Is Erdogan the Turkish Modi?

Erdogan has consolidated his power in yesterday’s election. This post was sparked by a Facebook friend’s (Indian Muslim) comment “why do Muslims in India hate Modi but love Erdogan.” Shashi provides some context here:

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.

History has definitely not come to an end; Turkey and India (Israel/Hungary) seem to be on the vanguage of nationalistic revivals. Thankfully none of these countries border each other.

Related: Modi believed Vajpayee’s wooing of Muslims in 2004 was a fruitless exercise

Ps: All comments welcome except abusive or overwrought ones. Tone and tenor of any conversation (on my posts at least) must be calm and measured.

40 thoughts on “Is Erdogan the Turkish Modi?”

  1. I am really tired of these tarnish by association kind of articles. Its just annoying how sloppy the standards of our political discourse have become.

    1. Vikram, after reading the thread and going through the discussion, it is clear the comparison between Erdogan and Modi is uncalled for.

      1. Thanks hoipolloi. It is better to give priority to structural analysis than psychological and personality based analyses. They can all be useful, but if structures and incentives explain a phenomenon, I trust such an explanation the most.

  2. The obvious point of comparison is that both are religious nationalists. Both also show dictatorial tendencies, though Indian democracy (so far) seems to be holding up better than the Turkish version.

    Indian Muslims probably like Erdogan because he is on “our” team and stands up for Muslim causes. Modi, in contrast, basically hates Muslims. No one is going to forget the pogroms in Gujarat any time soon. Also, I think Nehruvian Secularism was basically working for India. There is no need to mess with what works.

    Specifically on Turkey, I’m a big fan of Ataturk but I think banning hijab etc had gone too far and AKP was part of the pushback against that.

    Incidentally, Pakistanis are very impressed with the “Turkish” model. The red metrobuses in Lahore are based off the ones in Istanbul and I think Shahbaz Sharif wishes he could be the Erdogan of Pakistan.

    But let’s make no mistake about it, Erdogan is basically a dictator, even if he has gotten himself elected.

  3. The BBC article Zack linked to has this very interesting comment (remember last week when I was told not to call the BJP “fascist”?):

    ” ‘We are living through a fascist regime,’ opposition MP Selin Sayek Boke told the BBC. ‘But fascist regimes don’t usually win elections with 53%, they win with 90%. So this shows that progressive values are still here and can rise up.’

    For now, though, this is Mr Erdogan’s time. With his sweeping new powers, scrapping the post of prime minister and able to choose ministers and most senior judges, he becomes Turkey’s most powerful leader since its founding father Ataturk.

    He’ll now hope to lead the country at least until 2023, 100 years since Ataturk’s creation. And a dejected opposition will have to pick itself up and wonder again if, and how, he can be beaten.”

    1. A proper self-respecting fascist/party would smash the heads of judiciary, executive and press. BJP has done none of that to have their way. First time Vajpayee resigned since he did not 1 vote in the Loksabha to back his newly formed government. That’s unlike and opposite of fascism. Same thing repeated in Karnataka few weeks back. BJP haven’t changed a single law to keep themselves in power. Haven’t opened a single concentration camp or even increased prisons . To call BJP fascist, is to insult fascist.

      Actually Erdogan has purged Turkey of many of his alleged opponent’s and have been imprisoned
      That is more fascistic.

      1. Erdogan can definitely be called “fascist”. BJP has so far not been able to destroy the institutions of India’s democracy. That doesn’t mean they wouldn’t like to.

      2. @VijayVan, “To call BJP fascist, is to insult fascist.”

        You are so correct. BJP under Modi-Shaw is operating within the democratic set up in India. Why label them otherwise and give them ideas :).

  4. What interests me more is what led to the political ascendency of the Erdogan brand of leadership in Turkey ?

    He was already the preeminent leader since 2003, and Turkey is an economic superstar, especially when compared to its neighbours and Islamic peers. It is nearly three times richer today than in 2003.

    Not only that, its wealth is founded upon a genuine industrialization, not a resource boom or remittances or an export emphasis. It has comfortably outperformed its peers since the late 2000s crisis, its GDP today is 1.5 times that in 2010. Turks are genuinely rich.

    So whats behind this drive towards a more centralized leadership ?

    Here’s my hypothesis. Much like the Pakistani army, the Turkish army developed significant stakes in the economy during its period of political power. It owned stakes in key national companies like Turk Telecom, and controlled the procurement of arms and supplies. It appears that Erdogan severely curtailed these economic levers. Key national companies have been privatized, and the procurement of military supplies has been made more open. (See here:

    In contrast to Pakistan, where the military formed an alliance with right wing elements, the Turkish army formed an alliance with more liberal sections of the society. It is natural that a decline in its power would also mean a decline in the power of those sections. And so they have been caught in the unfortunate cross fire between a newly ascendant and more pious civilian business elite, and the old military-industrial complex. Erdogan is the main bulwark of the newly emerging business classes against the old complex.

