracy, human rights and justice – in the UK, India, South Asia and everywhere – to stand firm."
* The Hindu Forum statement is available here http://www.hfb.org.uk/index.php?option=com_k2&view=item&id=97:desecratio...