Sunday, July 14, 2024

Setting the clock back in Turkey

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The recent election victory of Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Turkish general election will undermine the secular foundations of the Turkish republic, it too doesn’t augur well for India

Turkey, a nation-state with a more than four-thousand-year heritage and prestige has taken a shocking historic decision- giving the incumbent president Recep Tayyip Erdogan another victory in the recently concluded Turkish general election. Erdogan has been in power since 2003 and has transformed Turkish politics, economics, society and culture. In his previous terms, he prioritised economy and controlling inflation with the express objective of giving the Turkish people a better life. However, over the years, especially in the aftermath of the failed 2016 Turkish coup , Erdogan has tightened his grip on power, purging in the process political dissidents, launching an invasion of Syria codenamed Operation Spring Shield and has undertaken a foreign policy which has disturbed the free world.

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In fact, the increasing authoritarian tendency of the Turkish president is attributed in large measure to his pro-people, populist policies which despite taking a toll on the Turkish economy has been solidly supported a large section of the Turkish citizenry, especially the middle class and conservative Islamist sections.

However, his continuous grip on power raises serious questions on issues of the secular fabric of the Turkish society, multiculturalism and Turkish relations with the rest of the world, especially with India.

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Kemalism-rest in peace

The Turkish republic was founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk or Kemal Pasha, the Turkish field marshal and the hero of the Turkish war for independence of 1918, the republic was established in 1924.

Kemalism ruled Turkey with an iron grip in the form of a military dictatorship, undertaking in the process reforms on a large scale, which in modern political parlance is popularly known as ‘Kemalism’.

One of the principal elements in Kemalism was laicism or strict separation of religion and politics and relegating religion to the private sphere of citizens. Kemal Ataturk undertook several reforms such as replacement of Arabic and Persian alphabets with English alphabetical system, banning beards, introduction of the Julian calendar in place of the Hijri calendar etc. In doing so, he transformed Turkey from a religious polity to a secular state committed to westernization, so as to enter the league of developed western countries.

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Erdogan, in all his years in power, has effectively undermined the Kemalist principles. This is evident from the reconversion in 2020, of the iconic Hagia Sophia museum into a mosque. This came as a rude shock to the rest of the world, especially the progressive circles in Turkey. He has also courted Islamist elements and have pandered to Islamist sentiments, especially Indian Muslims to bolster his global Muslim leadership. He has pledged to revive the glory of the Ottoman Empire by seeking to become the ‘core state’ in the Islamic world, a term that Samuel P Huntington argued in his book The Clash of Civilisations and Remaking of World Order. His attempt to forge a separate Islamic bloc with Malaysia, Qatar and Pakistan to rival Saudi Arabia and other Sunni Gulf kingdoms and nation-states around the world is reflective of it.

His ‘legitimate electoral victory’ effectively means that it is rest in peace time for Kemalism. The future of the Turkish republic democratically and in secularist terms appears grim.

Not good news for India

The return of Erdogan to power is a grim foreboding for India. Notwithstanding India attempts to develop good relations with Turkey, especially the help that India sent in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria earlier this year is unlikely to have any serious impact on improving Indo-Turkish ties.

Turkey under Erdogan has historically supported India’s arch nemesis Pakistan on the Kashmir issue and opposed India on various issues, the recent being the extremely controversial Nupur Sharma episode. It is hence, very clear that Erdogan will be in no hurry to mend its fences with India and perhaps will continue to interfere in India’s internal issues, precisely with regard to how India should treat its minority citizenry.

Therefore, New Delhi should be quite careful with the shrewd and realpolitik Islamist Erdogan, because he certainly can’t be trusted after what happened in the past. As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

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