One doesn't need to look any further than Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's comments on Kashmir to understand how miserably India punches below its weight as an 'emerging Asian giant' and a 'global soft power'. It is tempting to believe in these highfalutin words and suffer from a delusion of grandeur that 'our moment has come'. One only has to scratch the veneer to reveal a nation still at odds with power — a mind struggling to rid itself of colonial hangover.
Would the visiting Turkey President have dared to raise questions on One China policy ahead of flying to Beijing?
It is laughable to assume that Erdogan is innocent of India's stated position. Yet not only did he raise the 'K' word just ahead of boarding the flight to New Delhi, the Turkish President went on to suggest "multilateral dialogue to solve Kashmir dispute" in a blatant disregard for India's sovereignty and territorial integrity even as we were getting ready to spread the red carpet. It does not matter whether or not Erdogan is Nawaz Sharif's childhood buddy or his fastest friend. International relationships are built on the bedrock of mutual respect.
It is staggering to think that Erdogan — who wields power as a repressive, paranoid autocrat and has cemented his position through a dubious referendum - has the temerity to lecture a democratic India on 'human rights'. Following a failed coup last July, the tin-pot dictator has gathered unprecedented powers in his hands, subverting every state institution to establish himself as Turkey's supreme leader.
In the "purge" that followed the failed coup d'etat, over 40,000 people including soldiers, judges, rights activists have been jailed, 20,000 teachers and 15000 education staff have been suspended as Erdogan has mounted a rapid drive to erase the secular moorings of Kemal Ataturk's Turkey and turn it into an Islamist nation.
The Turkish media has been muzzled with over 150 houses shut and over 120 journalists jailed on charges of "terrorism". Columnist Kadri Gursel made the mistake of flouting Erdogan's diktat against cigarettes and urged readers to light one in protest. He now rots in jail, facing charges of terrorism. As The New York Times report points out, "Turkey now has handily outstripped China as the world's biggest jailer of journalists, according to figures compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The Turkish dictator has declared himself as the "only fit protector" for courts, military, executive or legislature. He has crushed every dissenter in his country and threatened those outside it with jail.
He has got for himself the right to "hire and fire judges and prosecutors, appoint a cabinet, abolish the post of prime minister, limit parliament's role to amend legislation and many more," writes Martin Chulov in The Guardian from Istanbul. In fact, were the "parliament to call an early poll during his second term, Erdogan would be eligible to run for a third. That could keep him in the job until 2034, on top of the 14 years he has already served."
After assuming dizzying powers and muzzling every voice of protest within his country, Erdogan now wants to be an interlocutor in "Kashmir problem". It is rivetting to notice Erdogan's cockiness during the interview to a Turkish TV channel just ahead of India trip.
"We should not allow more casualties to occur, and by strengthening multilateral dialogue, we can be involved, and through multilateral dialogue, I think we have to seek out ways to settle this question once and for all," he said, according to The Indian Express. On NSG, too, he appeared to be either unaware (unlikely) or in a mood to needle India by saying, "Both India and Pakistan have the right to aspire for NSG membership. I think India should not assume such an attitude. If Turkey was fair enough to support Pakistan, it was fair enough to support India. We are very objective and positive to the NSG process."
Before I delve on the Indian response to this one-sided provocation, let me digress a little and recall how the Chinese has dealt with questions on One China policy. Before assuming formal duty, a cocky Donald Trump had accepted a 'congratulatory phone call' from Tsai Ing-wen, the President of Taiwan, reversing a 37-year-old diplomatic tradition of not recognizing the country as separate from China. Following that 10-minute phone call, the maverick US Preisdent-elect suggested in media interviews that US doesn't need to be bound by One China Policy and tied it to Beijing's efforts in stopping currency manipulation and what he claimed were "unfair trade practices".
China took just a day to post its response. "There is only one China in the world, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of China's territory," Lu Kang, China's foreign ministry spokesperson, was quoted as saying in a statement on ministry's website. Its state-controlled media took a more virulent, threatening line against Trump.
Swift sommersault followed. Trump, in a subsequent phone call, promised to honour China's sentiments. In a statement, the White House said Trump and Xi "discussed numerous topics, and President Trump agreed, at the request of President Xi, to honor our One China policy."
How has India reacted to Erdogan crossing the red line?
On Sunday, shortly after media reports emerged on Turkey president's remark, India's external affairs ministry said: "We have always emphasised that India-Turkey relations stand on their own footing and, we believe, the Turkish side reciprocates our sentiment." The Times of India report also quoted Ruchi Ghanashyam, EAM secretary, as saying that "India's position on the state of J&K is very well known that it is an integral part of the country."
Erdogan, his wife Emine and a delegation of senior cabinet ministers and a 150-member business delegation were received by the Prime Minister and President. The Turkey president was accorded the ceremonial guard of honour at Rashtrapati Bhavan and later in the day, Narendra Modi extended the welcome by singing paeans in favour of mutual friendship and calling for strengthening of economic ties.
This is not to suggest that bilateral relations should be held hostage at the altar of heightened sensibilities. However, as an aspiring power, India must send unequivocal signals about the sanctity of its red lines. For a President fighting a brutal Kurdish uprising and presiding over a rotten human rights record, Erdogan has little maneuvering space on taking a moral position on Kashmir. In the interview mentioned above, he loses cool when a parallel is drawn between Kashmir and Kurdistan and whether OIC will speak in favour of referendum on Tibet.
Yet Erdogan chooses to provoke India and is received in full state honours and warmth in return. The point is simple. No one respects a nation that does not respect itself. As the proponent 'ek Bharat, srestha Bharat', Modi should know that.
Published Date: May 01, 2017 04:39 pm | Updated Date: May 01, 2017 04:39 pm