    1. The Turkish Army has always been Kemalist.

      The Turkish lira doesn’t seem to be doing so well these days, according to the linked article.

      But I don’t really follow Turkey in too much depth. I’ve been to Istanbul once as a tourist for three days. Beautiful city, lots of history. I don’t know that I would go again now, especially since the linked article went into great depth about the number of people affected by the State of Emergency. The Intellectual Class has basically left.

      1. Istanbul is a timeless city; no wonder it was a spy capital in the Cold War. The world really does meet at Stamboul.

        The Turks are an enigmatic and attractive people

          1. My mom described Turkey as having has the infrastructure of Mumbai with white people. :p

          2. Arrogant too – Azeris in Iran are known for being arrogant. Funnily enough their Azeri is mixed with so much Persian; the Azeris are so culturally cut-off from one another after a century and a half.

  5. Erdogan/AKP is more sophisticated version of Modi/BJP. I would say even if were not Erdogan, the whole inner Anatolia vs Istanbul, religious vs secular divide would have resulted in Erdogan type of figure. In short the movement would have led to a religious strongman since long before him there have been similar versions in the Turkish history which were undemocraticaly removed from office by the army. This added to the whole they wont let our person win angst.
    Modi in that case is an outlier since he is OBC leader in BJP (not a natural fit), in this case Modi brings more to the Hindu nationalist movement/RSS/BJP then vice versa. The BJP had a string of upper caste leaders who haven’t won them more than 23-25% votes till Modi arrived.

    1. What is Modi’s caste exactly? He is the ultimate subversive an OBC perpetuating a F.C. narrative.

      Both Vajpayee and Advani are Brahmins of course; Advani being a Brahmin among the relative caste-free Sindhi Hindus of India & Diaspora (Sindhi Hindus in Pak are of course a different type).

      1. Modi is from Teli(Oil-pressers) caste.

        He is the ultimate subversive an OBC perpetuating a F.C. narrative.

        In history you have had OBC leaders perpetuating a “Hindu” narrative like the Marathas. In the 60’s and 70s when the founding fathers died, the new generation of OBC/Peasant leaders came to fore were secular like Yadavs ,Pawars,Jats etc . They were secular because
        a. They did not want to share power with dominant F.C, since they had the numbers why would they share power ?
        b. Muslims were allies as they will not challenge their dominance.

        After the 90s market liberalization/Temple politics OBCs were sanksritized and they started mimicking the F.C and felt the whole “Hindu unity” thing. Modi is a product of that politics. I would say the whole process is almost complete and any new gen OBC leader more often than not will be a Hinduized leader.

        Both Vajpayee and Advani are Brahmins of course; Advani being a Brahmin among the relative caste-free Sindhi Hindus of India & Diaspora

        Advani’s case is special, never felt that he was genuinely into the whole “Hindu” thing. It was something he did to gain power since there is no Sindhi vote bank to woo in India. So you appeal to larger base. Similar to Bhutto/ Mushraff , if you come from a demographically smaller community you try to appeal to a bigger idea to win power.

      2. “What is Modi’s caste exactly?” It is a good question to probe. Modi’s so called backwardness does not stand scrutiny in the conventional sense. If tomorrow Patels or Jatts are categorized as OBC due to political pressure, it doesn’t make sense either.

        Modis are entered into the OBC list by Narendar Modi himself when he was the Chief Minister of Gujarat. It is playing power politics. After independence when these lists were made there was no mistaking who is forward and who is backward. Modis were not considered backward the first time.

        No backward castes are vegetarians which modis are. I don’t know if the modi males wear a thread. They being merchant class says they may not be sudras. Narendar Modi is a non-Brahmin is clear. People familiar with Gujrat caste dynamics can clarify this easily without going into propaganda mode.

          1. Poor little rich Nirav. He can apply for refugee status in Trump land for being persecuted in his native land as a backward caste person.

          2. There are Parsis with the name Modi too (like Russi Modi, long time Tata executive.)

        1. Modi is OBC. Didn’t I cover this with you (or may be someone else) on BP just a few weeks ago?

          Nirav Modi is Jain, and an upper caste. Just because he shares a surname with OBC Modis, doesn’t make them the same caste. There are billionaire Rajasthani Agrawal Modis too..Sometimes surnames are shared across castes and Modi is some sort of an occupational marker.

          And the whole vegetarian thing – In Gujarat and Rajasthan many backward castes are vegetarian. Doesn’t make them forward castes…Gujarat is 50% vegetarian – are you suggesting half the population is upper caste?

