November 6, 2015 By Interactive Editor

India’s ‘Recep’tion of Erdogan

Recep Tayeb Erdogan’s resurgence in the Turkish Parliament election elicited mixed responses in India as it is everywhere. There are several ‘whys’ to be explained. The first why: Why resurgence? Because in the Parliament election held in the month of June, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party got away with 40.86 percent of votes, which means that the party was forced to align with strange bedfellows, if not, worse in Erdogan’s estimate, with the Kurdish party. Now the party managed to bag 49.1 percent of votes, which means that it has in its kitty 316 seats out of 550 in the Turkish Parliament.

The second why: Why does India matter? Let us rewind the clock to the era of Mahatma Gandhi when he was maneuvering to bag the support of Indian Muslims under the banner of Caliphate for the freedom struggle of India. In India Turkey then mattered. But, in the interregnum Kamal Ataturk came and the secularization drive divested the country of its Pan Islamic trappings. Instead of a moral authority which anchored Muslims’ religious, political, and social lives, the focus was diverted to a globalized new world order where empire got redefined by new political idioms and values. It is Persian Gulf that came to divert the attention of Muslims, because it enshrined Kaaba, because it had oil wealth and jobs, because its priorities came to define and redefine the economic order across the world. But this new axis hardly anchors their lives. It merely gives them security, wealth and, a kind of Kharijite religious approach which shuts out, rather than including, differences. They miss a Messianic power.   So, it is not surprising that many die-hard Erdogan optimists in India, both Muslims and a few non-Muslims consider him as a pivot of ethical-political authority that existed in the Pre-Kamalist era.

In the editorial article carried in the Hindu on 3/11/2015 analyzing Erdogan’s resurgence three major arguments are raised. Before summarizing them, let me pose another ‘why’ in the context: why the Hindu? Not merely because no other newspapers wrote editorial on this issue. But because the Hindu editorial betrays fear and ignorance while exhibiting skills of dialectical analysis ala the Marxian mode, as is the Newspaper’s wont. So let’s read the arguments:

  1. Free from having to throw his weight behind the coalition partners, Erdogan can move ahead towards the objectives of constitutional reform and arrogation of executive role to the president, who Erdogan is incumbently.
  2. “Political victories can’t whitewash the damage done to Turkish democracy by his dictatorial tendencies, divisive politics and a foreign policy pinned on regional ambitions.
  3. The euphoria generated by the victory hide under the debris of congratulations several unpalatable factors: muzzling of opposition, (which has appeared to be graver with the arrest today of Gulen sympathizers), newspapers especially the Kuristan Workers Party (PKK) and the People’s Democratic Party.

Before trying to tease out these points as pithily as possible, it should be noted that the above points deserve academic pondering, as they stand above tokenistic critiques centered on the Gezi Park incident. This editorial does not argue that the suppression of Gezi Park incident should not be condemned. Rather, we make it a point that Gezi Park is not a distinctive as well as essentialist feature of the Erdogan regime. All governments that work in the fog of development in the post globalized era think in terms of more malls than parks.

Let us come back to the above cited points.

1, Executive ambitions: Constitutional amendment which entitles Erdogan the power to arrogate executive role to president can be done only on the mandate of 330 seats (after a referendum) or 367 seats (for enforcement sans referendum). The scenario now does not justify the concern of liberal left over the AKP resurgence. So the current victory (with only 316 seats) can only make AKP a single majority party (an anomaly in Turkish national politics), which is, of course, a major step towards the consolidation of power for constitutional reform. But why do we see it as singular threat and a distinctive phenomenon in the global scale. There is a double standard in our argument for pushing for reform elsewhere in the Muslim world and our very fear of the word ‘reform’ in the context of Turkey (that too, in reform measures aimed to address the undemocratic vestiges in the Constitution of the military dictatorship) . The presidential system of governance has been singled out by many as far better than the Parliamentary system. Also, the state that we experience today as an omnipresent, omnipotent repressive system and as an auxiliary of the oligarchic as well as plutocratic rule of the corporations is evenly distributed the world over, irrespective of systems of governance and ideological slants. But the idea of governance is entirely different. It is the philosophy as well as the long-term vision of paradigmatic change that make a particular mode of governance successful and different. That Turkish people prefer AKP mode of governance to the decades-long military muzzling, justified by many observers in the left for its authoritarian secularism, does, indeed, give the Erdogan dispensation the right to reform the constitution for better governance. He aims to achieve the mandate for that. But to cast doubt over that mandate for reasons of our ‘fear’ over a ‘threat’ in future with a tinge of Islamophobia as an accompaniment is not democratic, to say the least.

