Comparisons are generally invidious, especially when they involve political leaders from different countries. But, while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan rose to power 11 years before Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there is much about their personal and professional trajectories that makes comparison irresistible.
Both Erdogan and Modi come from humble, small-town backgrounds: Erdogan sold lemonade and pastries in the streets of Rize; Modi helped his father and brother run a tea stall on a railway platform in Vadnagar. They are self-made men, energetic and physically fit – Erdogan was a professional soccer player before becoming a politician; Modi has bragged about his 56-inch (142-centimeter) chest – not to mention effective orators.
Both Erdogan and Modi were raised with religious convictions that ultimately shaped their political careers. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) and Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have both promoted a religiously infused, nationalist creed that they argue is more authentic than the Western-inspired secular ideologies that previously guided their countries’ development.
Yet, to win power, Erdogan and Modi did not count exclusively on religious voters. Both campaigned on modernist platforms, arguing that by implementing business-friendly policies and reducing corruption, they could bring about greater economic prosperity than the establishment they sought to supplant.
Here, Erdogan and Modi press both the past and the future into service. Erdogan extols the Ottoman Empire’s legacy, while telling voters that they are not only “choosing a president and deputies,” but also “making a choice for our country’s upcoming century.” Likewise, Modi constantly evokes the achievements of ancient India, which he claims to be reviving in the name of creating a better future.
In short, Erdogan and Modi have consolidated their power by glorifying the past, while portraying themselves as dynamic, future-oriented agents of change – heroes galloping in on white stallions, swords upraised, to cut the Gordian knots holding their countries’ down.
At the same time, Erdogan and Modi have painted themselves as political outsiders, who represent the “real” Turks or Indians long marginalized by cosmopolitan secularists. With popular discontent high when they rose to power, such political messaging fell on receptive ears.
The narrative of resentment against the established secular elites, peppered with religious-chauvinist discourse and historical revisionism, facilitated their emergence as voices of the middle classes of the hinterlands and second-tier cities and towns.
When Erdogan first became prime minister in 2003, his position was bolstered by booming global growth, emboldening him to start transforming the Turkish polity. His political formula – a potent compound of religious identity, triumphalist majoritarianism, hyper-nationalism, increasing authoritarianism (including institutional dominance), constraints on the media, strong economic growth, and a compelling personal brand – carried him to re-election as prime minister twice, and from there to the presidency in 2014.
Whether consciously or unconsciously, Modi has adapted Erdogan’s formula to his own effort to reshape India. He has sought to marginalize Muslims and reinforce Hindu chauvinism. Minorities in general feel beleaguered, as Modi’s nationalism does not merely exclude them, but portrays them as traitors.
Moreover, in Modi’s India, political loyalties are often purchased, and institutions are subverted to serve a narrow sectarian agenda. Dissenters in the media and the universities have faced intimidation. The only area where Modi has been tripped up is GDP growth, owing to his government’s gross economic mismanagement.
On the international stage, too, there are notable parallels between how Erdogan and Modi conduct themselves. Both pursue activist foreign policies aimed at boosting their domestic image, and have cultivated diaspora support.
Erdogan’s speeches in the Balkans might antagonize the United States and Europe, and even Serbs and Croats, but they raise his stock with Turks. When Modi addresses stadiums full of Indian expatriates on his visits abroad, his speeches are aimed squarely at audiences back home.
Soner Captagay, a Turkish analyst and author of a book on Erdogan, recently remarked, “Half of the country hates him, and thinks he can do nothing right. But at the same time, the other half adores him, and thinks he can do nothing wrong.” The same is true of Modi in India.
Of course, there are important differences between Turkey and India. For starters, Turkey’s population, at 81 million, is less than half that of just one Indian state, Uttar Pradesh, with its population of 210 million. Turkey is 98% Muslim, while India is only 80% Hindu.
Islamism, as Hindu chauvinists never tire of pointing out, is a global phenomenon; Hindutva is not. Turkey has no equivalent of Mahatma Gandhi, with his message of non-violence and co-existence drilled into the head of every Indian schoolchild.
Moreover, Turkey is more or less a developed country, while India still has a long way to go to reach that point. And, unlike India, Turkey was never colonized or partitioned on religious grounds, as India was to create Pakistan (though the exchange of populations that accompanied Turkey’s separation from Greece comes close).
What Turkey has experienced – and India has not – are bouts of military rule. In fact, India’s democracy is deeply entrenched, making it less vulnerable to capture by a single ruler. That partly explains why it is so difficult for many Indians to imagine their country following in Turkey’s footsteps to become a majoritarian illiberal democracy with an autocrat in charge.
But while it is true that Modi and the BJP have not achieved the degree of “state capture” that Erdogan and the AKP have, they are also 11 years behind. And the path they are on is similar enough to invite comparison – and provoke concern.
The warning bells are ringing: like the Turkish lira, the India rupee has lost over 5% of its value in the last month. With upcoming elections in both countries – Turkey this month, and India in Spring 2019 – will voters heed the alarm?
Shashi Tharoor, a former UN under-secretary-general and former Indian Minister of State for External Affairs and Minister of State for Human Resource Development, is currently Chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on External Affairs and an MP for the Indian National Congress
This article appeared first on Project Syndicate. Read the original here.
The ‘Strongman’ phenomena seems to be the Zeitgeist of our times – Putin, Shinzo Abe, Xi Jin Ping, Modi, Erdogan, Viktor Orban, Sissi and above all ‘Emperor Trump.’ Check out the photo of the G7 meeting with the rest of the leaders standing up and imploring him while he remains seated and has a defiant sneer about him.