          Here is Achyut Yagnik, a noted social scientist and Modi critic confirming his backward caste status:

          People should stop spreading canards like this one ..Another popular one with the leftist crazies is that Amit Shah is a Jain. He is not, he is a Vaishnav Vaania (Bania)..I don’t understand the angle there. Is being a Jain supposed to turn off BJP voters? Or perhaps dent his credibility as a leader of Hindus?

    2. On Turkey we should not forget the whole gulenist movement. If there was any place Mushraff should have looked for Enlightened Islamism or whatever he was saying , It was here. The Gulen movement is the way the Left in India took over JNU ( a major recruitment centre for IAS, Journalism, Professors ) , other institution like media, Govt public policy works etc . The Gulenist gave the ideological and theological cover for initial support of Erdogan. Till Erdogan didnt have any need for them and cast them away. The RSS in that sense is more like Muslim brotherhood as it tries to work through NGOs and charity etc and only now it has tried to capture Institutions but even there its very haphazard and it faces a challenge from the old order (the left)

      1. “Enlightened Moderation” was General Musharraf’s phrase. Islam didn’t come into it anywhere.

      2. Gulen operated more like a cult than an ideological movement. Gulenists join a group which takes a portion of their salary, helps them with their career path and decides their political convictions. When you talk about the Indian left, I feel that was more due to the popular political beliefs of the time than a nefarious organization coordinating to infiltrate an institution. From what I’ve heard, Gulenists would literally be coached to act a certain way when attempting to join an institution like the military to make the cut in front of recruiters.

        1. Mir, from what little I know, I am a fan of Gulen. Gulen is another reason I believe that people who think Islamic reform can’t happen fast are incorrect.

          What is wrong with meritocratic hierarchies of capacity and competence?

          My two biggest critiques of Erdogan (who I greatly respect) are purging the professional military and the attack against Gulen.

          The RSS is nothing like the Ikhwan (muslim brotherhood). Religion and politics are kept apart in eastern philosophy.

        2. It can be a cult as well as a part of ideological movement. The take over of the media, low level judiciary as well as police service was to enhance the power of the “religious” side. They had clear political as well as ideological views , before they joined /infiltrate those institutions. It was not an competitive exam coaching centre.

          “Mr Erdogan is seen as favouring a Turkish version of political Islam, according to Mustafa Akyol, while Mr Gulen presents himself as espousing a form of cultural rather than political Islam.”

          Now we all know about the “cultural” organization in India, dont we?

  6. I have a lot of respect for Erdogan and am a big believer of Turkish Ottoman exceptionalism! Go Turkey!

    Facism, I believe, is the convergence of four things:
    1) nationalism (check for Erdogan)
    2) socialism (not check. Erdogan is one of the most free market pro business leaders in the world)
    3) autocracy (partial check at best for Erdogan . . . Turkey is less autocratic than it appears from the outside)
    4) religion or ideology (not check . . . unless Erdogan’s idealogy is ultra Ottoman Turkish nationalism)

    Turkey is one of the world’s greatest civilizations and one of the prime drivers of global events. Kabir, I think you would fall in love with Turkey. Turkey is yet another example of why European culture–while amazing–is not the be all and end all for everything that is good in the world.

    My hope is that India, Pakistan, America and the world learn more and more from Turkey and adopt the best parts of Ottoman exceptionalism.

    1. The Ottoman Empire is dead and Erdogan governs a modern nation-state. He needs to stop acting like a Sultan.

      He’s definitely autocratic. International observers say that elections under a State of Emergency can hardly be considered fair. He has just abolished the post of Prime Minister and given himself expanded executive powers. If Lord Voldemort was able to do that in India, we’d be in for a horrible time.

      1. Many of my friends and acquaintances know far more about Turkey than I do. Some agree with you Kabir. Some don’t. We will see.

        I will say this. Democracy, check and balances remains much stronger in Turkey than you appear to fear. However I strongly disagree with the purge of the Turkish armed forces . . . one of the best institutions the world has ever known.

        1. The article that Zack linked in his original post (from the BBC) shows how many people have been fired since the State of Emergency was declared (almost two years ago now). Enough said.

  7. Jatis have historically not been stuck in a Varna. Sometimes entire Jatis can switch Varnas. This is why specifying someone’s caste or whether someone is a Dalit/Harijan/Untouchable is tricky. Sometimes a non Hindu Jati can get put into a Varna or switch Varnas.

    Of course there are many examples of individuals switching Varnas without any effect on their Jati.

  8. No way. Modi has never challenged or altered the secular, democratic constitutional or political makeup of India. In contrast, Erdogan has thrown out Kemalism for all practical purposes.

    Erdogan is much more canny political player than Modi.

    Independent India has thrown up a number of humble-beginnings-to-powerful-position types like Modi , Karunanidhi, MGR and a host of others.

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