2, Damage done to Turkish democracy: Of course we have concerns over steps Erdogan took against his rebels and opponents. Some activists associated with his one-time associate and current arch-rival, Fatahullah Gulen, head of Gulen Movement, a mystical fraternity and a powerful force in Turkey for social and educational reform, were arrested after the election. He clipped the wings of certain newspapers. He is believed to be a staunch opponent of social media like Facebook and Twitter. But his muzzling of opposition dates back to the unproven allegation of corruption against his office, prior to which his track record in opening out to critiques was relatively better. Several newspapers took that rumor for granted and, according to Erdogan sympathizers, Gulen Movement took it as ploy to destabilize the government. There are arguments on both sides which hold water. But is this not what all governments in the world face? Had the military dispensation in Turkey been any different in that respect? The damage done to Turkish democracy and culture by the military dispensations in the Kamalist vein was graver than that of Erdogan. The victory of AKP means that people want to forget that dark era of repression (borne out by fewer votes for Republican party- more than merely 0.38 percent swing-and the Nationalist Movement party with less than 4.39 percent swing). While condemning the repressive measures Erdogan adopted, we can hope for the best that they will be the undoing of the party in future especially if it wants to consolidate its position for constitutional reforms.

  1. 3. A fact to be borne in mind is that AKP is not entitled to any privilege as well as exception to the rule. All parties in Turkey, or elsewhere for that matter, can’t help thinking of politics in nationalist terms. The repression of Kurds’ nationalistic ambitions should be read in that way. I think the picture is different and more welcoming in Turkey than it is elsewhere. The major opposition PKK (Kuristan Workers Party) does have nationalistic ambitions. Can we think of a minority political faction with a suffix of –stan working with democratic approval in the mainstream politics elsewhere in the world? While criticizing a majority party’s repressive measures against minorities, a universal template of critique, denying AKP or any Turkish party its subjectivities in accommodating, negotiating and settling minority questions, is not an idea that should be developed. At least Erdogan is the first executive authority in Turkish history who apologized for the Armenian genocide.

The caution and critique we have against all forms of state power, a necessary democratic check, is applicable to AKP as well. But why the Party should be specially castigated is something we can’t understand. Going by the mandate, we understand that people prefer the AKP mode of governance. There are other three positives we see in Erdogan’s resurgence, despite the conspicuous absence of a paradigmatic or even any substantial change in his party’s policy from a neo-liberal economic model) .

  1. With the Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s Egypt voting for Israel in UN (for the first time since 1948), a government in Turkey which is known for its tough stand against Zionist state of Israel is a silver lining.
  2. With the threat of ISIS looming large, a strong Turkish government, which Erdogan has convincingly claimed only AKP can form, is vital aspect to reckon with in terms fight against militancy.
  3. Turkey has long been considered a sick man of Europe. That it is a orientalist, geo-political epithet is proved by the fact that the term was not transferred to Greece after the financial downturns, if it means ‘a European country experiencing a time of economic difficulty or impoverishment. The Times’ columnist Roger Boyes gives the epithet to Erdogan himself and fears that he will infect the west. But the mandate proves that at least he has emerged as an acknowledged physician capable of curing the sick man.


But only time will tell whether Roger Boyes’ description is apt or our optimism is true.

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