The esteemed Indian intellectual is patently unfair to Modi in comparing him with Kaliph Sultan Erdogan. It is comparing the Pope with a thief.
Humble beginnings, physical fitness, religious convictions, AKP-BJP, nationalism, anti-Westernism, yearning for the past. Yes, many sames, but differences tell more than the superficial commonality.
Intellectuals from lands with Muslim constituencies have their hands tied. Like the great Edward Said, Tharoor can not criticize them no matter what. Let me as a Mohammedan say what he can not.
Both Erdogan and Modi yearn for a past, but former’s is the regressive dreaded Kaliphate that prevented world progress for 14 centuries, killed world trade with Tariffs (Arabic word of Muslim origin), destroying Chinese and European industry and depopulating Europe to half. Modi in his misguided ways is only trying to take back India to a peaceful times that destroyed no one.
Tharoor wrongly claims that Turkey is developed while India is not. "Westernization" that goes for "modernazitaion" was pushed on Turkey from above by anti-Kaliphate Ataturk and is only skin deep. In India it germinated from bottom up by East India Company and has infused in India DNA. Has cosmopolitan Tharoor not yet noticed that an Indian talks sense while a Turk does not. Even an unlettered women in an Indian village is more modern that an urban Turk who dons skirt or pants.
Though I cringe at certain ways of Modi, I have faith that I can bring him around with reason and love, for he wants something good. No such hope with Erdogan who wants to re-create the dreaded Kaliphate. But neither Europe, nor Russia, nor China will allow his type of Muslims ever again to control world trade – they with Iran are conspiring, and rightly so, to ethnically cleanse the Silk Road routes of trade monopollzing Kaliphate lovers, and populate them with pro-trade Shia.
Tharoor take note that most Indian Shia side with Modi. While modern Shia Jinnah and Alevi Ataturk hated the Kaliphate, Gandhi lauded it. INC has traditionally been on wrong side of history, in wanting winner take all Democracy that split the land against a unifier Jinnah who wanted proportional representation Republic. Islam was just a slogan. Had BJP been in power in 1947 India would still be one, with a happy Muslim constituency.
Tharoor the intellectual is in wrong Party as INC continues its folly while Modi may actually achieve what Tharoor wants in his heart – a Republic with Presidential System led by the thinking types where Tharoor will feel at home. In Athens Tharoor would have been with Socrates for his Republic, a "govt of the people, for the people, by the people" led by the learned like himself, against Democracy, the rule of the Demos, the 5% moneyed males ruling over the 95% rest.
You talking nonsense, think about retirement plan!
Throor forgot to mention that it was under his own Congress Party that India experienced fascist dictatorhip in 1975-77.
To get an idea of Tharoor’s own party’s dictatorship in India, check this website :
That is the Italian Mafia Family Party which Tharoor grovels before.
The Indian police have charged him with abusing his wife who committed suicide a few years ago. He is under trial for that crime.
Under Tharoor’s party in 1975-77 the Indian constitution was suspended and the Opposition jailed and tortured, along with hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and savage censorship was imposed.
Communist in the intellectual garb.
Modi is glorifying the civilizational values of the great civilization which beloved in pluralism not pseudopluralism of Congress. Don’t try to be rationalist to fool Indians. I do not want to demean my civilization by calling you something. Now face the trial in court.
Your telltale name shows that you are a Kaliphate lover.
The Kaliphate is dead and buried, first by Ataturk and Jinnah, and now by Russia, Iran, and Syria with China’s blessing. It will never raise its ugly head ever again. Get used to it.
Lol…You ahve degreade your so called civilization enough in your mere one parpgraph.
Lol. I recongize that Modi is so harmless the moment he stired up commuial conflict for his election gain; They moment he has his troops blinding Kashmir youth, the moment he blockaded Nepal right after 8.0 earth quick; the moment his army cross boder entered DongLang.
On the other had, I have not seen Erdogan act so rackless as Modi’s India, and Turkey has much better econmy, and tech than India.
But what do I know…. Black or white is determined in the eyes of beholder.:-) Let the fact be damened
You say ‘Let me as a Mohammedan say what he can not.’
What is that, I thought that tag died with te British colonists. Didnt know they left a mole!!! Its Muslims, mere Bhai, in cse you have forgotten,
As for tha Caliph thing, something must be really bothering you, Sir for your obsession… Have a pleasant Ramadhan!
Yes, very similar background, but there the diffeence ends. Modi is no strongman. In fact, he almost seems like the most rational large country leader in the world.
Have you ever been to Turkey before?
But just to put you at peace, 3 times.
Being an engineer I was intrigued by its architecture which I found rather heavy thus wasteful as compared to European or Indian of the same era thus frugal and efficient.
Turkey is in limbo, neither here nor there, neither Europe nor Asia, neither secular nor religious. The land has the look of West (skirts, no hijab) but with a pre-modern mentality. Here in Canada/US it is possible to discuss world events with Arabs, Indians, Europeans, but Turks draw a stare. They are simply not connected to the world.
After having failed to integrate with Europe, Erdogan is now trying his luck with Islam. But unfortunately, Ataturk doomed them here too as a Turk today fails at the basics – ability to read the Quran. Pity no Turk comprehends the beautiful old calligraphy written up above in mosques.
And btw, I speak the lingo at elementary level, and whatsmore, the mother of my son is Turkish. But why should it matter?
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