An independent review into the recent disorder in Leicester has run into controversy as Hindu groups have decided to boycott the exercise, questioning the integrity of the academic leading the panel.
Leicester City Council on October 26 appointed hate crime expert Chris Allen to head the inquiry into violent confrontations between Hindu and Muslim groups in September.
More than 60 people were arrested in connection with the disorder following the celebrations of India’s victory over Pakistan in a cricket match played in Dubai in August. Local police and community leaders believe the unrest was fuelled by fake news on social media.
Commissioned by Leicester’s mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, the review seeks to understand what led to the disorder in the face of “many theories” about the incidents.
While Sir Soulsby believes Allen is fit to head the review considering the “wealth of experience” the academic and his colleagues bring to the table, local Hindu organisations are not convinced.
They have accused Allen of being “biased” against the Hindu community and buttressed their view saying he had denied Islamist extremism had any role in the unrest.
In a statement, the Hindu and Jain Temple Leaders of Leicester said his recent tweet “explicitly ruling out Islamist extremism has cast strong doubt on his suitability to lead the review”.
The group itself refused to conclude if there was any influence of Islamist extremism on the unrest but said, “to assert a conclusion ahead of the review sheds (light on) Allen’s inability to remain independent”.
According to it, the review process headed by the Islamophobia expert was “muddied before it has even started”.
It was left with “no option but to boycott” the process, the group said, urging the home secretary to assign the review to “a truly independent panel.”
It also said there should be clarity on the selection process and the terms of reference of the appointee.
The group is also upset with the mayor for “breaking” his promise to announce the review process only after the conclusion of the Diwali and Hindu New Year festivities.
The announcement which coincided with the festival “disturbed” the celebrations, the group claimed.
Its spokesperson Sanjiv Patel said Allen’s Islamophobia study background made him unsuitable for the review.
He said the recent comments of the University of Leicester’s assistant professor on the disorder were one-sided.
“No one is speaking about Hinduphobia here at all,” Patel said.
Local councillor Deepak Raj demanded the review be paused until a “tested” panel was appointed in consultation with the local police and the central government. The composition of the review panel should be approved by a vote of the councillors, the Conservative politician said.
However, the Leicestershire Federation of Muslim Organisations has called upon Hindus to be open-minded about the review.
It urged the critics to meet Allen with a view to “accepting the review and subsequent recommendations” to move forward collectively.
On his part, Allen expressed his willingness to address the concerns about the review and take all stakeholders along.
He said he would draw on his more than two decades of “research expertise” to better understand the circumstances leading to the violence.
The review, expected to be published early next year, would not “apportion blame” but it would be a “meaningful starting point” to rebuild good relations between communities, he said.
Leicester City Council asserted it had “every confidence” in Allen’s “independence, impartiality and expertise”.
Sir Soulsby insisted that Allen had been recommended by “a wide range of people” including several “Hindus” for the review.
He told Leicester Mercury that the academic had “a very strong reputation as someone who is guided only by the evidence and is independent in his judgement.”