Although we cannot consider him as a “young Turk”, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has now appeared as a new cult in Turkish politics. Undoubtedly, the April 16 referendum increased his powers a lot. Many political commentators have already started mentioning him as “Sultan of the 21st Century”. This “Sultan” arrived in India on Sunday (April 30) evening. After becoming the “most powerful” Turkish president, this is his first foreign trip. Later, Erdogan will visit Russia, China and the US, and also attend a NATO meeting.
While Prime Minister Narendra Modi has managed to increase his power and influence in India, Turkey has become more significant in European politics. That is why Erdogan’s ongoing visit to the South Asian country has a special significance. Also, some comparisons between Erdogan and Modi are inevitable at this juncture.
Just like the Indian PM, the Turkish president has managed to influence the national politics in recent times. Erdogan decided to change the political character of Turkey after a coup failed in July 2016 and the referendum was the result of that failed coup. The referendum was controversial because it took place during the state of emergency. The Turkish president rejected the path of liberal democracy only to enjoy absolute power.
Currently, many countries (including India) experience the wave of ultra-nationalism. In these countries, the future of religious minority or ethnic people becomes uncertain. The Islamophobia, too, is growing in Europe. In such a situation, it is not clear what will happen next with Kurds, Greeks, Armenians or Jews in Erdogan’s Turkey. It is hard to believe that Turkey will follow Kamal Ataturk’s ‘secular’ path in the coming years.
Immediately after holding the referendum, Turkey sent fighter jets to northern Syria and northern Iraq for bombarding Kurdish rebels. And Ankara informed Washington about its ‘action’ just an hour before sending jets. Although American President Donald Trump congratulated Erdogan for winning the controversial referendum, Washington did not welcome Ankara’s decision to attack Kurds in neighbouring Syria and Iraq.
The European Union (EU), too, has slammed Erdogan’s decision to resume the death penalty in Turkey. It is a setback for the Turkish president, who is more interested in strengthening economic and trade ties with Europe (instead of boosting political ties). Despite being Ankara’s largest trading partner, Europe has refused to accept Turkey as an EU member. So, the future of Turkey’s European connection is also uncertain.
In such a situation, it is expected that Turkey will try hard to boost ties with Russia, China and India. But, it will be difficult for Erdogan to strengthen ties with the three countries. Beijing is well aware of the fact that the Turkish-speaking people in China’s Xinjiang Province are in favour of Erdogan’s ‘Greater Turkistan’ policy. The top Chinese political leadership may ask President Erdogan to clear his stand on this particular issue.
As far as India is concerned, New Delhi wants Ankara to back India’s NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) membership bid. As expected, Prime Minister Modi urged President Erdogan to back India’s NSG membership on Monday. Reports suggest that the visiting president assured India of Turkey’s full support in the fight against terrorism. During their “extensive” discussion on this evolving threat, Prime Minister Modi described terrorism as a “shared worry”. Speaking at a joint press conference on Monday evening, the Indian premier said that “no intent or goal or reason or rationale can validate terrorism”. In the presence of President Erdogan, he also said that the two sides decided to work together to deepen co-operation, both bilaterally and multilaterally, to effectively counter this menace.
In an obvious reference to Pakistan-based terror groups, Modi stressed that countries across the world need to “work as one to disrupt the terrorist networks and their financing and put a stop to cross-border movement of terrorists”. They also need to stand and act against those that conceive and create, support and sustain, shelter and spread these instruments and ideologies of violence, added the prime minister.
Modi raised the issue of Pakistan-based terror outfits, as the Turkish president had pitched for a multilateral dialogue to resolve the Kashmir issue in order to ensure peace in South Asia. Ahead of his visit to India, Erdogan said: “We should not allow more casualties to occur (in Kashmir). By having a multilateral dialogue, (in which) we can be involved, we can seek ways to settle the issue once and for all.” His remarks are contrary to India’s position. New Delhi maintains that the Jammu and Kashmir issue is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan, and there is no scope for a third party mediation.
A friend of Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s, Erdogan has repeatedly expressed support for Islamabad’s position over New Delhi’s and this has come in the way of deeper ties between India and Turkey. He also backed the position of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation on the subject of Kashmir. Given Turkey’s longstanding closeness with Pakistan, it may be too much to expect Turkey’s relations with India to be more than formal and principally economic in nature.
In 2008, Erdogan was welcomed in India as a leader of growing global stature and a beacon of democracy in the Muslim world. With Erdogan trying to reinvent himself as a champion of Islamism, New Delhi takes more cautious approach to deal with the Turkish president this time.