Two responses to ‘Parallel Journeys’

November 26, 2014 in Uncategorized | Comments (3)



I received many interesting responses to my post on Turkey’s experience of AKP rule and its portents for India under the BJP. Two that were particularly instructive came from writers with extensive experience of both India and Turkey. The first was  from Vedica Kant [@vedicakant]:


Dear Amitav,

I read the piece with a lot of interest and enjoyed it very much. The comparisons between the AKP and the current government in Delhi are ones that I have often thought about (and have in fact occasionally thought of writing about!). There is hardly anything there that I disagree with, and I particularly liked section three.

I thought I should mention though that the AKP and the BJP haven’t (or in the AKP’s case hadn’t) only managed to appeal to religious constituencies (conservative and modern); I think a key part of their success has been their ability of get votes from sections of society who, while uncomfortable with the religious tenor of these parties, have bought into the neo-liberal economic model and feel that these parties are the best political options when it comes to delivering economic growth. The AKP in its early years did indeed deliver on this promise and that was important in its ability to increase its hold on to power. I think the BJP too realises that it will have to cater to this segment of its vote base if it wants to hold on to power. In Turkey a key factor in the AKPs initial success was also the fact that a number of Turkish liberals were willing to support the party against the military, but while the waning power of the Turkish military is no doubt a good thing it has meant that the AKP’s power today is quite unchallenged.

One of the things I was struck by while reading the piece was how the 80s were particularly crucial decades for the both the AKP and the BJP leading to the kind of religious violence of the 1990s that you describe. In Turkey it was (ironically) the right-wing military regime post the coup that promoted an idea of ‘Turkish-Islamic’ synthesis that used religion to counter left-wing ideology and really gave impetus to Islamist parties. In India too the late 80s were crucial years in the rise of the BJP as the Congress took a turn to the right and dabbled in religious politics.

An aside: interestingly one of the things Modi mentioned during his speech in New York was that he wanted to see every Indian family have a home by 2022. That made me think immediately of Erdogan who embarked on such a project immediately after he first came to power. He instituted TOKI, Turkey’s Housing Development Authority, which worked semi-autonomously under the Prime Minister’s office and went about building a massive (very ugly) housing stock across Turkey. TOKI has been crucial in creating and sustaining a real estate fueled growth model in Turkey. It has diversified its portfolio entering partnerships with private companies making the malls and luxury housing complexes that dot Turkey today and that have been responsible for the destruction of the urban fabric of Turkey’s cities and has been a major cause of the Gezi protests.

(I love this graffiti on the topic.)







If that’s the fate for India, it is terrifying. I can only hope that the BJP does look at such failed models and policies and avoids replicating them, but I am not all that hopeful.

Best wishes,




The second was from Kapil Komireddi (@kapskom)


Dear Amitav


It’s an interesting piece and the parallels are striking. You’re spot on about the causes of the Syrian uprising, which most observers in the west explain away using templates of familiar revolutions. Assad was of course a favourite of many western leaders. He was opening up the economy. This made some people very rich and created symbols of excess in Damascus – while at the same time living standards in rural Syria worsened as a consequence of drought. However, Erdogan’s role in the Syrian conflict has been deeply corrosive. He was a close friend of Assad’s, perhaps even saw himself, with characteristic narcissism, as a father figure. There’s another parallel that’s interesting. A number of RSS figures want Kathmandu to restore Hinduism’s status in Nepal as a state religion. Similarly, Erdogan pushed Assad to decriminalise the Syrian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood (membership is a capital offence in Syria). Assad declined and, according to people I talked to, was furious. And this was the beginning of the rift. In a bid to displace Assad, Erdogan opened up Turkey to malign forces – they may yet threaten Turkey. There’s of course another question: had Europe been more open to Ankara’s membership effort, might Turkey today be as receptive to Erdogan’s brand of politics?

I wrote about these issues in a piece published in June 2013: ‘… it’s [Erdogan’s] interference in Syria, short-sightedly accommodated by the West and Israel, that has most severely damaged the stability of the region. By all accounts Bashar Assad, the Syrian president, accorded tremendous respect to Erdogan; by some accounts, he even treated Erdogan like a surrogate father. Yet he was baffled by Erdogan’s demand – first made in 2009 – that Damascus decriminalize the Syrian chapter of the Muslim Brotherhood. To suggest – as Western commentators repeatedly have – that Erdogan repudiated Assad because the latter opened fire on Syrian demonstrators is to be exceedingly charitable to Erdogan. As we have witnessed over the last week, when his own authority is challenged, Erdogan can easily assume the deportment of a dictator.

‘Assad is a secularist defeated by his despotic inheritance. Erdogan is an Islamist constrained, for now, by Turkey’s defective secular democracy. But the complexion of Turkey’s neighborhood is quickly changing. Once hailed as a model for “Muslim democracy”, the idea of a “secular Turkey” is already beginning to seem odd in a region that the Turkish leadership is labouring so hard to deliver to Islamists.

‘Those who are prepared to make peace with this new Middle East and are abetting its formation will soon discover that faith in this region is not merely one aspect of national identity; it cannot be subordinated like that. Its claim on the individual, on society, tends towards the absolute.

‘Ataturk grasped that. But protected by the army and cosseted in uncontested privilege, his successors never developed an imagination for inclusive politics. Ataturk toured the villages to educate the masses; his secularizing heirs sneered at the villagers. They are responsible for their own downfall.






3 Responses to “Two responses to ‘Parallel Journeys’”

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  1. Comment by Taposh roy — November 30, 2014 at 2:02 am   Reply

    Dear Sir
    Read your article on The Telegraph today. Very informative. Specially the comparison and what the future holds mentioned in the last column. I normally do not read such large articles nor keep copies of them. i definitely do not go back to the blogs or write on it. But your article has forced me to. I have kept a copy of your article. I will read it again after every 4 years to compare your analysis and predictions.

    Best wishes
    Taposh Roy

  2. Comment by anil manchanda — December 1, 2014 at 6:58 am   Reply

    Don’t we already have the likes of DDA, the excretion of overlords past? Can any BJP effort do worse?

  3. Comment by ROHIT SEHGAL — December 3, 2014 at 9:17 am   Reply

    Dear Mr.Ghosh,

    First things first … the article is quite interesting but does carry some of the nuances which can be called “leftist – nehruvian”.

    I have been your reader since my late teens … read “in an antique land” when I’d just joined my engineering college … and I have kind of read your works since then … this is just to bring into your focus that I am not the usual “right-winger” that you may picture me as, after you go through the rest of my revert.

    Over the years I have noticed that many of the “intellectuals” who have professed Nehruvian policies have a peculiarity … and I call this peculiarity as “the brahmin guilt” … this is usually seen amongst those belonging to the upper caste – educated and those having usually land owner / very rich background. They have perhaps seen right from their childhood the great divide between the “haves” and the “have-nots” and in their angst and guilt, have developed a hugely positive impression about everything “western-christian” and hugely negative impression about everything “indian-hindu”.

    When they talk about “scientific temper” as professed by Nehru they don’t realise that this scientific temper is nothing new … it has always been there in the Hindu society … otherwise how it is possible that 1300 years back, an 18 year old from deep down kerala was able to scientifically argue with famous pundits of his time in Kashi and make them agree to his view of hindu philosophy … yes I am talking about the Great Adi Shankara. We have always been a society where “questioning” was always encouraged … different points of view were celebrated … so why the present day Nehruvians behave like fundamentalists when they are just not prepared to even hear that there was a “Historical Ram and Historical Krishna” or just discussing that there could be a possibility of India being the harbinger of great intellectual thought in the past … these Nehruvians will just not discuss this … then who is Fundamentalist ???

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